For this week’s blog post, I chose to look at Timothy Ingalsbee’s report titled “Getting Burned: a Taxpayer’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs.” The report summarizes the various reasons why wildfire suppression costs are increasing every year and why the USFS has exceeded their budget nearly every year for the past 20 years. The first reason is that wildfire activity is increasing, and thus the need for increased wildfire suppression (Ingalsbee, 2010). He also claims that excess fuel accumulations, expansion of housing in the WUI area, and climate change are reasons that the suppression costs continue to increase (Ingalsbee, 2010). It is important to note that expansion of housing into the WUI area accounts for nearly half of the total suppression costs (Ingalsbee, 2010). Ingalsbee continues on to describe various other institutional drivers such as private firefighters, cost-share agreements, and careless spending as well as discuss the importance of managing rather than fighting wildfires and its ability to significantly reduce suppression costs (Ingalsbee, 2010).
One of the most interesting aspects for me was how significant an impact the protection of homes in the WUI area has on the total budget. Ingalsbee notes how the annual costs of fire management was $420 million in the 1970s, $700 million in the 1990s, and up to $1.4 billion in the 2000s (Ingalsbee, 2010). This number is predicted to rise to $4 billion by 2030 due to a 40% increase in homes in the WUI area (Ingalsbee, 2010). It is very interesting to me why we continue to fund housing in WUI areas. While urban sprawl will continue to happen as our population grows, it seems that we are simply creating a new problem rather than solving one. Recent articles and studies have shown that the growth rate pushes 200% in many western states in WUI regions which will continue to increase suppression costs (Rogers, 2018). Growth in WUI regions is also directly related to more wildfire ignitions, further increasing the cost of suppression (Radeloff et al, 2018).
Increasing costs of wildfire suppression are cause for concern. One of the more important sectors to address is expansion into WUI areas. Slowing growth into these areas will surely help lower the USFS suppression costs and allow them to divert resources to other areas.
Ingalsbee, Timothy. 2010. Getting Burned: a Taxpayer’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs. Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology. http://www.riversimulator.org/Resources/farcountry/NGO/GettingBurnedCostWildfireSupressionFUSEE2010.pdf
Radeloff, V. C., Helmers, D. P., Kramer, H. A., Mockrin, M. H., Alexandre, P. M., Bar-Massada, A., … Stewart, S. I. (2018). Rapid growth of the US wildland-urban interface raises wildfire risk. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(13), 3314–3319. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1718850115
Rogers, A. (2018). Please Stop Building Houses Exactly Where Wildfires Start. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/please-stop-building-houses-exactly-where-wildfires-start/