Critics Charge Forest Service With Overzealous Fire Fighting

A growing cadre of critics charge the U.S. Forest Service with fighting too many fires, saying that the cost — in money, lives, and ecological damage — is too high. As logging in national forests has declined by 80 percent over the last decade, fighting fires has become the agency’s primary mission. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, only 110 out of more than 10,000 wildfires in national forests were allowed to burn naturally in 2003. In 1996, fighting fires on 6 million acres cost $522 million; in 2002, fire fighting on 7 million acres cost $1.4 billion. In 2003, 29 Forest Service employees lost their lives fighting fires, with many more injured. A number of Forest Service employees and enviros argue that fire is as important as rain to forest renewal, and that ecological damage can result when fires are put out with chemical retardants.