A True Wildfire ‘Fix’ Would End Bad Incentives

Fire policy should steer clear of bad incentives that nudge more people and homes into harm’s way.

Photo courtesy of BLM.

Smoke from July Fourth fireworks may have cleared, but there’s still plenty of haze filling skies in the West, where large wildfires are currently burning in eight states.

Since January, 3.2 million acres have burned nationwide, well above the 10-year average of 2.6 million acres by this time of year. And as more acres have burned, the costs of fighting fires have gone up as well. Last year, the Forest Service spent a record of nearly $3 billion fighting fires.

Congress’ answer to the fire challenge came in the spring, when it passed what was widely praised as a “wildfire fix” in its omnibus spending bill. Effective in 2020, the legislative change will end the practice of “fire borrowing,” or the Forest Service’s penchant to raid its non-fire accounts to pay for firefighting.

While changes like that one could free up funds for the agency to use on much-needed forest management, Americans’ wildfire problem has as much to do with behavior as funding. A real “fix” for wildfires will mean preventing them in the first place — and steering clear of bad incentives that nudge more people and homes into harm’s way.

This article originally appeared in The Hill. Read the full piece here

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