Thursday, July 03, 2008

While The US Burns

As California begins the wildfire season both early and in earnest, the question has to be asked, why so many so big?

National Geographic Magazine's latest issue attempts to answer this question:
In 2006, wildfires burned 15,000 square miles across the country, a record nearly matched last year. Two-thirds of the burned acreage was in the West. One obvious cause is a decade of drought and warmer temperatures. Mountain snow melts earlier, and winter storms arrive later, extending the fire season in some regions by several weeks. Vast tracts of drought-weakened forest have succumbed to insects and disease, turning trees to tinder. In response, we have bolstered our fighter ranks, padded them with private contractors, provided them more hoses and axes and trucks. Annual federal spending on firefighting has leaped from $1 billion when the recent drought began in 1998 to more than $3 billion last year, with even greater costs forecast for the future. But the drought is only one part of the burn equation.

"The more money we spend, the worse it gets," one fire scientist told me last summer. "If that's not a condemnation of our fire policies, I don't know what is."

One answer is, of course, the short-sighted fire management policies of the past, which demanded that each fire be put out as it occurs and that the best way to do this was to throw monoey and manpower at it.

In some areas, government policies work best on large problems. In others clearly not so well, and this is one of those times when panicked policies designed to serve the desires of developers and settlers, people with an economic interest in natural resources, were foolish and flawed.

Another answer is, naturally, global warming, yet another instance of Bad Big Government in the form of protectionist policies for economic development. A balanced approach to shepherding and managing our natural resources.

It costs roughly $200,000 a day to fight even a small fire, so that adds up to millions even assuming a quick battle of less than a week. Multiply that by 1,400 fires, and you're talking about hundredss of millions a week, even billions and that's starting to rival the Iraq war for inefficiencies.

Now add to this the cost of protecting other "investments" made with private funds, and you begin to grasp the costs of greed, and for what?

So someone else can have a nice view out their window in the morning?

A new beginning must be undertaken to straighten out the priorities of this nation, one that doesn't exclusively accept that "money=good."