A Summary on Timothy Ingalsbee’s “Getting Burned: A Taxpayer’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs”
This paper addresses the everyday taxpayer, who inadvertently promotes these year-after-year terrible and expensive fire seasons by dutifully paying taxes. I’m further referring to the tenacious, positive-feedback loop our society has propagated since the total suppression of fires became common policy almost a century ago.“Getting Burned: A Taxpayer’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs” is an article that does a fantastic job at explaining this paradox, uncovering the multi-faceted factors that have led us to continue this absurd routine of overpriced reactive response.
One of these factors is that over 44 million homes are located in fire-vulnerable areas (Ingalsbee, 2010). These wildland urban interfaces are expanding rapidly as private development is “subsidized” by the lack of accountability taken by private investors (Ingalsbee, 2010). Instead, the brunt of this accountability is dumped onto the federal government, who foots the bill for the vast majority of annual fire suppression costs (Ingalsbee, 2010). By paying this majority, private development is essentially encouraged under the impression that the government will pay for the full suppression of any fires that jeopardize properties. Yet where does the government get the funds to pay for all of this? From us, the taxpayers.
Ingalsbee (2010) identifies an “open checkbook” attitude towards fire suppression that promotes reactivity rather than proactivity. This is why we are all too comfortable with throwing money (OUR money!) at fires instead of relying on proactive and cost-effective measures. The fire suppression that we pay for is done in a way that maximizes costs, such as frivolously using aircraft in a political “show of arms”, employing the help of profit-hungry privatized fire fighting companies, or by fighting fires that have very little priority or associated risk.
Ingalsbee (2010) expresses that we can tremendously cut costs if we reform the way we deal with fire. Everyone – homeowners, recreationalists, environmentalists, etc. – needs to acknowledge and take active responsibility for wildfire suppression costs by allocating more money and time on proactive tactics while turning our wallets away from suppression spending. This includes FireWising our homes, or simply not building houses further into fire-vulnerable ecosystems. We must oppose policies that increase fire suppression budgets and instead put our support behind proper land management and suppression tactics that use money wisely. While Igalsbee (2010) says perpetual, landscape-level thinning treatments are non-economical, we can still use these treatments, paired with low-expense prescribed burning, to form defensible spaces around our communities at dimensions that are manageable and cost-effective in the long-run. With these measures, we can hopefully stop burning away our money – literally.
Ingalsbee, T. 2010. Getting Burned: A Taxpayer’s Guide To Wildfire Suppression Costs. Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology. Assessed April 10, 2020.