Reducing forest fire risks requires market incentives, free enterprise


In a rare example of bipartisanship, last week the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed two Republican-sponsored bills to increase funding for fire-reduction projects in federal, state and private forests. Although there is heated disagreement over the causes of the recent increase in catastrophic wildfires — is it climate change, federal mismanagement or both? — there is clear consensus on the need to reduce fire risks now, even as we continue to debate long-term solutions.

The need for short-term action is clear. Forest fires are growing larger, hotter and more frequent. In the 1980s and early 1990s, an average of 2.9 million acres burned each year in the United States. Since 2008, the average has skyrocketed to 6.6 million acres. Last year, more than 8.5 million acres burned.

The human toll is the most visible impact of catastrophic wildfires. Last year’s Camp Fire in California, which took 86 lives and caused $16.5 billion in damage, remains seared in our minds. But there are other important, less-visible consequences. Fires destroy habitat for charismatic and endangered species. They degrade water quality, including drinking water sources relied on by neighboring communities, and emit tons of air pollution.

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