In the last 15 years, the US Department of Interior (USDOI) has exceeded its wildfire suppression budget six times. That’s because catastrophic wildfires, which account for only 2 percent of fires, consume 30 percent of budgeted funds for fire suppression. This creates a catch-22 scenario since this limits the amount of funds available for counter-measures to wild fires — like removing invasive plant species and restoring more fire tolerant native plants. Native plant species would improve the resilience of the ecosystems allowing them to recover from wildfires more quickly and to sustain more healthy forests and watersheds.
So why are wildfires increasing? This year USDOI has already worked on more than 29,000 wildfires which have burned over 2.6 million acres, and the peak season is just arriving. If you watched the video above, you’ll know that USDOI feels that climate change is the cause. Because the annual temperature is higher, snow packs melt earlier and there is more drought which leads to unhealthy ecosystems and more insect predation on plant biomass, which results in the wildfire season now being hotter, drier and longer than in the past.
During our recent trip to Glacier/Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Parks, we learned the national parks do not put out wildfires started by nature; they only fight the ones started by man. It seems over time, researchers have determined that suppressing all fire is not the best approach to a healthy ecosystem.
For more information, see this excellent explanation by Stephen Mason from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.