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The Irrationality of Continued Fire Suppression: An Avoided Cost Analysis of Fire Hazard Reduction Treatments Versus No Treatment

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Abstract:

Without large-scale implementation of fire hazard reduction treatments, the costs of uncharacteristic crown fires in southwest forests will continue to increase. Federal policy continues to allocate vastly more funds to suppression than to prefire hazard reduction. We examined the economic rationality of continuing this policy of emphasizing fire suppression activities over restoration-based fire hazard reduction treatments. We compared treatment plus fire suppression costs to the cost of fire suppression without treatments over 40 years for southwestern forests. This avoided-cost analysis estimates the amount one could invest in treatments to avoid the future cost of fire suppression. Using conservative economic values, we found that avoided future costs justifies spending $238–601/ac for hazard reduction treatments in the southwest. We conclude that the policy of underfunding hazard reduction treatments does not represent rational economic behavior, because funding hazard reduction would pay for itself by lowering future fire suppression costs.

Keywords: avoided cost; economics; fire; fire hazard reduction; restoration

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2006

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.
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