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Projecting future fiscal risks from wildfire in the U.S.

The area burned by wildfire is projected to more than triple by the end of the century, according to a new assessment from the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station. Federal spending for suppression is also projected to more than double. These projections are critical for informing regional and national fire management priorities.

Director’s Choice
A firefighter stands in a barren landscape surrounded by smoke from the remnants of a wildfire.
A firefighter looks at the ground where a wildfire has burned. As climate changes, wildfires are expected to burn larger areas and more federal spending will be needed to suppress them. USDA Forest Service photo.

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 fire suppression.

The White House Office of Management and Budget includes projections of future wildfire area and suppression expenditures in its comprehensive Climate Risk Exposure assessment, which covers several areas of climate change impact. Researchers from the USDA Forest Service provided this information, using 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.

Researchers projected the area wildfires burn on federal lands to more than triple by the end of this century, as compared to recent annual averages. Furthermore, across all climate scenarios, median federal spending for wildfire suppression is projected to rise by 186%, translating into a $3.7 billion increase compared to historic spending over the same time frame.

As the Forest Service implements its 10-year Wildfire Crisis Strategy to increase fuels reduction and forest health treatments, the projections provide context for that work and can help ensure that our nation’s forests and grasslands are resilient in a changing climate.

Additional links

Principal Investigators
Jeffrey P. Prestemon, Project Leader
Jennifer Costanza, Research Ecologist
4804 - Forest Economics and Policy
4855 - Center for Integrated Forest Science
Climate risk exposure: An assessment of the Federal Government’s financial risks to climate change
CompassLive Article
Wildfires on a warmer planet: Projections of future fiscal risks
Research Partners
Mark Lichtenstein, USDA Fire and Aviation Management
Erin Belval, Rocky Mountain Research Station
Sarah Brown, Rocky Mountain Research Station
Linda Joyce, Rocky Mountain Research Station
Shannon Kay, Rocky Mountain Research Station
Jeff Morisette, Rocky Mountain Research Station
Karen Riley, Rocky Mountain Research Station
Karen Short, Rocky Mountain Research Station