Congress Warned of Another Costly Wildfire Season
June 7, 2018
This week, top Interior Department and Agriculture Department officials were called to Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee regarding the outlook for the 2018 wildfire season. The two hearings come on the heels of an updated report issued by the National Interagency Fire Center. The report finds that drought and other factors are expected to fuel continued above-normal potential for significant wildfires across the West this summer.
“Preexisting drought conditions along with continued drier than average conditions across the Southwest allowed for a normal progression of the western fire season across the Four Corners Region and West Texas in May. By month’s end, the focus of activity began to shift westward into Arizona and Southern California.”
For their part, agency officials warned lawmakers to expect another costly and potentially deadly summer of wildfires. In fact, nearly 1.7 million acres have already burned across the West. According to U.S. Forest Service Interim Chief Victoria Christiansen, the current level of damage is roughly on par with the fire damage at this point last year.
Meanwhile, the annual cost of fire suppression continues to reach record levels. In 2017 alone, the Forest Service and the Interior Department combined to spend $2.9 billion to contain wildfires that burned over 10 million acres. More than 12,000 buildings were also destroyed in fire-related incidents last year, including nearly 8,100 homes and more than 200 commercial buildings.
In addition to sounding the alarm for this year’s fire season, administration officials informed the committees that they expect a significant boost in timber production this year. In fact, Interim Chief Christiansen expects to sell 3.4 billion board-feet of timber, a prospect that would make the 2018 harvest one of the biggest in 20 years.