The cost of Wildfires…Will we ever get ahead?

Prescribed Burn-Necedah WI- Wildlife Refuge

At the time of publication, Ingalsbee stated that wildfire suppression costs accounted for approximately $1 billion of taxpayer money. However, in 2018 alone, $3 billion were spent by the Federal government in an attempt to suppress wildfires (NASF). So, where does this money come from? For the last 20 years the United States Forest Service has spent nearly half of its total appropriated budget on firefighting and has been forced to transfer billions of dollars away from non-fire programs to pay for suppression costs, in an act called “fire borrowing” (Ingalsbee, 2010 & NASF).

Many citizens question why it is that the government continues to “fire borrow” and why they continually spend more money on fire suppression. Well the answer is simply that wildfire activity is increasing across the nation. Years of fire suppression activity have produced enormous amounts of hazardous fuels in forests and the combination of climate change has simply increased wildfire occurrence and behavior across the land. Today, fire seasons last on average, 78 days longer than they did in the 70’s (NASF) and with more people living in fire-prone and dependent landscapes, the costs associated with fire suppression have increased exponentially for the last 20+ years.

After 2018 and $3 billion of suppression costs used, the Federal Government generated the “wildfire funding fix”. This policy will allocate $2.25 billion fore wildfire suppression to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of the Interior (DOI) for fiscal year 2020. Additionally, the wildfire funding fix, will increase by $100 million each year till fiscal year 2027, where the budget will max out at $2.95 billion (NASF).  

The question is, “is this enough.” If the total costs of fire suppression for Federal agencies in 2018 was $3 billion, and state agencies still invested $1.9 billion of their own funds (NASF), that’s a total of $4.9 billion in suppression costs, significantly under the allocated amounts generated by the “wildfire funding fix.”

Though the Nation’s wildfire suppression funding complications haven’t been resolved, they are moving in the right direction. Generating a separate fund for suppression will greatly help other departments get work competed now that fire borrowing has ended. However, changes still need to be made. Billions have been contributed to fire suppression, but when will we start allocating billions for fire prevention? Land managers always seem to be playing defense, they should look to start playing offense.

Prescribed Burn Necedah WI-Wildlife Refuge

Sources Cited

Ingalsbee, Timothy. 2010. Getting Burned: A Taxpayer’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs. Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology. 1-43.

National Association of State Foresters (NASF). n.d. Wildfire. Retrieved on 04/09/2020 at:

National Association of State Foresters (NASF) 2018. Wildfire Funding Fix: What it means for America’s forests. Retrieved on 04/09/2020 at:


Wildfire Policy History

Olivia C. Golemon

Umpqua National Forest-Tiller Ranger District-Snowshoe Fire

Fire has always been an integral tool in managing forest and rangelands. Before English settlers arrived in North America, Native Americans were using the practice to reduce encroachment of meadows, open forested areas for hunting, and enrich soils for harvesting. However, as America became more populated with settlers, fires were viewed as a hazard, as something that needed to be stopped. By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s fire swept across landscapes, generating catastrophic results, thus encouraging the United States Government to become involved in not only the management of the lands but also the structure and policies needed to suppress wildfires across the landscape. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt transferred wildfire suppression responsibility from the Department of the Interior (DOI) to the Department of Agriculture, and later US Forest Service. Though there was a general understanding that wildfire needed to be managed, there was still large debates within the government on how to best manage the land and wildfire risk. That was until 1920, when 5 million acres of national forest land burned, and 78 people were killed. This event, now know as the Big Burn, initiated the adoption of strict fire protection policy, that would forever change how our national forest lands were and are still managed today (Donovan, G.H. and Brown, T.C. 2005). In 1935, wildfire policy even stated that wildfires were to be suppressed by 10 the morning after they were first spotted. As wildfire policy progressed, some individuals even started to believe and report that fire reduced growing capabilities of plant species and encouraged land managers to suppress even low intensity fires from developing on forested lands (Greeley, W. 2000).

Today, we now know and understand the crucial role that fire plays in many different ecosystems. Scientists and land managers now understand that forest and rangeland have what is referred to as a fire regime. This is the naturally occurring cycle of fire on the landscape. For some areas, this may be every 2-4 years, where in other ecosystems this may be every 100 years. Regardless of the ecosystems fire regime, it is still vital that fire be on the landscape to support plant diversity, species vigor and resilience, animal habitat, cultural practices, and forest cleanup to reduce catastrophic results.

Today, five federal agencies including the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) National Park Service (NPS) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (FS) manage more than 676 million acres of Federal lands (NIFC). The US fire administration works with county and local fire departments, while the National Association of State Foresters represents state fire programs. Today, each agency’s wildfire policy is slightly different, however has the same overarching goal. The updated and revised Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy of 1995 states that the mission of federal fire management activities and programs are to “provide for firefighter and public safety, protect and enhance land management objectives and human welfare, integrate programs and disciplines, require interagency collaboration, emphasize the natural and ecological role of fire, and contribute to ecosystem sustainability.”

2019-Tiller Fire-Engine 26

Donovan, G.H. and Brown, T.C. (2005). “Wildfire management in the US Forest Service: a brief history.”Natural Hazards Observer. 3 p.

Greeley, W. (2000). “Paiute Forestry” or the fallacy of light burning . Fire Management Today, 60(4), 21. 

National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). n.d. Policies. Retrieved on 04/02/2020 at:

US Department of the Interior, US Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, US Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and National Association of State Foresters. 2001. Review and Update of the 1995 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy.

United States Forest Service. n.d. Safe and Effective Wildfire Response. Retrieved on 04/02/2020 at: