Friday, July 19, 2013

Wildfires Will Worsen, And Further Strain The Forest Service

The deaths of 19 firefighters near Yarnell, Ariz., this summer have focused a lot of attention on just how bad wildfire has become in the West. And research predicts the situation is going to get worse. Over the past decade, the region has seen some of the worst fire seasons on record. In addition to lives lost, the fires have cost billions in terms of lost property and in taxpayer money spent fighting the blazes. Ray Rasker, an economist who lives in the fire country of southwestern Montana, tracks fire records the way other economists study business cycles or commodity prices. He's seen a disturbing trend. First, he says, "the fires are twice as large, they're burning twice as long, and the season is starting earlier and ending later." Second: More homes are being built right next to national forests, and when those forests burn, firefighters have to defend those homes. He notes that about 84 percent of the private land around national forests is open to development, versus 14 percent of surrounding land that's already built up with housing developments, resorts and vacation homes. With an improving economy, and no restrictions on where people can build, he's worried. Nowadays, the U.S. Forest Service has less money to spend on trimming back or burning undergrowth and trees to prevent bigger fires in the future. Estimates put the area of forest that needs fire prevention work performed on it at over 200 million acres, but the service is only able to treat about 3 million acres a year. One solution is to let some natural fires burn longer instead of putting them out right away. That gets rid of built-up fuel, and it's cheaper than mechanically thinning forests or doing prescribed burns. But this tactic isn't popular with homeowners nearby...more  

Too bad these stories never explore why the trees and understory are so thick. 

Let the private sector harvest these areas and the feds can actually make money. But no, the enviros and the courts won't let that happen. 

 The enviros just want to let it burn, but they have a problem: The folks who live in or around the forests. They know their "let it all burn" policy will never sell as long as folks' lives are at stake, thus their constant screaming about and demanding control over private development near the forest.


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