Reducing wildfire risk imperative | Brunell

While massive wildfires are historic, they are more dangerous today. As our population grows they are a greater threat to communities adjacent to wildlands.

This year, with nearly 4.8 million acres already burned in the U.S. and wildfires finally contained in California, is shaping up to continue a trend that has seen the 10 worst fire seasons since 1960 in terms of acres burned, U.S. News reports.

AccuWeather predicts the total economic loss to California when everything is tabulated in 2018 will be $400 billion—equivalent to 2 percent of our nation’s GDP (total output of all goods and services). At last count, more than 85 people perished and 267 are still missing in Paradise.

“This is a huge economic loss and is made up of the total loss of value in property, values, taxes, lost jobs and wages, lost business and importantly by the significant health impacts of the particulate pollution resulting from the fires,” AccuWeather reported on Nov. 21.

The destruction has not only hit brush and timbered areas, but wheat lands in northcentral Oregon just as farmers started their harvest last July. One farmer died fighting the “mega-blaze”.

The cost of fighting fires already broke this year’s U.S. Forest Service budget. It is part of a disturbing trend where combating these infernos jumped from 16 percent of the agency’s budget in 1995 to 52 percent in 2015.

Salem’s Statesman Journal reported the cost of fighting Oregon’s wildfires this year reached an all-time high $514.6 million and burned 1,322 square miles—-an area larger than Rhode Island. In Washington, the 2018 wildfire season ended as the second-worst on record with nearly 1,700 fires burning about 350,000 acres.

Mammoth forest fires have been around for centuries. For example, in a single week during September 1902, the Yacolt Burn engulfed more than a half-million acres and killed 56 people in the Columbia River Gorge and around Mount St. Helens. The smoke was so thick that ships on the Columbia River were forced to navigate by compass and the street lights in Seattle, 160 miles to the north, glowed at noon.

In 1902, Washington’s population was 513,000; however, today it approaches 7.5 million. As urban areas expand, more neighborhoods are susceptible to natural fires. Today, that choking smoke adds massive amounts of greenhouse gases and blankets our region for weeks at a time.

In recent decades, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture reports the number of homes in regions where settled areas abut uninhabited lands increased dramatically; rising 41 percent from 30.8 million homes in 1990 to 43.4 million homes in 2010 covering nearly 300,000 square miles.

In response to the mounting threat, Washington’s Public Lands Commissioner Hillary Franz is asking the state legislature for $55 million for fire prevention and firefighting. She wants to expand full-time firefighters to 73, enlarge the helicopter fleet to 10, and increase funding to help homeowners to avoid wildfire.

Franz’s request emphasizes forest health which includes thinning and small controlled burns to reduce fire fuels. She estimates there are 2.7 million acres of diseased and dying forests in Washington that are fuel for future megafires.

In Montana, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines is pushing salvage logging and removal of dead and dying trees on parts of the Sunrise Fire which singed 27,000-acre just south of Missoula in 2017. The U.S. Forest Service would remove hazardous timber within 100 feet of existing roads and plant conifer seeds on 7,200 acres that burned at high intensity. Money from timber sales would help offset rehabilitation costs.

The bottom line is federal and state lawmakers must not only address wildfire suppression, but prevention.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, after over 25 years as its CEO and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.

More in Opinion

The future simply borrows from the past

We must be on guard, though, to search for understanding using history with an open mind.

What would you give up for world peace?

Would you give up your smart phone in exchange for world peace?… Continue reading

Reducing wildfire risk imperative | Brunell

While massive wildfires are historic, they are more dangerous today. As our… Continue reading

Military also adjusting to worker shortages | Brunell

When our military is viewed as an employer, it has the same… Continue reading

‘We the people’ set our national direction Nov. 6

Two strategies with two potential outcomes: the course our nation was decided Tuesday.

I fully support Sen. Joe Fain, he deserves your vote

Sen. Joe Fain has been and continues to be an active member… Continue reading

I’m voting no on I-1631 and so should you

On election day, voters will decide the fate of Initiative 1631, which,… Continue reading

‘Art of the Deal’ still key to understanding Trump

The book gave me a deeper understanding of President Trump and his unique style of leadership.

Keeping the Supreme Court above partisan politics

“A partisan reputation… is going to cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this court in the eyes of the country.”

False rape allegations are not the problem to address

An opinion piece from The Courier-Herald

These 17 people will decide raises for elected officials

Are the 147 members of the Legislature in line for a raise?… Continue reading

Kavanaugh hearings and the general election

Politicians can only hope they have made the right choices and that their constituents vote them in/back into office.