It seems like every year we have lots of wildfires out west, and every year there’s not enough money to fight them. How come? Brad Plumer provides the nickel explanation:
The first key fact to note here is that US wildfires have gotten much bigger over the past three decades. There’s some variation from year to year, but the overall trend is upward. One recent study in Geophysical Research Letters found that wildfires in the western United States grew at a rate of 90,000 acres per year between 1984 and 2011. What’s more, the authors found, the increase was statistically unlikely to be due to random chance.
….Put it all together, and many experts and politicians have argued that the way Congress plans for wildfires has become obsolete and counterproductive. Right now, Congress gives agencies like the US Forest Service a budget for fire suppression that’s based on the average cost of wildfires over the previous 10 years. Of course, if wildfires are getting bigger over time, that’s going to create constant shortfalls.
The problem should be pretty obvious. If you take a look at the chart above (to which I’ve added the handy trend line), you can see that the average of the past ten years is going to be where the line was around 2008. That’s roughly 5 million acres. But the trend line keeps going up, and in 2014 you can figure that it’s likely to be around 6 million acres.
Obviously there’s a large amount of variability, and even if you plan rationally you’re still going to fall short some years. Still, at least you’d come closer. So why not do it?
I’ll take a guess: Aside from the fact that members of Congress always prefer rosy forecasts so they can pretend their budgets are more balanced than they really are, there are the reasons that wildfires keep getting bigger and deadlier. One culprit is poor forestry practices. There are invasive species. And there’s global warming.
Oh yeah: global warming. That’s the big one. If Republicans in Congress acknowledged that wildfires were getting steadily bigger over time, it would be tantamount to admitting that global warming is real. And we can’t have that, can we?