Q: How do we shape a resilient forest, reduce fuels and limit large fires?
One answer: Instead of building firelines, let’s build our forest bioenergy industries
The full cost of California’s 2013 Rim Fire are arriving and they are staggering if they are to be believed. Federal and state agencies spent over $127 million on suppression through October. Additional monies have no doubt been spent on immediate and emergency site rehabilitation throughout the fall and early winter.
These suppression and rehabilitation activities are considered direct costs in the parlance of fire economics. Recently, researchers at Earth Economics estimated that indirect and additional costs, which are related to environmental and property damage and which will take years to realize, could exceed $1.8 billion. That brings the total direct, indirect and additional cost of this one fire to over $2 billion, or, with a burned area of 256,000 acres, a total cost of over $7,800/acre. With individual fire costs like this it is no wonder wildfires are bankrupting our local, state and federal governments. While home protection in the WUI is cited more and more as a significant cause in the rising cost of wildfires, in the case of the Rim Fire, which certainly had areas of WUI protection, the majority of the total long-term cost is associated with environmental damage in turn caused by an over accumulation of fuels.
Finding a way to more aggressively remove hazardous fuels before the wildfire is the key to reducing these costs in the long-run and one emerging avenue to help defray the cost of fuel treatments is through bioenergy. Using wood for energy is not new in North America, in the 18th and 19th centuries wood was used extensively in the smelting of iron and up to and including the 21st century it is used to heat homes and sometimes entire towns.
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