Wildfires: Who Should Pay?

alfire1.jpg The New York Times asked:
The steeply rising cost of preventing and suppressing wildfires, which burned more of the American landscape in 2006 than in any other year since at least 1960, is creating a rift between Washington and state and local governments over how the burden ought to be shouldered.

As Costs of Wildfires Grow, So Does a Question, by Kirk Johnson, New York Times, January 3, 2007

Basically, wildfire costs have increased greatly in recent years, and the current federal administration wants to dump the costs onto states.

The Times article is based on an audit by the Inspector General, Western Region, U.S. Department of Agriculture, of November 2006. The audit is about western fires, especially the ones in Texas and Oklahoma of 2006. Those burned mostly private land (there being very little federal land in Texas). So there’s an argument to privatize the costs, especially since people keep building subdivisions next to federally-managed land in other western states.

Something needs to be done, since wildfire reactions come out of the main budget of the various agencies, leaving less for everything else. If we want national parks and wildlife reserves, for example, we need to solve the wildfire expense problem in order to have money left to maintain those things.

Of course, all that was before the big Georgia and Florida fires of spring 2007, which were mostly on public land. And the audit perhaps could say more about how cattle grazing on public lands in the west and timber plantations in the east may have made large wildfires more likely. Perhaps ecological preservation including large wildfire management should be taken into account for subdivision building and timber and cattle production more than they are now.

Prevention as risk management? Budgeting as risk management? Looking at the big picture in advance as risk management?