Editorial: Congress sees trees as wildfire fuel


Published Jun 27, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Congress sees the trees on Oregon’s federal land as fuel for wildfire.

That is not the intent. It is the outcome.

Look at the numbers.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said at a Congressional hearing on Wednesday that the Forest Service is spending more and more to fight increasingly severe wildfires.

In 1991, the agency spent 13 percent of its budget on fire activities. It was up to more than 40 percent in 2012.

There’s a similar change in agency staffing. Over the years from 1998 to 2012, Forest Service personnel fighting fires grew by 110 percent from 5,700 to 12,000. Staff managing forests fell from 6,000 to about 3,200.

You can also see the change in the predicted costs of wildfires. The agency uses a 10-year average to try to keep a fix on how much it’s going to need to spend on fire. In 2000, it was $540 million. In 2012, it was $900 million.

We bet you can come up with better ways to spend nearly $1 billion.

It is Congress that decides federal forest management policy. And it is Congress that has decided that managing trees is fighting fires.