Backfired! Distorted Incentives in Wildfire Supression
31 Utah Environmental Review 155 (2011)
25 Pages Posted: 22 May 2012
Date Written: May, 21 2012
Wildfires’ increasing growth and spread have prompted aggressive approaches to fighting fire. The techniques used by firefighters can cause great damage to timberlands. Yet, there is currently no external review of the efficiency, costs, or impacts of various firefighting techniques. Consequently, there is no meaningful way to compare the relative costs and benefits of various strategies. This article provides a ground breaking first ex post analysis of the effects of wildfire firefighting techniques. It provides a detailed case study of the technique of backfire — use of fire to fight fire — to demonstrate that the incentives of firefighters can be poorly aligned with the interests of landowners and environmentalists interested in protecting timberlands. Despite the costs inflicted by backfire, firefighters increasingly use it as a firefighting technique. The result is that enormous swaths of forest are burned to fight fire that could be suppressed with far less environmental and property loss. Using backfire as an example, this article illustrates the importance of ex post analysis of wildfire suppression techniques and the value of such analysis in encouraging more sustainable firefighting techniques.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation