Report: Federal Mismanagement Led to High Cost of 2000's Wildfires The federal government spent a record $1.6 billion in 2000 fighting the worst wildfires our nation has seen in decades, according to a recent report by Taxpayers for Common Sense.
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Already, the 2001 fire season is threatening to heat up in the West. An early January fire near San Diego burned more than 10,000 acres. The cost of fighting the fire has been estimated at nearly $7.4 million with the final tally likely to reach $10 million, according to the Forest Service.
In all, more than 39 million acres of National Forests in the interior West face a high risk of fire. To combat this risk Congress appropriated $1.6 billion in wildfire funding for the Forest Service in 2001.
The Forest Service has failed to implement reforms promised after the 1994 fire season, which until 2000 was the most expensive on record. In 1995, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior released a strategy that promoted increased accountability, efficiency, and preparation for wildfires before they start.
Every dollar spent on fire prevention can save $5 to $7 in suppression costs. Yet current federal policies encourage wasteful spending. By prioritizing fire suppression over fire prevention, Congress and the Forest Service increase firefighting costs and jeopardize firefighters' lives by subjecting them to unnecessary risks.
The Forest Service set an urgent goal of writing fire management plans for every burnable acre of National Forest in 1995. These plans delineate which acres must be protected from fire and which may be allowed to burn within predetermined boundaries. Five years later, fewer than 5% of all forests have these plans, which would reduce the cost of fighting wildfires.
Congress needs to maintain more control of firefighting costs, which have increased by 50% over the last two decades. Currently, Congress gives the Forest Service and other federal agencies bottomless emergency budgets for firefighting, with little auditing to examine how agencies spend the funds.
Congressional funding priorities also make the wildfire situation worse, according to the report. Over the next four years, Congress will spend more than $1 billion in welfare handouts to subsidize commercial logging corporations in National Forests, which can contribute to the risk and severity of catastrophic fire.
The Forest Service and Congress must immediately reform current practices that contribute to catastrophic fire risk. Otherwise, the 2001 fire season could be more destructive and expensive than last year's.
For more information contact Jonathan Oppenheimer at 202-546-8500 x 132 or
by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. From the Ashes is available online at
http://www.taxpayer.net/forest/ ; TCS is at www.taxpayer.net
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