The Perfect Firestorm: Bringing Forest Service Wildfire Costs Under Control

16 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2007


Prodded by a centralized planning and budgeting process, the U.S. Forest Service's expensive, one-size-fits-all approach to wildfire does not fit the extremely diverse 193 million acres of national forests. The agency's program - which consists of spending close to $300 million per year treating hazardous fuels and as much as $2 billion a year preparing for and suppressing fires - will not restore the national forests to health or end catastrophic fire in most of those forests. In many forests it may do more harm than good.

Forest Service plans are based on the notion that western national forests suffer from an unnatural accumulation of hazardous fuels. In fact, that is probably true for no more than about 15 percent of those forests. The appropriate treatments on the remaining 85 percent may be as diverse as the forests themselves.

Significant structural changes in the Forest Service are essential to control fire costs. They should decentralize decisionmaking so local decisions will respond to local economic and ecological conditions. This paper suggests several possible structural changes.

Keywords: Randal O'Toole, centralized planning and budgeting, U.S. forest service, wildfire, fire supression, hazardous fuels, forest restoration, structural changes, decentralized decision-making, local economics, local ecological conditions, structural changes

JEL Classification: D61, E62, H59, Q23, Q38

Suggested Citation

O'Toole, Randal, The Perfect Firestorm: Bringing Forest Service Wildfire Costs Under Control. Cato Institute Policy Analysis Series, No. 591, April 30, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Randal O'Toole (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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