Forest Service: “Above Normal” Wildland Fire Potential in the West, “Active Fire” Year for North Central U.S.
U.S. Forest Service has forecast an “above normal” wildland fire Potential in the West, and an “active fire” year for North Central U.S. in the upcoming 2015 fire season in testimony today before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
“Forest Service researchers expect 2015 to continue the trend of above average fire activity,” said Forest Service Chief in his testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Teusday.
“Above normal wildland fire potential exists across the north central United States and above normal wildland fire potential will threaten many parts of the West this summer,” said USFS Chief Tidwell. “We anticipate another active fire year, underscoring the need to reform our wildfire funding.”
The forecast indicates there is a 90 percent chance that this year’s Forest Service fire suppression costs will be between $794 million and $1.657 billion, with a median estimate of $1.225 billion, potentially forcing the diversion of funding from other vital programs to support suppression operations. Any costs above the median is greater than the “10 year average” and would force the Forest Service to leverage funding from other land management programs. Diverting funds to cover the cost of wildfire suppression affects other critical Forest Service programs and services, said Tidwell, including efforts to reduce wildfire risk through mechanical thinning, prescribed fires, and other means.”
Wildfire suppression costs have increased as fire seasons have grown longer and the frequency, size, and severity of wildfires has increased due to changing climatic conditions, drought, hazardous fuel buildups, insect and disease infestations, nonnative invasive species, and other factors. Funding has not kept pace with the cost of fighting fire. Over the last 10 years, adjusting for inflation, the Forest Service has spent an average of almost $1.13 billion on suppression operations annually.
However, the fire season has already started in parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and has seen several ferocious fires since March.