The origin of the Problem:
The problem has been compounded by a serious long term drought in the entire American West
The 2002 fire season was severe:
It cost an estimated $1.6 billion to suppress wildfires in 2002, and nearly $1 billion had to be shifted from other forest programs such as thinning to contain the blazes. The Forest Service and the Interior have an $800 million fire suppression budget this year.
The Current Situation
Current Active Fire Maps
GEOMAC (a very good interface leveraging the internet)
2003 Fire Season Outlook:
The situation in March 2003 seemed quite dire but strong snowstorms throughout the West in April mitigate the problem a bit.
Nevertheless, the outlook for the American West is not good:
And the streamflow forecast looks dire:
Current Fire Danger Threat (but its only June!)
But thinning is very controversial
The situation for Western Washington. Number of fires has increased in the 90's, number of acrs burned has not.
Clearly the American West has a looming problem and now there is a controversial plan of action to aggressively thin forests to counter decades of fuels build up.
Run the Forest Fire Simulator
This is a significant build up of fuels!
Forest Thinning, Physics and Policy
A still overriding concern is who pays
for all of this (and the total price tag could be high). Looking
at if from the bean counting point of view it
may actually be cheaper to just deal with the forest fires than
actually do the necessary thinning of 190 million acres.
Whatever the result, your likely to see a lot of protest and attempts to block various thinning projects. Some of those will be legitimate, some of those will be based on the NIMFBY problem. Its an excellent example of policy being set in a data vacuum.
Finally, to be clear. All that forest thinning really does is to minimize the probability of catastrophic fire storms. This is an important objective. Thinning, by itself, will not prevent forest fires.
Additionally, thinning should promote greater diversity on the forest floor but its unclear if the soil nutrient base is sufficient to support this.