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Right on Track for 2009 Cost of Calif Fires Forecast

Posted by feww on August 26, 2008

Submitted by a CASF Member:

Forest Service Metamorphoses into Fire Service!

Forest Service is diverting hundreds of millions of dollars previously set aside for restoration, land acquisition, improvement, research even fire prevention and safety work to meet the tremendous cost of fighting fires, especially the wildfires in California this year.

Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell told regional foresters that cost of fighting fires could reach $1.6 billion, about half the agency’s 2008 budget.

“All of you are aware of the serious nature of this year’s fire season and the issues faced by the agency in paying for fire suppression costs,” Kimbell wrote in a memo. “At this time the only option for financing the shortfall is to use the agency’s transfer authority.”

Kimbell said, the foresters had to curtail spending on all non-critical items this year and “use prudent cost-saving judgment” in hiring and in approving overtime, but stopped short of mentioning layoffs.

“I recognize that this direction will have a significant effect on agency operations,” Kimbell said in the memo. “However, we must be in a position to protect life and property from wildfire, and do so within the funds available to the agency.

“The agency started transferring money in the middle of August and expects to take a total of $400 million from other areas through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Such transfers have occurred several times since 2000.” AP reported.

However, it has been predicted that the cost of fighting fires could reach $2 billion, and the transfers could top $750 million.

Q. What exactly was your forecast for the cost of California fires in 2009?

A. Err…, what exactly did you say the 2009 Forest Service budget was, and the maximum possible transfers by Kimbell?

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4 Responses to “Right on Track for 2009 Cost of Calif Fires Forecast”

  1. GK said

    [Why do you think your comment is of any interest to our readers? Moderator]

  2. […] Right on Track for 2009 Cost of Calif Fires Forecast […]

  3. feww said

    Here’s a passage borrowed from an article posted on an affiliated blog:

    “In For the Common Good Herman Daly reminds us of Pimples Carson, a John Steinbeck’s protagonist in The Wayward Bus. Pimples ‘spent half of his income on doctors and salves whose advertisements promised to cure his acne, and the other half on candy bars and sugary pies whose advertisements told him that a workingman needs quick food energy. Thus Pimples Carson becomes the insatiable consumer, much to the benefit of the makers of candy bars and acne ointments but to his own personal detriment.’”

    There are several fundamental issues that must be addressed before considering the role of Forest Service:

    1. It’s the job of nature to protect its assets and ensure continuity of life. Woodland fires prevent the spread of disease among trees. They must be allowed to burn out.

    Ross Meentemeyer, a landscape ecologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and colleagues report that “years of fire suppression and other land-use practices have altered structure and composition of forests in way that may facilitate spread of the disease. California’s oak woodlands have grown larger and denser over the past six decades. Counter-intuitively, this has made them more susceptible to being wiped out by the rapid onset of sudden oak death.”

    “There is some compelling evidence that humans could be moving the disease in infested soil,” Meentemeyer said. “We have found evidence for human involvement at three different scales of analysis. First of all, the pathogen is much more likely to occur along hiking and biking trails, where humans travel. Second, using some of our landscape and regional data, we have shown that highly visited state and county parks have more disease than private ranches and lands that have very limited visitation. We have also found on an even broader scale across the state of California that forests surrounded by high human population densities are more likely to be infected”

    2. It’s the job of regulators to prevent people from building structures on the edge of woodlands, thus endangering lives and property and costing the nation billions of dollars.

    Calif residents, instead of being discouraged (for obvious reasons), are encouraged to build their dream homes at the edge of wildlands, areas prone to wildfire. More than 1 million homes (about 61% of all new housing) built in California, Oregon and Washington between 1990 to 2000 were erected at the edge of fire-prone wildlands, a University of Wisconsin study reported.

    3. The no one act of forest maintenance policy must be to prevent large fires from occurring not fighting them! Brush clearing and creation of firebreaks are frowned upon because they are regarded as “too expensive!” The “excess fuel” which is not cleared away [or allowed to burn out the previous years] increases the danger to life and property, which continue being erected on ill-situated sites. The 2003 fires which extended from the Mexican border to Los Angeles suburbs, claimed about 20 lives, including one firefighter, and about 2,750 homes and other building. Official damage estimates ranged from $1.25 to $2 billion, making the fires the most expensive in state history.

    4. The business of fighting fires, especially in California, is now an indispensable component of the exponential growth economy. “Firefighting” business has as much right to generate revenue and therefore profit [sic] as do Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Google, Exxon or the Las Vegas casinos!

    In the exponential growth economy businesses must grow exponentially, otherwise they wither away and die!

    “In Southern California, clearing out the ‘excess fuels’ that have resulted from past fire suppression, and reconfiguring the landscape to create more firebreaks and other barriers to fire, would have been expensive but feasible,” said Robert Nelson, professor of environmental policy at the University of Maryland.

    “So why didn’t government take effective management and policy action to reduce fire risks before total disaster struck?” Nelson asked. “Leaving aside the individual human tragedies, the costs [of 2003 wildfires] would certainly have been less than the $2 billion (and climbing) that is now projected in terms of fire-fighting costs and lost property values.”

    If anyone tries to persuade you otherwise, there’s a good chance they are a part of the scam!

    Now we can discuss the role of Forest Service.

  4. kurt kamm said

    You may or may not agree that the USFS operates efficiently, but that’s a different issue. The USFS is a fire service. Who else is going to fight the fires in the national forests? Yes, state and county agencies are also helping out, but for many of these fires it’s the USFS responsibility. So, should they not fight fires because it takes money away from other USFS activities? This isnt the Forest Service’ fault. Its Congress’ fault. If the USFS has to spend money to fight fires, it has to spend money. Call your congressman or senator.

    I have also written a novel about wildland firefighters in CA
    One Foot in the Black
    Kurt Kamm/Malibu CA

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