This special issue of PERC Reports explores the thorny issues of forest management, wildfire mitigation, and regulatory reform. Read the full issue.
As summer approaches, wildfire season is already upon us. By early May, 1.1 million acres had burned in the United States, double the amount that had burned at the same point last year. And with much of the West in the grips of extreme drought, we’re likely in for another year of smoke-filled skies and high fire danger.
The trends are alarming. Wildfires now consume twice as much land each year on average than they did in the 1990s. More than 10 million acres burned in three of the past seven years, setting modern-day records. Last year, another 7.1 million acres went up in flames, three-fourths of which were federal land.
Catastrophic wildfires are sparking bipartisan interest in active forest management to reduce extreme fire risks. Earlier this year, the Biden administration unveiled a 10-year strategy to ramp up forest thinning and prescribed burns in an effort to “confront the wildfire crisis.” If fully implemented, the plan would increase these activities by up to four times current levels in the West.
But despite growing recognition of the importance of forest management, significant hurdles remain. Red tape and litigation can hinder even the most-needed projects, contributing to an 80 million-acre restoration backlog in national forests. And partnerships with states, tribes, and the private sector are needed to conduct restoration work at scale.
This special issue of PERC Reports explores these issues in detail. As Jonathan Wood explains, reducing the forest restoration backlog requires addressing persistent policy obstacles. Eric Edwards and Sara Sutherland describe how environmental analysis can delay fuel treatment projects. And Hannah Downey explores how federal agencies can partner with states and other neighbors to mitigate wildfire risk.
Other challenges loom large. J.D. Tuccille describes how innovative markets for wood products can help support needed restoration work. Tate Watkins explores how prescribed fire can make forests across the country more resilient. And Judson Boomhower discusses the economics of fire suppression, with some surprising results.
The lesson is clear: Fixing America’s forests will take more than just spending money, as the Biden administration’s plan proposes to do. Truly confronting the wildfire crisis will require tackling the thornier policy obstacles explored in this issue.