Climate change, development strain wildfire budgets

The U.S. Forest Service now spends half of its budget on fighting wildfires that have grown in recent years due to climate change and increased development, Bloomberg News reported.

The budget share spent on firefighting has grown from 21 percent in 2000, Bloomberg said.

Adding firefighting costs in other federal agencies that own land, the government has spent an average of $1.54 billion a year fighting wildfires in the last 10 years. States, meanwhile, spend $1 billion to $2 billion annually.

Kim Rodrigues, a wildfire expert at the University of California Davis, told Bloomberg that the government should take more proactive steps to prevent fires.

Climate change dries out forests and provides more fuel for the fires. Federal officials could reduce the impact by better managing forests.

But increased development in the West also exacerbates fire costs. Headwaters Economics estimates that 16 percent of fire-prone private land in the West is now developed, which increases the urgency of fighting fires that could harm buildings and residents.

President Obama has proposed changing federal firefighting budgets in a way that would fund the efforts as if they were hurricanes or other natural disasters. A Senate bill would make a similar change.

In May, the federal government estimated its firefighting costs would hit $1.8 billion this year, $470 million more than last year.