DENVER, Sept. 23, 2016 – The Center for Western Priorities issued a new analysis, The Wildfire Burden, spotlighting one of many flaws with attempts to “transfer” U.S. public lands to state and private control. Any Western state politician pushing this idea is committing his or her state to the liabilities and high costs associated with managing public lands, including fighting wildfire.

According to data acquired by CWP from the U.S. Forest Service, the agency spent over $6 billion fighting fire in Western states between 2009 and 2015. The U.S. government spent billions more annually on wildfire when you account for firefighting by the Department of Interior, in addition to spending on wildfire preparedness, rehabilitation, and hazardous fuels reductions.

“Public lands seizure proposals are built on a house of cards that comes crashing down under the weight of simple economic realities,” said Greg Zimmerman, deputy director with the Center for Western Priorities. “The cost of fighting wildfire alone would place an unreasonable burden on cash-strapped state budgets, with one big fire risking a state’s financial solvency. Where’s the money going to come from?”

It’s not uncommon for the U.S. Forest Service to spend northward of $100 million a year in any given Western state suppressing wildfire.

U.S. Forest Service Wildfire Suppression Spending (2009-2015 total)

Arizona$485 million
California$2.4 billion
Colorado$236 million
Idaho$643 million
Montana$363 million
New Mexico$420 million
Nevada$117 million
Oregon$863 million
Utah$171 million
Washington$445 million
Wyoming$96 million
Western States Total$6.2 billion

Land seizure advocates—including the leading proponent, Utah State Representative Ken Ivory—remain silent on how they plan to fund wildfire fighting costs without help from the U.S. government, without selling off public lands, without raising taxes, and without raiding important parts of a state’s budget, such as K-12 education or law enforcement.

“Wildfire is an unavoidable cost associated with managing our American public lands. But let’s not also forget about the undeniable economic benefits of these lands. Access for outdoor recreation, the provisioning of freshwater, historic preservation, and energy production to name just a few,” continued Zimmerman. “The myriad benefits are shared by all Americans, as are the costs of managing those lands.”

The Wildfire Burden is an update to a report with the same title first issued two years ago. In a separate report, The Mining Burden, the Center for Western Priorities examined the cleanup cost states would take onto their books from all abandoned mines if lands were “transferred” into state hands.

The Center for Western Priorities is a conservation policy and advocacy organization focused on land and energy issues across the American West.