Feb 8, 2016

US Forest Service stretched to breaking point after record year for wildfires

Twisp, WA
USA
by
Oliver Milman
,
Guardian
A wildfire burns behind a home in Twisp, Washington, in August 2015. Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP
A wildfire burns behind a home in Twisp, Washington, in August 2015. Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP

A total of 10.1m acres were burned last year, a figure that is double the typical losses seen 30 years ago. During this time, the average fire season in the US has lengthened by 78 days, with scientists predicting that the amount of forest razed by fire will double by 2050.

Climate change-driven drought, wildfire and invasive diseases are stretching the US Forest Service to breaking point, the agency has warned. It spent about 65% of its $5bn budget dealing with wildfires last year and is requesting that fire be treated like other natural disasters so that it is able to access more money to keep pace.

“We are seeing real challenges on the ground – climate change is real and it is with us,” Robert Bonnie, under secretary for natural resources and environment at the US Department of Agriculture, told the Guardian. “The whole US Forest Service is shifting to becoming an agency dominated by wildfires. We really are at a tipping point. The current situation is not sustainable"