Is USFS World’s Most Expensive Wildland Firefighting Agency?

At least in the U.S., no one even comes close.

The Forest Service oversees 193 million acres with a wildland fire management budget of about $2 billion. That’s $10.36/acre.

The Department of Interior manages 500 million acres with a wildland fire budget of $856 million. That’s $1.71/acre.

By the way, DOI enjoys a 98% initial attack success rate (defined as % of fires kept smaller than 300 acres) — same as the Forest Service.

16 thoughts on “Is USFS World’s Most Expensive Wildland Firefighting Agency?”

  1. This may also help explain the shrill battle cries of the USFS for the necessity of protecting the public and its forests, even while admitting their prior mismanagement is at the center of the cause of much of the fire danger. Over time, such mismanagement contributes to the acceleration of global warming which creates the conditions for more wild fires.

    This is reminiscent of the single largest consumer of petroleum in the world (the US military) waging wars to control the last remaining petroleum resources of other countries.

    In each case an image comes to mind here, of a giant snake eating its tail.

  2. Mr Stahl raises an issue deserving some thought. In his quick analysis he forgot to mention values at risk, the added cost of urban interface protection, fire access problems due to road closures, resistance to control, topography, fuels build up as well as statutory reposibilities the Forest Service has not shared by BLM. However, his concnern about the cost of protecting the Nation’s renewable natural resource base do need serious discussion. .

  3. It’s a good thing the DOI has so many nice “high elevation rock and ice or weirdly eroded red rock and sand national parks” and sage covered BLM. Does beg the question how many National parks are located in “dry frequent fire forests” and “does sage brush fires crown?”. Beyond O & C lands, I don’t think the BLM is a big timber owner. Geography is what history is made of.

    • It’s a good thing the Forest Service has the Tongass — 17 million acres of rainforest/rock/ice/glaciers/muskeg that have no fires.

      As for “dry” national parks . . . King’s Canyon, Sequoia, Yosemite, Bandelier N.M., Crater Lake (where I got to watch some lightning ignitions burn freely last summer while bicycling the rim with Randal O’Toole), and many more.

      The O&C lands are an interesting fire suppression story. BLM contracts with the State of Oregon for fire suppression, paying the same per acre rate that private, industrial landowners pay for state fire protection services.

  4. Fire fighting has become an “extractive” activity, stealing resources and funding from our forests in exchange for overtime, hazard pay and a feeling of well being that comes with hero worship. The Let-Burn program of the Forest Service is far more extensive than that of the BLM. When a $3000 lightning fire is turned into a $30,000,000 firestorm, everyone loses…. except the firefighters. The fantasy of preservationism is both costly AND destructive, as shown in this report. The “conspiracy theorists” claim that firefighting is merely a protection of “standing timber about to be harvested”. Well, since some harvest levels are down to one thirteenth of historical harvest levels, that “conspiracy” simply doesn’t hold water. “Passive restoration” is an oxymoron at best, and a deadly force to eliminate rural residents, at worst. Preservationists have made their decree that people MUST not live in and around our public forests, and will not support public safety, regardless of deadly outcomes.

    • Larry seems to be the only one routinely and indiscriminately resorting to slurs such as “preservationists”, apparently unaware there are plenty of perfectly suitable in-kind slurs to reply to his ilk. Fortunately, he’s in a category all by himself. Still, what a shame, because Larry’s use of unqualified labels as slurs against his imaginary foes lowers the bar of civil discussion to the lowest common denominator.

      • David- I know there’s a line somewhere, but I’m not sure that calling someone a “preservationist” is really a slur. Perhaps it is an “unqualified label” but so then is your comment to me below.
        “Your statements reveal an attitude of extremist rationalizations devoid of conscience, accountability, and appreciation for cause and effect .”

        Given what occurs on the climate blogs I participate in , I consider both the above statements pretty mild.

        • Sharon, until Larry can provide evidence to qualify his use of his favorite bogieman term regarding all people who disagree with him as “preservationists”, he’s just a typical paid timber beast defensively resorting to the use of unqualified extremist characterizations against anyone who would express issues about how he makes a living on the public dime, on public lands.

          I have yet to encounter a single commenter on NCFP who expresses himself as a preservationist, which according to Wiki is: “Preservationists view the environment as having intrinsic value that should be preserved by making as little change to it as possible.”

          Since we’re talking a great deal about the environment of NFS “managed landscapes”, and considering the colossal mismanagement of these public lands Larry and others have helped perpetrate on that publicly owned environment, it’s a little late for arguing that mess needs to be preserved for future generations to enjoy, “making as little change to it as possible” .

          Isn’t it?

          Restoration of these mismanaged landscapes is the order of the day from both, within and outside the USFS. Isn’t it?

          So why would you countenance Larry’s constant assertions there’s ANYONE, who is regarding themselves as preservationists in the entire national dialogue as a meaningful bogieman to Larry? Could it be because these constant assertions serve to bolster (by inference) the perception that there’s this vast conspiracy of “preservationists” out there who can’t even grok the value of badly needed restoration of mismanagement of public forest lands?

          I don’t think so.

          I apologize if I did not provide adequate qualifiers for my quoted statement around my perceptions of your “Extremist rationalizations” on ESA, I thought I did, but here’s another:

          Last week a big victory was achieved in the House by defeating extremists who attempted to insert a harmful rider on the appropriations bill which would have barred new endangered species listings. It’s a safe bet you would have been in favor of the rider based upon your oft stated misgivings of ESA.

          (The following quote is NOT from Larry’s fictional hordes of Preservationists hiding behind every tree, but from REP):

          ‘The “extinction rider” was a naked political attack on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA, which passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, still enjoys the strong support of Americans, including a majority of Republicans. The rider would have blocked protections for more than 250 imperiled plants and animals. It would have undermined a good law and set a dangerous precedent, clearing the way for politicians to interfere routinely with decisions that should be driven by science.’

          REP, by the way, is not Revolutionaries for Environmental Protectionism, but Republicans for Environmental Protection.

          Hopefully, this provides adequate qualification for my perception of your extremist position on ESA and Larry’s extremist position on invoking the insidious threats of a previously unrecognized conspiracy of “preservationists” at the heart of the rectification of all environmental problems and apparently according to Larry, the conversations on NCFP.

          If there are any other qualifications needed on my statements made here I’ll be more than happy to provide them.

          • Sorry, David, but I refuse to conform to your stereotype of me. Your “paint roller” covers a LOT more area than a simple “broad brush” you use to paint yourself into a corner. I see that personal attacks are still continuing to be utilized when specific issues cannot be addressed. You assume WAY too much about me, and are completely wrong about me on a great many points. Your threats of increased rhetoric and namecalling doesn’t scare me one bit. My opinions and observations are my own, and reflect my heightened perception of forest ecosystems and my wide experience in many different kinds of forests and regions. Everything hinges on site-specific conditions. I contend that my middle-of-the-road opinions are more of a threat to the “serial litigators” than they’d like to admit. It is REALLY easy to argue against clearcutting and intensive commercial logging but, it is a lot harder to argue against 22 foot triangular spacing in a thinning project.

            I really don’t think the group here would tolerate me if I decided to be a true “counterbalance” to your “contributions”, David. As it is, if I were such an evil person, like you say, more people here would be shouting me down. I still say that preserving out-of-balance forests doesn’t “restore” anything. It is sad that more people don’t agree, as more millions of acres die, rot and burn.

      • There MUST be a way of describing the difference between conservationists and preservationists. It is NOT a slur but, a very accurate description of their views and dealbreakers. The Sierra Club is a perfect example of a group that wants a hands-off policy on public lands. David consistently brings up unrelated stuff from the past to apply to the future of our forests. Sorry David but, you seem to feel that any policy other than preservationism results corrupted destruction. I’m sure there are issues on the Tongass that NEED reviewing and adjustments but, you might want to display them within the current framework, including Congressional mandates and guaranteed timber volumes. Just implying that current realities are bad and agreements made long ago must be changed to suit your personal needs doesn’t mean they can or will be changed. Why not lay out the agreements and their expiration dates, in advance of when those laws and policies expire.

        The term “preservationist” is similar to Matt’s use of “collaborators”, complete with WWII connotations. I don’t take it personal but, it just shows how desperate the preservationists are, when they see their ranks dropping to almost nothing. Yes, doing nothing, when 33,000 square miles of forests are dead and dying, is a hard-sell, indeed!

        The preservationist statement that thinning around rural communities is “costly and ineffective” shows the extreme that they will go to push their inhuman support of unstewardship. It is no wonder that such people are being excluded from collaborative efforts.

        • Larry, you contend that the,

          “Sierra Club is a perfect example of a group that wants a hands-off policy on public lands.”

          Not only is this a little late, but I know this to be patently false.

          Please qualify by providing specific references as evidence.

          • You need not look any further than their mission statements and their official comments on the new Planning Rule. The Sierra Club fully buys into “passive restoration”. The Earth Island Institute/John Muir Project has gone on record as opposing ALL logging on ALL lands. Both groups sue to get their way, and I predict they will label the new collaborative process as corrupt, and will continue to go with their Plan A.

            • “You need not look any further than their mission statements…”
              Oh really?

              YOU need to look further, and provide the direct evidence proving your statement that the Sierra Club “wants a hands-off policy in public lands.” Not us.

              (So, Okay, I looked FOR you Larry), I found nothing of the kind in the Sierra Club mission statements. I did find this, (one of many statements) which categorically REFUTES your contention that the Club “wants a hands-off policy in public lands”:

              “Logging — Timber harvest, on the public forests where it is appropriate, shall ensure reforestation and restocking with a species composition that approximates the natural vegetation of the area. Selection cutting systems shall be used, unless the biological requirements of the forest dictate otherwise.”

              YOU need to come up with the evidence the dastardly “preservationists” you’re constantly invoking actually exist in these discussions and are at the center of all our environmental problems.

              Otherwise, you’re just representing your boogieman delusions on this blog as fact when all indications suggest otherwise.

              That these “groups sue to get their way” is because there’s this small detail called LAW, and when our government is caught violating it, citizens can sue to force their government to abide by the law.

              That’s called democracy (or at least what little of it that remains)
              And that Larry, seems to be your major problem.

  5. “The Sierra Club seeks to minimize the loss of wild places and biodiversity due to climate change by reforming critical policies and protecting habitat resilience based on the best science. We have launched a national program designed to have a major impact in every state, including a concentrated effort in 10 targeted ecoregions to establish models that can be replicated across North America. Through grassroots advocacy, strategic litigation, targeted lobbying, and communications campaigns, the Sierra Club will fight non-climate stressors, promote climate-smart management, forge new political alliances, and protect the ecosystems that all species, including our own, need to survive.”

    This seems to be “doublespeak”, saying that if new projects do not meet their rhetoric and highly specific numerous “dealbreakers”, they will continue to sue. Clearly, they will continue to oppose the Forest Service timber sale program, as a whole.

    “Logging — Timber harvest, on the public forests where it is appropriate, shall ensure reforestation and restocking with a species composition that approximates the natural vegetation of the area. Selection cutting systems shall be used, unless the biological requirements of the forest dictate otherwise.” The KEY word there is “appropriate”, and their preferred definition of “logging” probably includes non-commercial “logging”. They have seemed to distanced themselves from their classic “no commercial logging” stance of the past. However, they make NO mention of their policy on timber sales, at all. I tend to think that it reflects on their inability to counter sensible commercial thinning projects, rather than changing their basic hardcore policies. Notice they leave an avenue open to keep the litigation as their Plan A. AND, their mention of restocking and reforestation practices show their ignorance of Forest Service policies. Yes, the Forest Service has been following reforestation policies for HOW long now?!?!

    Clearly, they are desperate for more funding, and have increased their levels of greenwashing to grab that green cash. Maybe I need to try to pin them down on related issues, like cutting trees 20″-30″ dbh trees within a thinning project? Or ask them, just what are “appropriate” reasons to harvest merchantable timber from National Forests? Can you answer THAT, David!!??!!

    They also have consistently opposed salvage logging to reduce fuels, and recover value, to pay for other restoration work. I also consider salvage projects to be one of those “inappropriate” examples where the Sierra Club will sue, as a matter of policy, practice and habit. They also seem to feel that they have the loopholes and the “best science” to control the legal conversation.

  6. Here is a list of “opinions” of the Sierra Club used as loopholes for litigation. I didn’t review the project documents to verify if those “opinions” are accurate and applicable. Just the listing of all these shows how their litigation would continue, either under the new Planning Rule, or the old one.

    “Failure to conduct an EIS instead of an EA for a project of this size, extent, location, and significant impacts

    Scientifically insupportable logging in mixed conifer, mixed fire severity forest ecosystems for fuels reduction and forest health rationales.

    Scientifically controversial logging and/or insupportable excessive logging including mature and old growth logging in remote interior wildland forest systems

    Failure to adequately address significant widespread cumulative impacts from past, recent, and ongoing logging projects throughout the District’s forest

    Scientific and legally insupportable logging, road building, and disruptive ecologically degrading management actions in old growth forest and uninventoried remote interior roadless area forests

    Failure to disclose the full range of scientific controversy and research recommendations pertinent to the area’s plant association groups, salmonid watersystems, listed and imperiled species of concern, natural mixed severity fire patterns and variable fire history in this remote forest area, the importance of roadless area forest integrity and natural ecological process and functioning, both short and long term recovery of listed species and species of concern, direct and cumulative road density and fragmentation impacts, forest soil communities and hydrological functioning, etc

    Failure to develop a reasonable range of action alternatives representative of credible scientific research and management recommendations

    Failure to sufficiently disclose and address environmental impact and management issues related to exponentially increasing climate change, and the critically important role natural and unlogged forests perform in carbon sequestration and mitigation of climate change impacts. Failure to disclose the incrementally harmful impacts of the planned logging upon localized and regional climate change, including the loss of carbon sequestration capability in both the short and long-term

    Failure to sufficiently address significant synergistic cumulative impacts from past and ongoing sequential logging projects; from ongoing livestock grazing; from high road densities that exceed wildlife thresholds and LRMP standards; and from growing ORV use and impacts in the project area and across the District

    Failure to protect ecologically foundational forest soil communities and soil hydrological functioning; and protect native botanical species biodiversity and abundance; utilizing instead extensive ground damaging heavy logging machinery, widespread burning, and additionally failing to prohibit livestock grazing in logging and burning impacted areas for five to ten years post project as the minimum rest period recommended by scientific research

    Failure to reasonably protect Oregon State 303(d) listed and other critically important salmonid spawning watersystems, salmonid populations, and aquatic habitat from direct, indirect, and cumulative harm and degradation due to project actions

    Legally improper use of a narrowly contrived logging purpose and need that predisposes agency planning staff and the decision maker to the development and selection of a scientifically insupportable commercial logging volume motivated action alternative

    Failure to adequately address impacts to terrestrial and aquatic threatened, endangered, and sensitive species including wolves, lynx, and salmonid species”

    I see the word “sufficiently” and the phrase “scientifically unsupportable” used in many of those “opinions”. They will continue to use this strategy as their Plan A. Similar is Chad Hanson’s war against logging in California, both on public AND private lands, in support of his favorite unlisted woodpecker. I suspect that those woodpeckers actually had LESS population stability before the Europeans came, due to historically fewer snags across the west (due to Indian burning).

    Both extremes here would probably rather see the new Planning Rule fail, falling back on past practices that might work better than the uncertainty of the new Rule. I tend to think that eco-lawyers are licking their chops over all the new loopholes in the new Rule. I tend to think that projects will NEVER truly be “streamlined”, and we all need to accept that reality.

  7. Larry,
    It’s probably sufficient to simply accept our differences on matters of public lands management. I do appreciate this opportunity to engage with people of different points of view, and I have learned from your perspectives.

    In no way, am I suggesting we don’t share common ground, of which I am remiss for not pointing out more frequently. It seems probably good practice to note more often when these areas of agreement arise just to balance out our typically adversarial positions.

    I thank you for your extensive efforts at pointing out how the Sierra Club opposes certain USFS policies and hope that you find a way to accept their right to legally challenge NFS practices. That they are tireless and comprehensive in their pursuits of environmental advocacy is a given, but I also hope that you now see the Sierra Club has no “preservationist” agenda on managed landscapes.

    My best hope is that the NFS managers focus first on actually restoring prior mismanagement and offer employment opportunities by engaging less in cutting old growth and more in restoring damages like fixing red pipes and other deferred maintenance on the NFS. Given the colossal taxpayer subsidies that have been used dominantly for mismanagement, I would hope we can invest those funds for higher purposes than what has been squandered in the past.

    Please, also know I too, have significant issues with how the “Club” has been co-opted by multi-national corporate foundations. In many respects, people like you and me, are mere pawns in these matters. I have serious misgivings about how these larger forces wielding multi-billion dollar assets are manipulating both sides of the equation in the establishment of the new Planning Rule — especially in the wake of crippling agency budget cuts.

    Their neoliberal agendas do not bode well for the planet, Nor our NFS regardless of how many times they utter claims of “sustainability”, “restoration”, and “stewardship”.


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