Fire spending, the big government even tea parties embrace

As the Northern Rockies prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Big Blowup, the fire season is looking pretty tame.

It’s the second year in a row that the region, which has been burned hard and often since 1988, had a relatively easy year. That has allowed firefighters to let fires burn more comfortably when they were helping to reduce fuels and restore the ecological integrity of the forests.

This week, Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology, an organization that has pushed for a shift in fire policy from suppression to letting more fires burn has released a report by its executive director, Timothy Ingalsbee, "Getting Burned: A Taxpayer's Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs," which lays out the economic case for reduced suppression in the backcountry in the face of larger fires and increasingly costly and long fire seasons.

You may not agree with his conclusions, but the report is filled with good data about what is going on in our forests both near our homes and out in the wilderness. Most of all, by making the economic argument, he challenges people who want to reduce government spending or reduce the federal government’s role in our lives to offer alternatives that meet their agenda and cost taxpayers less.

For instance, Ingalsbee says that large fires account for less than 2% of all wildfires but consume 94% of total suppression costs. Even though we have dramatically increased funding, resources, and personnel for fire suppression, the number of burned acres continues to increase.


There is some consensus among the firefighting community on a few things. There is excess fuels accumulations in our forests due to the full suppression policies put in place in the wake of the 1910 fires. Hundreds of thousands of homes and communities have been built across the West in and up against these flammable forests. And finally, global warming fueled primarily by human-caused fossil fuel burning, has increased the size and frequency of fires.

The scope of the Russian fires this year demonstrates the global nature of this challenge as have fires across Europe, and in other years in Australia.

In addition is letting more fires burn, Ingalsbee wants to return firefighting to federal agencies and help cut the cost by reducing the number of private contractors in the firefighting business. He also attacks cost-sharing agreement where the federal government pays part of the cost for fighting fires on state lands no matter how the state responds. If the state allowed unbridled development into its forestlands it still gets the same money as a state that limits this growth, which inherently increases the costs of suppression.

Most of all, fire managers react to the demands of the public and politicians. When fire is burning and smoke is filling the air people are unhappy.

That makes politicians from Nancy Pelosi to Butch Otter call for spending more money, fighting more fires and getting the federal government more involved, not less.

“There is far more pressure placed on managers to prevent wildfire damage than to reduce suppression costs, consequently, there is a general lack of accountability for
suppression spending, and numerous reports and recommendations for containing suppression costs have largely been ignored,” Ingalsbee said.

If that sounds familiar it is because it was largely the same conclusion as a series in the Idaho Statesman in 2008, Fire Wise? The Paradox of Fire Policy.

Two years later, while the awareness has improved, the trend hasn’t.

Wildfire Politics & More Phony Consensus

Rocky: I find it odd that Inglasbee's "economic" argument failed to mention or even cite a paper I coauthored on the exact same topic, that was published nationally on a prominent multi-agency (including USFS) website, and delivered earlier this year at the national 2010 Wildland Fire Litigation Conference, an annual gathering of lawyers dealing with these exact same economic issues (you'll find me listed under "Faculty"):

Regarding your "consensus" of the "firefighting community" on three issues, I must inform you that you (and Ingalsbee) are either misinformed, or else purposefully spreading misinformation -- I'm hoping the former for you and assuming the latter for him:

1) Yes, there is an unprecedented fuel build-up; NO, it is not caused by "suppression" (that is the specious enviro-claim meant to redirect "blame") -- it is fire "exclusion" that is at fault. Big Difference. And not just fire exclusion but, specifically, exclusion of purposeful man-(not lightning-)caused fires. Trust me, the science is becoming ever clearer on this issue by the day, despite the strident assertions to the contrary by Ingalsbee and his ilk.

2)The "flammable forests" are spreading up against homes and communities that have existed in these exact same locations for thousands of years; the forest managers are responsible for this situation -- NOT the homeowners (the Enviros like to blame the victims of these fires, and this is just one more piece of costly misinformation they have managed to insinuate into federal policy).

3) Even IF AGW ("Apocalyptic Global Warming") were taking place, it has certainly NOT "increased the size and frequency of fires." At best, this specious claim is based on sheer conjecture and fear -- at worst, it is just another piece of "consensus" propaganda manufactured to sell an argument by the environmental industry and their lawyers.

To say that Ingalsbee's positions are biased is to state the obvious -- look at his literature citations and compare with ours as a starter. To say that there is "consensus" on these issues is just wrong. Ingalsbee has an agenda. You just bit and promoted.

So "homes and communities that have existed

in these exact same locations for thousands of years" are just now experiencing problems with wildfires? Is that really your argument?

Gotta a map from 10 AD?

Yes, it is and Yes, I do


Yep to both. No photographs, though.

Archaeological remains tell us where people lived and during what times. I have lots of maps (and even help develop them) of such locations.

Pollen analyses tell us what plants ("fuels") existed where and at what times. Camas fields, for example, are all but incapable of carrying a wildfire. Same with tended huckleberries or wide-spaced pines (at least for crown fires). And I have lots of maps of such analyses, covering the entire PNW for the past 7000+ years and dating back to the late 1930s to the present.

My PhD is in the study of Indian burning patterns and catastrophic wildfire history, so there is a scientific basis to my claims.

Not challenging your knowledge, just your axe

You make it sound as if the current footprint caused by 20th-21st century settlement into forested lands is insignificant and that many of these areas supported full settlements before. Since some estimates of native populations in the US around the time of Columbus are 12 million across the entire country, compared to 300 million now, and considering the footprint of the average American abode is significantly larger than the average Native American, I think we are building in places they didn't.

Some estimates are just guesses


The latest estimates of pre-Columbian populations for North America are a lot closer to 100+ million than 12 million -- the latter number is seriously outdated and based on a number of assumptions that have been generally shown to be misguided or even fabricated.

Not sure what you are using to define "footprint" in your goofy summary statement, but it sounds a lot like the noise that's been generated measuring American Indian impacts on the environment as "insignificant" and/or "localized," while us white emigrants are seen as creating widespread "degradation" and ruin. Those are dangerously near-racist type sentiments, bud, and I'd steer clear of that line of thinking is my advice.

My understanding of the situation is that the impact of a relatively small number Paleoindians was likely enormous by any standards of measure; directly resulting in the widespread change of plant species across the entire continent due to the introduction of daily fire, and also in the likely extinction of numerous ice-age megafauna.

Not sure how big the "footprints" of those people might have been (I'm guessing maybe size 6 or 7, on average), but I can guarantee that people have settled in the identical locations for identical reasons for thousands of years -- until the federal government began removing them from Forest Reserves and "Wilderness" areas that is.

Read first, write second; that's my additional advice. Or stick to poetry -- your understanding of people and of local history is lacking.

And the remains of the 3000 sq ft villas that the 100 million

Native Americans lived in are just popping up in excavations everywhere.

There's a difference between leaving behind evidence of existence in the environment (ancient campsites, low level agriculture) and altering it (clear cutting, strip mining). You don't want that to be the case, so you ignore it.

Did you seriously play the race card? Seriously? Wow...threatened much when challenged?

Your axe = humans do not affect the environment, unless they are trying to preserve it which then is equal to destroying it.

The Race is On

No Boise: You played it when you compared "our" "footprint" to those of Indians. Racial comparisons, with negative connotations. I just responded.

And yes, there is a big difference between a 40 acre clearcut, and landscape fires set annually that cleared millions of acres at a time. You are the ignorant one in this discussion, trust me. And I mean "ignorant" in the dictionary sense of the word, not necessarily in a demeaning fashion.

Read first; write second.


Read Murphy and Cripe FIRST, then say something dumb while really knowing better.


"Say a prayer for the pretender..."-Jackson Browne

People have lived here for thousands of years

There is a dig dated to at least 8,000 years ago not far from our home. Of course people have lived here, camped here, gathered food and wood here.

There were no forests here during the last glaciation, the ponderosa had to migrate north out of their refugia in New Mexico.

It makes a difference when the fire is applied to the landscape. Cool burns during the spring/fall are kinder to the forest. Letting fires burn during the heat of summer burns way too hot and kills more than it helps. (Besides killing the critters and wiping out their food sources.)

Thanks, YPmule

Boisepoet sounds like a typical city kid -- and not just because his name seems to be such a dead giveaway.

I had an older friend who often said "the further people get away from the land" (in miles and generations), the less common sense they seem to have. "Fire Return Intervals," "Natural Fire," etc., theories seem to be the products of city kids who've spent too much time in the classroom and at their computers, and not enough time learning local history or becoming familiar with the actual landscape.

Understanding the role of people in the environment seems to be both a lost and an emerging art. Common sense is something else -- thank Gore for the loggers, farmers, fishermen, and miners (and their families) of the world; too bad there are so few of them in Oregon and Idaho these days.

If I remember

I also linked to your paper when it came out. I hope readers follow your link and decide for themselves. I always wondered why lightning fire was any better than controlled burns. I wonder back why controlled burns as opposed to fire use fires started by lighting or people in the place we want it is any worse than controlled burns?

You should go to Wallace next week for the anniversary of the 1910 fires. I will be there.

Wallace Anniversary

Thanks, Rocky:

I'd love to go to the Wallace celebration and have the chance to discuss wildfires in person with you as well, but I have an over-flowing plate at the moment, putting the final pieces together on a forest and fire history reconstruction of an area of western Cascades headwaters -- otherwise, I guarantee you'd be seeing me in Wallace!

The argument of lightning-caused "prescribed" fires as opposed to human-set prescribed fires is identical to the discussion regarding the advantages and disadvantages of lightning-started barbecue grills vs. human-ignited barbecue grills: mostly nonsense, and largely theoretical (to be polite) in scope. A prescribed fire, by definition, should be one in which the location, source, timing, and methods of ignition are first planned in detail, and then executed as closely as possible in accordance with the plan. If you can put lightning in a bottle, then it might be a good source of ignition under proper cirgum(Rocky!)stances -- otherwise, established methods have proven safer, more reliable, more effective, and a lot less expensive.


How about dealing with the good doctor's claim that you are either misinformed or intentionally spreading misinformation?

Never let facts get in the way of of a good story.

I've sent Rocky proof of mistakes, but they never get corrected.

FUSEE has zero credibility as far as we are concerned, but Rocky laps up their propaganda and spits it out as "news".

Thought Rocky had left or died until looking at Voices today


"Say a prayer for the pretender..."-Jackson Browne

Ask the folks at

the National Interagency Fire Center. I stand by my story and the link to our 2008 series provides the detail to back me up.
Thanks for asking Mr. pimp2.

Source of Misinformation


If I am following this discussion accurately, you are telling pimp2 that you were misinformed regarding the three issues of "consensus" being promoted by Tim Ingalsbee?

And that the source of your misinformation is the National Interagency Fire Center?

Can you cite a specific doc(Rocky!)ument or provide contact information to a single person at the Fire Center that will support this claim? I'm having trouble believing such a doc(Rocky!)ument or person exists, and am more inclined to believe that you are being manipulated into reporting agenda-based opinions as "facts." Mr. Ingalsbee is not a fire ecologist, economist, or forest scientist -- he is a sociologist with a public history as an anti-logging activist. Please check your sources.


So we ought to just go in the front door, and ask the first person we see?

2008 Series.... oh man, you mean I gotta read that pile of bs to figure out the errors of your reading... snoozer!

And the 2007 fire misinformation?

Or the BS story you ran last year about $4 million that (wasn't) spent on the South Fork road? (Even after I sent you the doc-u-ments.) Not to mention your saying that the state should close that road to save the state money? (Its not a state road, remember?)

Why no stories about how it was the residents fault for the Oregon Trail fire or the recent Eagle foot hills fire? Or is that because they don't live near a forest? You and Timmy like to blame people for costing taxpayer money for living where we do.

Why no story about spending $1.4 million on a 5 site campground over by Garden Valley? Yet the northern forests are getting only $1 million for forest restoration projects that would protect communities.

Peeing on your trees and houses won't work, that is why.


"Say a prayer for the pretender..."-Jackson Browne

this is a good discussion

I think we also need to remember, and Rocky has touched on this, that there are all sorts of what some might cause perverse incentives at play here. Elected officals call for suppression even when fire managers dont want to do it, and the "overhead" that gets paid is huge; its an industry, right wrong or indifferent. People all over the politcal map have made this argument and analysis, from Randall O'toole to agency insiders (off the record) of course. If you want an eyeopening experience about fire, just listen to the perspective of federal agency folks on say, a national forest, depending on what their job is.

And Bob I'd like your take on this..although humans have lived here for along time, we are increasingly moving and building into fire hazard zones and then we make demands on government to protect us..hence the response of the insurance industry over time when government cant do it or wont as much. But you are right in the sense that there does still seem to be open debate on some of this...Bonnickson sure doesnt or didnt see it the same way.

Fire Hazard Zones

Thanks, Freemuth:

People lived and worked in so-called "Wilderness" areas for thousands of years until the government removed them. Rock art, huckleberry fields, camas patches, etc., indicate how widespread these occupations were -- whether seasonal or otherwise. Even maps of only 100 years ago will show ranchers and miners and others living in cabins and small communities throughout the presently-forested landscape.

These same maps show the forest expanding its extent during the same 100 years. Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, juniper -- they've all been expanding outward and toward existing homes and communities. Check out some repeat photography work, early aerial photographs, or old forestry maps to realize the extent of this expansion in you area. It's not happening everywhere in the west, of course, but almost everywhere.

What has changed more than anything (even more than the federal government removing mining camps, ranches, homes, and towns and campgrounds from forest reserves and Wilderness areas over the last century), is the removal of regular fire from the landscape. Indians burned the land regularly. Miners, ranchers and sheepherders followed their example. Government reports from 1899 say the Indians burned off the litter in pine forests whenever it was barely capable of carrying flame:

"The forest floor in the type is covered with a thin layer of humus consisting entirely of decaying pine needles, or it is entirely bare. The latter condition is very prevalent east of the Cascades, where large areas are annually overrun by fire. But even on the western side of the range, where the humus covering is most conspicuous, it is never more than a fraction of an inch in thickness, just enough to supply the requisite material for the spread of forest fires" (Leiberg 1902:249).

Recent fuel build-ups in our government forests over the past 30 years are unprecedented. It is highly unlikely so many trees, so much living biomass, and so much dead wood has acgum(Rocky!)ulated in these areas at one time at any other time during the past 10,000 years. It is a fire bomb. And it is expanding, as more trees die, seed in the understories, and continue overtaking adjacent lands, old prairies, meadows, fields, and berry patches. Those of us over 50 years of age have been watching it happen.

That is the danger. Passive management of our forests is an observable failure. Catastrophic wildfires are the proof. To blame this on "Global Warming" is a cop-out -- conditions have been warmer in the past; a fire needs fuel and we have always had seasonal droughts and east winds. To say people are moving toward the forests and that may be part of the problem is not true; we have always lived in forested environments. The problem is bad forest management, possibly related to centralized government management limitations, and we need to stop blaming the climate or homebuilders. The real problem is obvious.

First, there is no question

First, there is no question people have lived and acted on the western landscape forever. That really was some of the early hubris of the environmental movement, the declaration of western landscapes as untouched wilderness. We know now that was inaccurate, native Americans had been affecting and using landscapes for a long time, just not with modern western technology. As someone once remarked in a video I use in class.."the west wasnt wild until the white man got here"

Still there is growing habitation in fire prone areas, I dont think that can be denied. The question of which there is some agreement and some disgreement is what we "do" about it. And, until we can agree on what the "real" problem is, we will struggle. Let the discussion continue.