Wildfire Myopia

smoke.gif It looks like technological security isn’t the only kind disorganized in government. The latest GAO report about wildfires seems like more smoke than fire:

This testimony summarizes several key actions that federal agencies need to complete or take to strengthen their management of the wildland fire program, including the need to (1) develop a long-term, cohesive strategy to reduce fuels and address wildland fire problems and (2) improve the management of their efforts to contain the costs of preparing for and responding to wildland fires.

For cost-containment efforts to be effective, the agencies need to integrate cost-containment goals with the other goals of the wildland fire program–such as protecting life, resources, and property–and to recognize that trade-offs will be needed to meet desired goals within the context of fiscal constraints.

Wildland Fire Management: A Cohesive Strategy and Clear Cost-Containment Goals Are Needed for Federal Agencies to Manage Wildland Fire Activities Effectively, GAO-07-1017T, U.S. General Accounting Office, June 19, 2007

How about a strategy for integrating wildfire planning into subdivision planning, or cost allocations from homeowner wildfire insurance?

If it’s hard for beachfront property owners to get insurance in hurricane-prone areas, why isn’t it hard for developers to build next to wildfire-prone forests?

Or cost sharing among timber plantation owners, or reduction of overgrazing by domestic herd owners? In Florida you can be thrown in jail for cutting down mangrove trees, because the state recognizes the ecological effects. Are there similar effects of overgrazing or overcutting?

How about allocation of some proportion of unusual costs in any given year from the general fund, as well as education and outreach costs in every year? If we allocate emergency funds to fight wars, and conduct diplomacy to prevent them, why can’t we do the same for wildfires?

Maybe it’s too hard for the GAO to criticize monoculture even-aged forestry. But it should be possible for it to project wildfire trends forward, taking known complications such as development encroachment into effect, and thus come up with estimates for the effects of climate change. It certainly should be possible to carefully distinguish different ecological regimes.

Maybe the report already has all this in there; if so somebody please correct me. Instead, it looks like it’s proposing a FISMA for wildfires. The result will likely be the same: a standard treated as a checklist with little resulting change in procedures or culture.

At least the GAO report is talking about studying changes in fires over time. Maybe that will provide enough information to start to get somewhere.