The last 4 years have been the 4 hottest on record. Based on current emission levels, that trend is likely to continue. The extended summer season coupled with the hotter temperatures is causing the premature deaths of millions of trees and leaving our forests drier, making them more susceptible to megafires.
At the same time, decades of fighting the spread of all wildfires has prevented a natural cycle of thinning that had kept forest fires under control. Before European settlement of the West, 1.5m acres would burn each year; since then, it’s about 57k acres/year. Less than 2% of California forestland saw proactive treatment in some recent years, and one of the most effective means at controlling future fires – prescribed burns – is limited by cultural and legal hurdles, EPA standards and the Endangered Species Act. However, this takes a short-term view on the dangers of uncontrolled wildfires to both environmental quality and animals in these habitats.
We have a problem in this country, and it’s costing us billions of dollars a year. We need to start listening to what the experts recommend on how to control these fires.
More money needs to be spent on prevention, and we need to properly fund the US Forest Service in order to proactively address threats before they become fires. We also need to shift our cultural view that all wildfires must be stopped in order to allow the natural cycle to regain control.
These natural fires also need to be supplemented with prescribed burns, which stay limited to their defined areas 99% of the time. The EPA must take a long-term view towards the dangers of megafires versus prescribed fires when analyzing the environmental impact of controlled burns.
Finally, we need to align the incentives of states, developers, and homeowners to account for the dangers of megafires. The cost of fighting fires in these areas falls on the federal government, with the benefits of the development accruing locally. Either through changes to federal standards, changes to mortgage-interest deductions for housing built in high-risk areas, or the implementation of a federal fire insurance program, the risk has to be “priced in” to the cost of developing and living in these areas.
I can’t help but think that the huge recent wildfires are a metaphor for many other things in our society. We avoid spending what we should – but end up paying for it in the end, often tragically. One thing I can say for sure – my first budget as President will involve a quintupling of the U.S. Forest Service budget. It would create jobs in an area we clearly need to invest in. Let’s solve these problems instead of waiting for them to develop into literal fires.
Problems to be Solved
- Wildfires are becoming increasingly frequent and damaging, costing billions of dollars each year, and will only get worse as climate change continues to dry out our forests.
- Readjust incentives and priorities to promote investments that will reduce the frequency and impact of megafires
As President, I will…
- Quintuple the budget for the U.S. Forest Service, and specifically tailor it to focus on fire prevention.
- Appoint a Secretary of Agriculture who recognizes the importance of preventing megafires using science-backed techniques.
- Work with federal agencies such as the EPA to adjust how specific metrics are measured to take a more long-term view of the costs and benefits of prescribed fires.
- Work with Congress to pass legislation aligning incentives for states, developers, and homeowners towards fire prevention and avoiding high-risk areas.