Response to Getting Burned: A Taxpayers Guide to Wildfire Suppression Cost

A paper written by Dr. Timothy Ingalsbee titled, Getting Burned: A Taxpayer’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs looks at the cost analysis that gets burdened by the taxpayer. Ingalsbee’s highlights three key factors effecting fire size and severity and they consist of, 1) excessive fuel loads from past fire suppression actions and fire exclusion policies, 2) the continued of expansion of new housing in forested areas and 3) climate change and global warming (Ingalsbee, 2010).

He explains that fire suppression costs are increasing because of all three of those factors and mentions that large fires account for less than  2% of all wildfires but consume 94% of total suppression costs. Along with that he says that a bad fire year 6-8 million acres burn annually, however it is predicted that in the near future bad fire years will consume 10-12 million acres of fuel because of global warming (Ingalsbee, 2010). He then explains that suppression costs are also rising due to socioenvironmental, institutional, and operational factors. With suppression costs consuming nearly all of the forest services budget, all other projects can not be completed due to the emergency status that comes with fire suppression. Lastly, he says another institutional driver of rising suppression costs is the growing use of private contractors to provide firefighting crews, aircraft, vehicles, supplies and services.

With the pressures to fight fires and suppress them they are consequently putting firefighters lives at risk and making the tax payer pay more money. Unfortunately, many wildfires are unnecessarily or over-aggressively suppressed when they could have been managed at lower risk. He then outlines an approach to combat this and says, “A more strategic and selective approach to fire suppression would focus it on frontcountry communities which absolutely cannot tolerate fire, and then implement fire use tactics in backcountry wildlands which generally require more fire” (Ingalsbee, 2010). He then explains that this would not necessarily reduce overall taxpayer expenditures but the benefit of this is the avoidance of adverse outcomes, having fuels reductions, and a more sustainable ecosystem.

I thought Dr. Timothy Ingalsbee’s paper was outlined very clearly and concisely and is a good representation of issues facing fire management. I do believe however he sways the reader into believing that fire managers are to be blamed here but I do not agree with that. Fire managers are typically heavily qualified and have hundreds if not thousands of hours spent on fire lines and know what they’re talking about when implementing different tactics.

References: Ingalsbee, Timothy. 2010“Getting Burned: A Taxpayers Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs.” FUSEE 1-43.