You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Federal land management agencies should expect to spend more on wildfires as global temperatures increase due to climate change

Photo of Fire prevention specialist Bob Blasi works to contain a small wildfire on the Tusayan Ranger District, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona. Fire prevention specialist Bob Blasi works to contain a small wildfire on the Tusayan Ranger District, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona. Snapshot : Wildfires are expected to become larger, more frequent, and more intense in the future. Wildfire suppression costs also are expected to rise, according to a recent report to the Executive Office of the President that included input fromForest Service scientists. Of the three expenditures examined in the report, wildfire spending was expected to increase more than federal spending on crop protection, but less than spending on coastal flooding.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Abt, Karen Lee 
Research Location : Research Triangle Park, NC; Washington, DC
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1321

Summary

Increasing extent, severity, and intensity of wildfires has been attributed to a changing climate, and in particular, to increases in average maximum temperatures. Forest Service scientists were invited to contribute to a special report to the Executive Office of the President about fiscal risks of the future. The scientists estimated the impact of climate change on area burned and the cost of suppressing wildfires on lands managed by both the Forest Service and the Department of Interior. Expenditures for suppressing wildfires are a function of these characteristics of wildfires: extent, severity and intensity. So they expect that the Forest Service and Department of Interior agencies will spend increasing amounts to protect people, buildings, and infrastructure from damages from wildfires. The scientists found evidence that the area burned increases as temperatures increase. The results also show that the costs of wildfire are increasing with area burned. While the scientists only used one measure of climate trends, temperature is a good proxy for many of the impacts that a changing climate will have on wildfires. Climate change was represented by using an average of daily maximum temperatures for each region of the U.S. Increased temperatures have been shown to lead to increased lightning, which causes 45 percent of all wildfires. The results of the study indicate federal expenditures on wildfires will continue to increase as long as temperatures continue to increase.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Office of Management and Budget and Council of Economic Advisors in the Executive Office of the President