Wildfire suppression costs may be reduced using new model

Portland, Ore. June 28, 2006. Recent research shows that using the right mix of agency and contract crews is the most cost effective way to fight fires rather than using contract or agency crews exclusively, according to Geoffrey Donovan, a research forester at the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Donovan arrived at these findings after analyzing the full cost of 33 Forest Service type II fire crews dispatched during the 2003 fire season from five national forests in Oregon and Washington. The costs were estimated and compared with the cost of contract crews dispatched in the same region.

"My model helps managers to reduce costs by finding the optimal mix of contract and agency crews," explains Donovan. "A comparison of the full cost of a contract and an agency crew shows that if an agency crew is provided with continuous work, then the cost of that crew is approximately 70 percent of the cost of a contract crew. However, if an agency crew is not provided with continuous work, then it quickly loses its cost advantage."

The model so far, is applicable only to Oregon and Washington, although the methodology can be applied in other areas of the country. The entire study appears in the Western Journal of Applied Forestry and in the research publication, Ecological Modeling.

Wildfire suppression costs in the West and across the country have increased dramatically in the past 10 years. Public land managers are struggling with shrinking budgets, rising costs for personnel and equipment, and higher demand for services from rural communities. As a result, the Forest Service is increasingly relying on contract fire crews and using fewer agency fire crews.


Contact: Sherri Richardson Dodge
USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station

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