USA — Last year, two-thirds of Americans were affected by wildfires and with climate change setting in, each wildfire season is becoming more difficult to manage and much more expensive.
After consulting with a wide range of stakeholders, The Obama Administration released a strategy that attempts to prevent and control wildfire threats, The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.
“As climate change spurs extended droughts and longer fire seasons, this collaborative wildfire blueprint will help us restore forests and rangelands to make communities less vulnerable to catastrophic fire,” explains Mike Boots, acting chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.
46 million homes in 70,000 communities are threatened by fires now, says Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. Part of the reason so many homes are in danger is because of the construction boom (that led to the crash) over the past two decades. Close to 17 million homes were built during that period, about half of them in rural, wildfire-prone areas.
Colorado homes are at the highest risk, followed by California and Texas. In Colorado, new rules will require at-risk homeowners to take preventive measures, and some are using goats to clear underbrush that can fuel fires. There will also be more stringent building codes.
Obama’s blueprint includes strategies on the national and regional levels including the problem of increasing sprawl into fire prone areas and pests and disease from climate change that’s widely affecting the health of our nation’s forests.
Use controlled burns and forest-thinning to prevent mega-fires
Improve zoning ordinances and building codes to limit risk to homes and businesses
Ensuring that watersheds, transportation and utility corridors are part of future management plans
A multi-organization effort to reduce accidental and malicious ignitions.
These principles have already been successful in the Blue Mountains near Flagstaff, Arizona and the Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners in Georgia. The strategy encourages knowledge sharing between communities and expanding best practices across the country.
In Obama’s 2015 budget, he proposes treating wildfire management the same as any other natural disaster. Instead of being tied to a finite budget, the Forest Service should receive national emergency clean-up funds, leaving its annual budget for fire prevention and restoration efforts that are critical to the Strategy’s success.
The increasing incidence and severity of wildfires has quickly chewed up the annual budget of the Forest Service. Last year, for example, 51 major wildfires raged across 10 western states at the same time – after spending $1 billion, the Forest Service ran out of money to fight them.
While those who oppose doing anything about climate change say “it’s too expensive for people and businesses,” it cost every American about $1100 last year through their taxes for disaster cleanup across the US. Taxpayers paid most of the bill as the insurance industry fled. The federal government spent more on disaster clean up last year than on transportation or education.