Feds spend more than $2.6 billion on fire suppression
By Bob Berwyn
For the first time in the era of modern record-keeping, wildfires burned across more than 10 million acres in 2015, mainly due to a series of large fires in Alaska.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, there were more than 50 fires that exceeded 50,000 acres, and 20 fires exceeded more than 100,000 acres. The fires destroyed more than 4,500 homes and other structures and killed 13 wildland firefighters.
The big wildfire season came after two-year lull, when the total wildfire footprint stayed below 5 million acres. For the last years, the average now stands at about 6.6 million acres.
The uptick in fires is no surprise to experts, who have been warning that global warming will result in bigger burns. Alaska, for example, reported its second-warmest year on record in 2015. Since 2000, fire seasons have grown longer, and the frequency, size and severity of wildland fires has increased.
With wildfire costs soaring, agency takes funds from other programs
U.S. Forest Service officials said they were able to step up the pace of restoration projects in 2015 despite facing tough budget challenges during a record wildfire season.
Despite the gains, at least 65 million National Forest System acres are still in need of restoration, agency leaders said, explaining that the rising cost of wildfire suppression has taken funding away from restoration, watershed and wildlife programs, limiting the Forest Service’s ability to do the work that would prevent fires in the first place. Continue reading “Forest Service steps up restoration efforts in 2015”→
Climate, topography likely more significant, researchers say
Colorado researchers have added another chapter to the long-running debate over beetle-kill and wildfires, finding that spruce beetle infestations haven’t increased the severity of wildfires in southwestern Colorado.
Focusing on local threats, not climate change, may be the best way to spur wildfire mitigation actions
Whether or not people are convinced that human activities are changing the climate doesn’t play a big role in their decisions about trying to reduce wildfire risks around their property, Colorado-based researchers wrote in a new paper that focused on the Colorado Front Range.
Study ties ancient wildfire surge in the Rockies to warmer climate phase
Offering yet more evidence that the West’s recent spate of megafires is linked with a warming climate, University of Wyoming researchers showed that a warm spell about 1,000 years ago also spurred more blazes. The study suggests that large fires will continue to increase as a result of a warming climate.
“What our research shows is that even modest regional warming trends, like we are currently experiencing, can cause exceptionally large areas in the Rockies to be burned by wildfires,” says John Calder, a Ph.D. candidate in UW’s Program in Ecology and the Department of Geology and Geophysics. Continue reading “Warmer climate means more fires — any questions?”→
Budget ‘borrowing’ reaches $700 million as political gridlock prevents meaningful budget reform
With wildfires still raging across the West, the U.S. Forest Service has already used up its firefighting budget for the year. This week, the agency notified Congress that another $250 million will be needed to cover the spiraling costs.
Subsequently, top cabinet officials sent a formal letter asking Congress to change the way the nation pays for firefighting so that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management can invest in forest and rangeland restoration, and make lands less vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire.