Friday, July 06, 2007

The Woods are on Fire

Remember my rant in Fire is a river that runs uphill? Don't miss the NY Times article, On Fringe of Forests, Homes and Fires Meet.
A new generation of Americans (snip), in moving to places perched on the edge of vast, undeveloped government lands in the West, are living out a dangerous experiment, many of them ignorant of the risk.

Their migration — more than 8.6 million new homes in the West within 30 miles of a national forest since 1982, according to research at the University of Wisconsin — has coincided with profound environmental changes that have worsened the fire hazard, including years of drought, record-setting heat and forest management policies that have allowed brush and dead trees to build up.
Not only are there more fires, but the number of structures in the trees is going up. Who pays? You and I do. (And let us not forget that firefighters pay with their lives all too frequently.)
About 45 percent of the Forest Service’s proposed budget for 2008 is designated for firefighting, compared with 13 percent in 1991. Last year, the agency spent $2.5 billion, a record, thinning fuels and fighting fires that burned 9.9 million acres, also a record.

California, braced for what fire officials have said could be one of the worst seasons in history this year, has set aside $850 million for wildfire suppression.

The Department of Interior, which includes the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the country’s largest landlord, spent $424 million fighting fire last year.
To put this in perspective, California budgeted $5.1 billion of the University of California and $4.0 billion for the California State Universities for this year. $.85 billion is not chump change. I would also argue that state spending on higher education has the potential to pay back the state many-fold because graduates (relative to those who never went to college) will likely earn more and hence, pay more in taxes.

Aside: The article does end with a newly transplanted (to the woods) couple deciding to join the volunteer fire department. That's showing the right self-sufficient pioneer spirit!

I knew a woman who moved from the city to the mountains. Not only did she join the volunteer fire department, but she eventually became the fire marshal. She was always complaining about the part-time residents in the fanciest and biggest homes. It appeared that those owners were much less likely to clear their brush or thin trees too close to their structures; they almost never joined the volunteer fire department.

It drove her crazy. Up in the mountains, you depend not just on yourself, but on your neighbors to do their part for mutual safety. What could she do? She cited and fined them. They could afford to pay her fines and ignore her requests .

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