Sunday, June 28, 2009

Funds to fight fires going up in smoke

Ray Rasker in the Denver Post: This year's forest fire season has arrived across the West, bringing with it the disturbing trends of ever larger fire suppression costs mostly paid for by the national taxpayer, and often to protect second homes that are only seasonally occupied.

The price of fighting forest fires has increased substantially, now accounting for half of the Forest Service's budget and costing taxpayers billions. … Yet we have failed to address one reason why forest fires have become so expensive: the increasing number of private homes, many of them second residences, near forested public lands.

Across the West today, only 14 percent of private land adjacent to forests has homes on it. But this relatively small percentage is tremendously expensive. … In addition, climate change is expanding the length and severity of fire seasons. A case study done by Headwaters Economics analyzing Montana, for example, shows that a one-degree increase in average summertime temperature is associated with a doubling of home protection costs.

Homes built near forested public lands are much more likely to be second homes than compared to other private Western lands. … Residential lots near wildlands also take up more than six times the space of homes built in other places. … . Sprawled housing costs more to protect.

Given these facts, why should the nation's taxpayers — especially at a time of record deficits and record fire years — subsidize the affluent, who often could afford to pay for protecting or insuring these homes?...

A house afire in Oregon, 1953, shot by the US Forest Service

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