24 Aug 2009, 9:05am
Forestry education
by admin

Forest fire cost report solidly based in science, accounting

By Mike Dubrasich, Guest Viewpoint, Eugene Register Guard, Aug 24, 2009 [here]

In an Aug. 17 Register-Guard guest viewpoint, “Report on ‘true cost’ of megafires not all it appears to be,” Jim Wells decries “shrill character assassinations with unsupported assertions.” Then he launches into one attacking me.

In his rush to cast flowery and unfounded aspersions, Wells failed to understand the substance and significance of the forest fire economics paper I co-authored.

The paper is U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project: The ‘One-Pager’ Checklist by Bob Zybach, Gregory Brenner, John Marker and myself, from Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, Advances in Fire Practices, Fall 2009. The paper reviews cost-plus-loss fire damage appraisal methods and philosophies.

Note: the paper is [here]. The U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project cooperators have set up a website [here] where reference material is posted.

We (the four authors) cite fire econometric studies from 1925 to 2009. All my fellow authors are recognized environmental experts with extensive schooling, experience and substantial prior achievements in forest and fire-related disciplines.

Wildfires, contrary to popular mythology, cause more harm than good, harming both natural and human environments. Damages (losses) from wildfires include watershed impacts (such as flooding, erosion and degradation of water quality); air quality degradation (smoke, carbon emissions); wildlife habitat destruction and pollution; ecosystem devastation and conversion; compromised public health and safety (health care costs, injuries and fatalities); recreation shutdowns; property losses (homes, businesses and crops); income loss to residents and businesses; and infrastructure destruction and shutdowns (power lines, highways and railroads), in addition to suppression expenses. The damages (cost-plus-loss) from wildfires are immediate and often extend into the distant future as well.

Dollars are standard units of measurement for values. Appraisal of some commodities damaged by wildfire — such as homes, timber and crops — is straightforward. Appraisal of non-commodities, such as endangered species habitat loss and scenery degradation, is more problematic.

But econometric methods (some simple, some complex) have been developed for appraisal of all natural and human resources. Those methods account for and appraise direct, indirect, short-term and long-term impacts.

The Wildfire Economics One Page Checklist presents a simplified accounting ledger (we developed a more detailed fire economics ledger, from which the one-pager was created). It is a tool to be used by fire managers, citizens, analysts, the media and various levels of government officials to quantify the economic damages of wildfires.

Accounting for all the damages that wildfires inflict will help fire suppression planning and fire management. The economic utility of fire suppression is to minimize cost-plus-loss from fires. That is why we invest in fire departments.

Accounting for all the impacts will help emergency service agencies, public health organizations, forest managers, rural and urban residents, small and large businesses, insurance companies, utility companies and local, state and federal governments understand the full scope of fire disasters through the use of reliable economic data, not subjective guesses — or worse, information vacuums.

Accounting for economic impacts informs post-fire reporting, recovery planning and future fire prevention, as well as preparation for individuals, families, communities and agencies.

If Wells, or anyone else, has (friendly) criticisms or questions about the paper, I am happy to post and discuss those at the Western Institute for Study of the Environment Web sites. The paper has been posted there for all to read and study, for free.

The Western Institute for Study of the Environment is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and a collaboration of environmental scientists, resource professionals, practitioners and the interested public. We are based in Lebanon. Our home page is westinstenv.org.

Our mission is to further advancements in knowledge and environmental stewardship across a spectrum of related environmental disciplines and professions.

We provide a free, online set of postgraduate courses in environmental studies, currently 50 topics in eight colloquia, each containing book and article reviews, original papers and essays.

In addition, we present three commentary sub-sites, a news clipping sub-site and a fire tracking sub-site. Hundreds of reviews, reprints and original articles from cutting-edge environmental science research (including forest, fire, and wildlife sciences) are archived in our library.

We strive to educate. That is our mission. Because we are Web-based, we can go into much greater detail on selected scientific issues than can a newspaper (no offense, that’s just how it is in our new digital age).

We specialize in environmental science reporting and analysis and provide interactive learning experiences for our visitors, the interested public, layman and expert alike. We hope those interactions will be informative, educational and enjoyable to all participants.

Wildfire economics is just one of dozens of environmental science investigations we sponsor and report upon. The public is cordially invited to join in, study, learn and teach at our Web sites.

Mike Dubrasich, executive director of the Western Institute for Study of the Environment, is the author of “A Guide to Innovative Tree Farming in the Pacific Northwest” and numerous scientific papers and reports.



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