Congress’s failure to fund the U.S. Forest Service’s brush-clearing efforts might have intensified the latest wildfire to tear through California, according to a report Reuters released over the weekend.
Earlier this year, the National Forest Service requested eight brush-clearing projects in California that “would have thinned the woods in about 25 square miles (65 square km) in the Groveland District of the Stanislaus National Forest, much of which was incinerated by the Rim Fire,” Reuters reports.
But funding for those projects was never approved even though, as executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center John Buckley told Reuters, they “would have inarguably made the Rim Fire far easier to contain, far less expensive and possibly not even a major disaster.”
The Rim Fire, the fifth largest wildfire ever to burn through California, has taken a major toll on the state. It has burned through nearly a quarter of a million acres of land, much of that within national parks, and has cost the state almost $40 million. The wildfire has also threatened the power and water supplies of San Francisco.
Sadly, the Forest Service has already run out of its annual budget to fight wildfires — thanks in part to the across-the-board budget cuts forced by sequestration — and has resorted to diverting funds from other programs like timber and recreation to focus its efforts on containment. It has been successful, getting the Rim Fire to 70 percent contained by the beginning of September, but at a cost. The firefighting can expend 40 percent of the Forest Service’s budget.
That cost is exacerbated by the state of American wildfires, which are increasingly common and intense:
A compounded set of factors is making it more and more costly to contain wildfires. Humans are moving closer to common wildfire zones, meaning it’s more and more expensive to rebuild. But also, the fires are becoming more commonplace thanks to climate change. Droughts are getting worse and more frequent, the temperature is rising, and vegetation grows earlier than it used to, giving more fodder to the devastating fires.