In addition to scorching millions of acres of habitat and killing wildlife, the fires that have raged throughout the western U.S. this summer have taken another toll on the environment — a financial one. The federal government expects to spend more than $1.5 billion battling wildfires this year, and millions of those dollars will come from sources that would otherwise be used to pay for environmental activities on public lands. Already, field offices of the U.S. Forest Service are suspending road and trail maintenance projects, land purchases, fish and wildlife habitat work, replanting of logged and burned areas, and other projects. Traditionally, Congress has picked up some of the tab for wildfire-fighting, but the Bush administration is opposed to footing the bill for this year’s particularly extensive and expensive burns. Earlier this week, President Bush nixed an extra $50 million for firefighting, leaving the USFS to transfer money from other programs to cover fire-related expenses. A new cost projection suggests that this year, the USFS will spend more than a quarter of its entire budget on fighting fires.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.