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What Do Forest Fires Really Cost?

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A seven-year quest to estimate forest fire costs in Colorado revealed a number of losses not usually considered. Catastrophic fires result in direct costs, rehabilitation costs, impact costs, and special value losses. They are wildfire events that imperil public health, safety, or welfare and result in significant degradation of the environment, substantial loss of property, and often death or injury of people. While each fire is unique, a series of large fire case studies, primarily in ponderosa pine forests, are used to develop a progression of cost estimates. The author concludes that damages to forest watershed values in the arid West may ultimately result in the most serious, long-term costs of large fires. A contrasting case study where fire has been a regular component of the forest ecosystem is used to question the tacit acceptance of very costly, extremely damaging catastrophic fires as natural events.

Keywords: environmental management; fire cost accounting; forest; forest fire; forest fire costs; forest management; forest resources; forestry; forestry research; forestry science; natural resource management; natural resources; wildfire

Document Type: Regular Article

Affiliations: Professor Emeritus of Forest Sciences Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Watershed Stewardship Colorado State University Fort Collins CO 80523, Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2004

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Forestry is the most widely circulated scholarly forestry journal in the world. In print since 1902, the Journal has received several national awards for excellence. The mission of the Journal of Forestry is to advance the profession of forestry by keeping forest management professionals informed about significant developments and ideas in the many facets of forestry: economics, education and communication, entomology and pathology, fire, forest ecology, geospatial technologies, history, international forestry, measurements, policy, recreation, silviculture, social sciences, soils and hydrology, urban and community forestry, utilization and engineering, and wildlife management. The Journal is published bimonthly: January, March, May, July, September, and November.

    2015 Impact Factor: 1.476
    Ranking: 22 of 66 in forestry

    Also published by SAF:
    Forest Science
    Other SAF Publications
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