To save costs, USFS aims to stamp out all fires
Written bySUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, AP/Greenwire
After years of allowing small fires to burn out on their own -- and clean up the landscape in the process -- the Forest Service is sending crews to stamp out every flame for financial reasons.
In a year when wildfire seasons have set records across the United States, the federal agency doesn't have the dollars to allow fires, which still require funds for monitoring, to burn for weeks. The agency spends less when it puts the flames out quickly, Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard said. Fire suppression accounts for more than half the Forest Service's budget. This year, the cost projections are soaring over the budgeted amount of $848 million to $1.4 billion.
"We don't want to do this long term," Hubbard said. "We know being able to use fire makes good sense, and we know some forests are very good at it. And in their ecosystems, it's a thing they should be doing."
The temporary change in policy has drawn some criticism from watchdog groups, scientists and others who fear these actions may result in an even more destructive wildfire season next year. They argue the use of slurry bombers and water-dropping helicopters to put fires out is more expensive than letting fires burn.
"At a time of both drought in the interior West and overall increases in average global temperatures, we will be seeing more fire on the landscape and not less," said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. "Yet this policy attempts to put our hands over our eyes and deny reality."