Forest Fire Cost Report Solidly Based in Science, Accounting

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 24, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Forest Fire Cost Report Solidly Based in Science, Accounting


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Mike Dubrasich

In an Aug. 17 Register-Guard guest viewpoint, "Report on `true cost' of megafires not all it appears to be," Jim Wells decries "shrill character assassinations with unsupported assertions." Then he launches into one attacking me.

In his rush to cast flowery and unfounded aspersions, Wells failed to understand the substance and significance of the forest fire economics paper I co-authored.

The paper is "U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project: The `One-Pager' Checklist," by Bob Zybach, Gregory Brenner, John Marker and myself, from Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, Advances in Fire Practices, fall 2009. The paper reviews cost-plus-loss fire damage appraisal methods and philosophies.

We (the four authors) cite fire econometric studies from 1925 to 2009. All my fellow authors are recognized environmental experts with extensive schooling, experience and substantial prior achievements in forest and fire-related disciplines.

Wildfires, contrary to popular mythology, cause more harm than good, harming both natural and human environments. Damages (losses) from wildfires include watershed impacts (such as flooding, erosion and degradation of water quality); air quality degradation (smoke, carbon emissions); wildlife habitat destruction and pollution; ecosystem devastation and conversion; compromised public health and safety (health care costs, injuries and fatalities); recreation shutdowns; property losses (homes, businesses and crops); income loss to residents and businesses; and infrastructure destruction and shutdowns (power lines, highways and railroads), in addition to suppression expenses. The damages (cost-plus-loss) from wildfires are immediate and often extend into the distant future as well.

Dollars are standard units of measurement for values. Appraisal of some commodities damaged by wildfire - such as homes, timber and crops -is straightforward. Appraisal of non-commodities, such as endangered species habitat loss and scenery degradation, is more problematic.

But econometric methods (some simple, some complex) have been developed for appraisal of all natural and human resources. Those methods account for and appraise direct, indirect, short-term and long-term impacts.

The Wildfire Economics One Page Checklist presents a simplified accounting ledger (we developed a more detailed fire economics ledger, from which the one-pager was created). It is a tool to be used by fire managers, citizens, analysts, the media and various levels of government officials to quantify the economic damages of wildfires.

Accounting for all the damages that wildfires inflict will help fire suppression planning and fire management. The economic utility of fire suppression is to minimize cost-plus-loss from fires.

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Forest Fire Cost Report Solidly Based in Science, Accounting
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