The Forest Service can't keep up with the rising costs of fighting wildfires in a warming world.
As climate change dries out fire-prone forests, the frequency and intensity of forest fires are increasing. Between 1985 and 1999, the federal government never spent more than $1 billion on fire suppression in a single year, according to this National Interagency Fire Center table [PDF] of firefighting costs since the mid-'80s.
But in 2000, the federal bill came in at $1.4 billion, and then it continued to increase, exceeding $1.5 billion five times from 2006 to 2012. And the number of acres of forest burned each year has also been rising.
This year has been a nightmare fire season in the American West: The U.S. Forest Service, which incurs most of the nation's forest-fire suppression costs, ran out of firefighting money. Again. From E&E Publishing:
Lightning bolts rained across the West in August, sparking hundreds of wildfires in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, and pushing the cash-strapped Forest Service to the brink.
The service had at that point spent $967 million battling wildfires that had torched more than 3.4 million acres in 2013. Its emergency fund exhausted, it had about $50 million left -- enough for about half a week.
That's become business as usual for an agency that's run out of wildfire suppression funds seven times in the last 12 years. So Chief Tom Tidwell did what his predecessors had done: He raided the agency's nonfire accounts to make up the shortfall. ...