CompassLive Science Shorts

Wildfires on a warmer planet

Projections of future fiscal risks

smoke billows in the horizon
As the climate warms, wildfires are becoming more dangerous — and expensive. USDA Forest Service by Brady Smith.

Wildfires are projected to burn three times as much area on federal lands by the end of the century, as compared to previous decades. Furthermore, across all climate scenarios, median federal spending for wildfire suppression is projected nearly triple, translating into a $3.70 billion increase compared to historic spending over the same time frame.

The White House Office of Management and Budget requested the projections as part of its comprehensive Climate Risk Exposure assessment [PDF], which covers multiple climate change impacts.

The research team included scientists and experts from the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire and Aviation Management, and my Southern Research Station colleague, Jennifer Costanza.

We used state-of-the-art climate data to develop new projections of future wildfire areas burned, along with increases in federal government spending needed to suppress those fires. These projections are critical for informing regional and national fire management priorities.

Wildfire plays a key role in forest and grassland ecosystems and affects the goods and services they provide, such as carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, recreation, and forest products. As the climate changes, wildfire activity will change, as will the amount of resources directed at fire suppression.

The results from this research inform national and regional fire management priorities in a changing climate. In addition to being used in the White House’s risk assessment, the results provide a baseline of what would happen if fire management were to not change appreciably in this century.

As the Forest Service implements its 10-year Wildfire Crisis Strategy to increase fuels reduction and forest health treatments, wildfire and fiscal spending projections provide context for that effort, helping to ensure the resilience of our nation’s forests and grasslands to changing climate.

Read the assessment [PDF]. For more information, email Jeff Prestemon at jeffrey.prestemon@usda.gov or Jennifer Costanza at jennifer.costanza@usda.gov.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Receive weekly updates