Dr. Timothy Ingalsbee’s paper, Getting Burned: A Taxpayer’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs, outlines the past and present topics plaguing national fire policy and operations. Amid the social, economic and ecologic issues burdening fire management efforts, Ingalsbee offers three explanations for contemporary increases in wildfire size and severity. Ingalsbee’s three highlighted factors effecting fire size and severity consist of, 1) excessive fuel loads from past fire suppression actions and fire exclusion policies, 2) the continued of expansion of new housing and 3) climate change (Ingalsbee, 2010). Socioenvironmental, institutional and operational issues afflicting fire management are exacerbated by these three represented factors and are causing the fire management fiscal and managerial systems to spiral out of control.
Ingalsbee begins his narrative with the 1908 Forest Fires Emergency Act that provided the Forest Service with the initial deficit spending concept or more commonly known as a “blank-check”. Building upon the history, Ingalsbee establishes a framework that provides a strong basis for understanding today’s skyrocketing suppression costs. Beginning with the “Siege of 87”, as referred to by Ingalsbee (2010), the fire suppression model began to collapse. Spending increased exorbitantly in order to maintain some proportion of perceived control over wildland fires.
As spending increased and fires grew larger, a lack of firefighter safety became apparent with a series of fatality fires in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Due to policy structure and cultural trends, managers turned to further suppression with anything and everything at their disposal, regardless of costs, pinning expenses to the “blank-check”. As management complexities increased, both on the fire-line and off, management spending increased to not only suppress fires, but to provide managers with safety nets in the event of disaster and to maintain public/political support.
Ingalsbee’s 43-page paper, for the most part, concisely and accurately represents the issues impacting fire management at the socioenvironmental, institutional and operational levels. From working within the field, it is clear that many of the discussed conditions impacting fire management’s fiscal predicament are true. However, Ingalsbee’s synthesis of fire management problems, may lead a reader to conclude that fire managers are to blame for most of these issues. I find this problematic. Fire managers are there to do their job, and most are very well practiced at maintaining effective, seamless and safe operations. The barriers restricting progressive fire management lie within the lack of incentives for resource benefiting fire operations.
Ingalsbee, Timothy. 2010. “Getting Burned: A Taxpayers Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs.” FUSEE 1-43.