According to a new study from the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, treating forests with high risk of fires could possibly prevent the increasing amount of “megafires,” which would provide benefits worth up to three times the strategies’ cost.
The new study found that megafires could be prevented with proactive forest management techniques, which includes controlled burning and vegetation thinning. Such tactics are logical ways to eliminate the risk of fire. In fact, the National Fire Protection Agency offers similar advice to homeowners, telling them to clean their kitchens’ hood exhaust system. The idea here is that if highly flammable kindling were removed from a high risk area, the threat of a fire–mega or home sized–is greatly reduced.
The study lends supports to a plan, which is set to go before Congress soon, that’d conserve funding intended for critical fire prevention and restoration programs, which have historically been short-changed. As several sources predict that this summer will be blisteringly hot, the size and amount of wildfires are expected to rise, which means such disaster prevention funding more important than ever.
“Recent megafires in California and the West have destroyed lives and property, degraded water quality, damaged wildlife habitat, and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Sierra Nevada Project Director David Edelson. “This study shows that, by investing now in Sierra forests, we can reduce risks, safeguard water quality, and recoup up to three times our initial investment while increasing the health and resilience of our forests.”
As if the situation needed to be any more urgent, statistical data proves that the number of massive wildfires is creeping upwards. According to Geophysical Research Letters, large wildfires have steady increased by seven incidents per year between 1984 and 2011, with the total, damaged acreage rising by nearly 90,000.
The government is stuck between a rock and a hard place. According to Randy Moore, a regional forester, agencies need to treat 500,000 acres minimum each year in the Pacific Southwest Region, which is four times the amount treated in 2013. Naturally, this would be a heavy expense. However, failing to take such action could be even more costly–the cost of fighting wildfires is even more exorbitant, and also extremely dangerous because of rough terrain and unpredictable winds.
It’s like the old business adage says, you have to spend money to make money. If the government hopes to cut the cost of these megafires, they need to invest in preventive methods now.