Forest Service spending on large wildfires in the West
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Since the 1970s, federal spending on wildfire suppression in the United States has grown, reaching $1 billion annually over the past decade. The USDA Forest Service has also increasingly used private contractors to conduct fire suppression. As with all activities that the Forest Service performs, the agency can employ staff directly, contract with outside businesses, or enter into agreements with nonprofit and other government entities to perform fire suppression. Historically, the Forest Service primarily used agency personnel for much of its suppression activities. However, with the decline of Forest Service personnel in the 1990s, the agency turned to contractors more frequently. Despite these growing costs and the larger role of private businesses in fire suppression, relatively little is known outside the land management agencies about what these funds are spent on, how they are spent, which activities are contracted out, and where this spending occurs. Yet, the choices that the Forest Service makes in wildfire suppression spending affect communities and economies near wildfires. In particular, local and regional capture of suppression contracts and local employment of agency staff can help mediate the negative economic impacts of a wildfire.
- EWP Working Papers