Cost-Effectiveness Of Large-Scale Fuel Reduction for Wildfire Mitigation in California

Mike Archer has this in his Wildfire News of the Day today (thanks, Mike!):

United States

(1) A new report from The Breakthrough Institute critically assesses whether the economic benefits derived from fuel reduction treatments are sufficient to justify their costs by providing an empirical evaluation of the effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments using a novel methodology that quantifies the relationship between fire intensity and fuel loads.
Cost-Effectiveness Of Large-Scale Fuel Reduction for Wildfire Mitigation in California

From the Exec. Summary:

At a fuel reduction rate of 3.9 million acres per year, and using our conservative central economic
input parameters, the annual cost of fuel reduction would be $10.5 billion, but it would confer a
benefit of $22.2 billion annually for a benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.1-to-1 and a net benefit of $11.6 billion
annually (Figure ES-1). The cost of each year of delay in scaling up fuel treatment to 3.9 million acres
per year would be $5.8 billion.


7 thoughts on “Cost-Effectiveness Of Large-Scale Fuel Reduction for Wildfire Mitigation in California”

  1. I am a big fan of Patrick and Breakthrough, but some of these studies have so many layers of models and assumptions that I can’t take them too seriously.

    Should we be doing PB and mechanical treatments? Yes
    Should we be doing more? Yes
    Should we be figuring out how to utilize small diameter material to make mechanical treatments less expensive? Yes
    Maybe this kind of study will free up more money, but I am not so sure that barriers to more money include “not believing it’s a good investment.” Except by people who don’t want fuel treatments, and I think they have been politically overrun, except potentially by the current Admin (which wouldn’t be convinced by Breakthrough necessarily). We shall see when the MOG amendment comes out. There might be a tension also between saving the most money (expensive house loss) and protecting more disadvantaged communities. Below are the paper’s key points.

    Key Points:

    Magnitude of Economic Losses from Wildfires: When indirect effects are included, wildfires in California are estimated to impose economic losses of approximately $100 billion annually, or several percent of California’s GDP.

    Costs of Fuel Reduction: Implementing fuel reduction strategies across California’s fire-prone areas is estimated to cost in the billions of dollars annually.

    Location-Specific Costs vs. Benefits: We conduct a location-specific cost-benefit analysis, showing that the most cost-effective regions are in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and produce approximately $10,000 in net benefits per acre treated per year.

    State-Wide Annual Costs vs. Benefits: We find that over a large range of assumptions for economic losses from wildfires and the costs of fuel reduction, the economic benefits of fuel reduction far exceed their costs.

    Annual Costs vs. Benefits at a Rate of 1 Million Acres per year: At the state of California’s articulated goal of reducing fuels on 1 million acres per year, costs would be $3 billion annually, benefits would be $10.9 billion annually, for a net benefit of $7.9 billion annually and a benefit-to-cost-ratio of 3.7-to-1 (Figure ES 1). These numbers also imply a cost for each year of delay in scaling up fuel treatment of 4 billion dollars.

    Rate of Treatment that Maximizes the Net Economic Benefit: The optimal rate of fuel reduction in California—the rate that maximizes the net annual economic benefit—is approximately 3.9 million acres per year or 3.9 times the state’s articulated goal.

    Annual Costs vs. Benefits at a Rate of 3.9 Million Acres per year: At an optimal rate of 3.9 million acres per year, costs would be $10.5 billion annually, benefits would be $22.2 billion annually, for a net benefit of $11.6 billion annually and a benefit-to-cost-ratio of 2.1-to-1 (Figure ES 1). These numbers also imply a cost of each year of delay in scaling up fuel treatment of 5.8 billion dollars.
    Circumstances where Benefits Roughly Equal Costs: The above estimates of the economic burden from wildfires would have to be overestimated by three to five times, and the estimates of the cost treatment would have to be substantially underestimated for the net benefit of fuel reduction to not be at least $1 billion annually.

  2. Thank you. Restoration through mechanical thinning and prescribed fire. NOT “managed” fire. The economics look great. And, can you imagine if the biomass uses also included wood-based nanotechnology? This is highlighted in the latest revision of the “A Call to Action (17.8).”

    The Forest Service began to emphasize this notion some years back and then lost its way.

    Whatever is done, “…strive to put out all unplanned wildfires immediately.” If forests could talk, I am sure they would say, “…about one-half of us are in bad shape. Until we can regain our health, resilience, and sustainability, take this “managed” fire and put it on the shelf; it’s hurting me and the services I provide. Enough is enough. Today, I was reading about my partner forest near Pegosa Springs, CO. We are good friends. An unplanned wildfire started and while the fire was very small and can be easily put out, Forest Service crews are fiddling with a 400 acre containment area. Enough already. Put the small fire out now before it gets a good head of steam and roars through your containment area. Please, I am hurting, stop the unplanned wildfires now, when you can and they are small. If you want to use fire as a maintenance tool, then use Rx Fire. I am calling some of my friends now. We want all fires to be put out immediately. Our fuels can be thinned and used without using tactics that do not work at this point in time. Thanks for listening to me. Very respectfully, America’s forestlands.”

  3. If they knew what they were doing and were serious, fuel reduction strategies should put thousands of rural folks to work, rejuvenate rural manufacturing businesses, build homes for the homeless and jails, care facilities, and county poor farms for those incapable of working, and add millions to our county, state, and federal treasuries. Pretty big “if,” though. Apparently insurmountable these days for some reason.

  4. On Sierra Nevada Forest Service lands, there are also other ecological benefits to commercial thinning projects, which have been happening, unimpeded, since 1993. They need to do more of these kinds of projects, along with prescribed fire, to achieve those silvicultural goals in our unhealthy and ‘unnatural’ public forests.

  5. The Breakthrough Analysis appears too good to be true. What caught my eye was the constant $600/ac for Rx fire. This is “pie-in-the-sky.” And even among all agencies all reported estimates were static. Does not add up!

    The burn plan for the Las Dispensas Rx burn that became “Hermits Peak” stated that the Rx fire would cost $5.00/ac. It actually costed $13,738/ac or about 2,747.8 times the estimated and destroyed 935 structures and immolated 171,000 acres of private land. Congress appropriated $4billon and suppression cost of $685,000,000

    This is not a one-off! Cerro Grande cost $21,531/ac and damaged a nuclear lab! Congress appropriated $1billion and suppression costs of $33,500,000

    Rx Fire costs are astoundingly underestimated. And these are only direct monetary costs. When tallied with indirect monetary costs and health costs Rx fire becomes the most expensive option!

    Breakthrough needs to use more reasonable cost figures that capture the risk.

  6. Since state boundaries aren’t too useful for a cost-benefit analysis for national forests, that would have to consider how the benefit side would look different in other places with lower values at risk, especially those like Montana and Wyoming.


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