Cost of protecting homes from fires could consume the entire Forest Service budget

Despite the huge wildfires this year in Idaho and Montana, very few homes have been lost. The fire fighters are getting better and better and protecting structures, but it costs a huge, and rapidly growing amount of money.

Other people pay for this in terms of reduced forest management due to the exhaustion of funds of the Service and by higher insurance rates and local taxes. Counties should stop allowing homes to be built on the so-called wildland/urban interface, or, alternatively if they think this denies property rights of land owners, they don’t, and the Forest Service does not have to provide protection. The latter course of action would avoid the property rights argument.

Cost of saving homes adding up. By Jennifer McKee of the Missoulian State Bureau

Forest Fires Burning Up More Tax Dollars Than Trees. By Bill Schneider. New West. 






  1. montucky Avatar

    There’s another facet to this issue, too. In their areas of coverage, local rural fire departments, staffed by volunteers, are often the first attack units on fires that start in the wildland/urban interface areas. The increase of new, very expensive homes in these areas is stretching these rural departments thin, and I find it very significant that, in this area at least, none of the owners of these new homes volunteer to help the effort.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    When I was active in one conservation group, we tried to approach the new home owners for help in conservation efforts. We were very unsuccessful, not that they disagreed with out goals. I’d just say they were here to enjoy what others had done, or didn’t realize that the beauty had been conserved by years of fighting mining companies, timber operations, etc.

    They don’t contribute to the community,although given time some become helpful members of the area in a variety of ways.

  3. Monte Avatar

    Considering all the wasteful, stupid ways our government finds to spend money, I’d say saving poeple’s homes from fire is a darn good use of the taxpayers’ money. Yes, even those “trophy second homes” that everybody is always so up in arms about. I agree that homeowners should be required to take action to reduce the danger of fire on their property of course.

  4. BobCaesar Avatar

    Yes Monte!!! Well said! I fully agree and appreciate your words. But then, I live in the Forest! Since our society has decided to protect private property in town from fire why should rural protection be any different? On the other hand I, like my son living in town, have an obligation to do whatever I can to make fire protection easier and safer.

    Some do say ‘Let ‘er burn. They shouldn’t have built there anyway”. My guess is: 1, They’d sure want the fire protection folks to put out their in town neighbor’s house fire. 2, They’d love to have a place in the woods, but don’t want to pay the price of living there themselves.

    I say in town or out we all need to support those fire, police, ambulance, EMT folks who give so much time and effort to protect us – in any and every way we can!

  5. Wolfy Avatar

    Poor civic planning – or rather the lack of any planning at all; this is the heart of the issue. Urban sprawl or encroachment on the wildland-urban interface or what ever you want to call it, is the problem, here. When individual homes or subdivisions are strewn about the landscape in a willy-nilly fashion, one should expect a willy-nilly response by the “community” resources. In some areas, homes are going up so fast that the community services can’t keep track of them all. Oft times, a homeowner calls in to the police or fire departments only to find out that these civic services haven’t a clue where they live. The call for help is the first time that the police or fire folks have heard of the homeowner.

    And many times the closest “community” service comes from the forest service or BLM office. I’ve heard it said a hundred times or more, if you live all alone in the woods, you had better get your crap wired tight. Be prepared to sit out a snowstorm or a wildfire. Someone may be hours or days away that can help you. And if you live in a far-flung subdivision somewhere up in the trees, organize with your neighbors to make a community safety plan. Keep your escape route clear; have a plan to get out or hunker down; make sure that police and fire know where you live and that they can get there. Clear brush and over hanging limbs from you home; Use fireproof materials on the outside of your home, especially for the roof. Have supplies of food, water, medicines, and batteries on hand at all times.

    Better yet, check out these things before you buy and build. Ask questions, does the support community have enough funds and people to provide services to you if you live way up yonder? And that’s only the beginning, how about road work, trash collection, snow plowing, utilities, and school bus service?

    There are many educational materials out there. Do some research and prepare yourselves. You can also ask the local fire and police department for a courtesy home and property inspection. Register with the emergency services folks in the nearest support community.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Well we can’t continue down this road without a bankrupt Forest Service and sky high property taxes.

    We do have to protect places like Bob’s that are already there.

    Unfortunately, the proposals for homes “way out there” are accelerating, even at a time when there is a mortgage crisis, and an energy problem as well as more and more fires.

  7. Jay Avatar

    So when my house floods because I built on a floodplain, I’m fully expecting that federal employees will be showing up in force to put sandbags around my home. If you’re going to do it with forest fires, why not with all other destructive acts of nature?

  8. sal Avatar

    …and less and less habitat for wild animals and plants.

    I think that if you choose to live in the woods, you choose to live with the risks involved in living in the woods. Otherwisw, stay in town ’cause__no matter where you go, there you are. You will still have your same basic needs etc. and the woods will only be the way they were until you put your house there. All that you do there will deplete it’s essence. It will take more energy to build your house, get to your house, to maintain it, heat it and the like. It goes on and on and then, people who build in the wild expect that someone will take care of the “off-property” issues, like the government. And who pays for everything the government does?


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan