Guest author Randal O’Toole has a degree in forestry from Oregon State University and has spent several decades studying forest policy. He is the author of six books, including Reforming the Forest Service, and author of The Perfect Firestorm: Bringing Forest Service Wildfire Costs under Control, a Cato Institute Policy Analysis. Every summer, smoke from…
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Wildfire is causing needless loss of life and resources. Last year, the Camp Fire that burned in northern California took 85 lives, destroyed nearly 19,000 structures, and burned 153,000 acres. Efforts to prevent a similar tragedy this year led to intentional blackouts that left millions without electricity. Yet the fires rage again, consuming 75,000 acres this year. Wildfires across the west burn on average 7 million acres annually.
Fire-fighting now takes up more than half of the Forest Service’s annual budget, leaving few dollars for restoring forests and preventing future fires. A century of fire suppression and decades of reduced commercial harvest have increased forest density and left an accumulation of fuels on the forest floor. Add that to a drier climate and residential development expanding on the forest edge, and the mix is a design for disaster.