The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced that an independent Brookings Institution panel found the USDA Forest Service exercised appropriate and adequate fiscal diligence in suppressing wildfires during the record breaking 2006 fire season. The panel reviewed 19 large fires that burned more than 1.1 million acres and cost $470 million dollars to suppress.
The review panel also identified several "issue areas" to help the Forest Service contain the rising costs of firefighting. Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey said the recommendations of the panel will be acted upon immediately.
"The cost of firefighting is rapidly approaching half of the Forest Service entire budget for caring for the nation's 193 million acres of national forests," Rey said. "We are doing everything we can to curb the costs of firefighting while taking every step to protect the safety of our firefighters and ensure they have appropriate tools to do their job. The panel's recommendations will help us control costs."
The panel recommended:
- better linkage between land management plans and fire management plans, and more continuously updating fire management plans to reflect changing conditions. Land management plans are developed with considerable public input, provide guidance for all activities on a given national forest. The panel noted that both plans need to specifically address land management objectives and relevant fire conditions and trends such as fire history, hazardous fuels accumulations and treatments, and the influence of increasing urbanization near national forest boundaries.
- more agility in the deployment of firefighting teams and the skills needed on each team.
The independent panel noted that huge forces are driving the wildland fire situation and firefighting costs: accumulation of biomass and hazardous fuels, worsening drought, global climate change, and unabated growth in the wildland urban interface.