Study quantifies flooding and wildfire suppression costs avoided by forest thinning

Schultz Fire flood
Flooding near Flagstaff following the 2010 Schultz Fire. (From “Field Trip Guide to the 2010 Schultz Fire Burn Area”.)

After the June, 2010 Schultz fire burned 15,000 acres in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona, the floods that followed had an economic impact of about $130 million. Not only did the residential communities adjacent to the fire experience flooding, but subdivisions 10 miles away were also flooded.

Two recent studies have quantified the benefits of forest thinning projects from economic and ecological perspectives.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Arizona Daily Sun:

[One] study calculated the potential wildfire and flood-related costs that will be avoided with the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project. The other study quantified the watershed benefits of forest thinning similar to that proposed by the Four Forest Restoration Initiative.

The FWPP economic study estimated that the wildfire and post-fire flooding-related costs Flagstaff will avoid could total between $573 million and $1.2 billion.

More than 70 percent of Flagstaff voters approved FWPP in 2012.

The study, which is likely one of the first to anticipate wildfire-related costs from flooding, helps put the FWPP’s initial price tag into context, said Paul Summerfelt, the city of Flagstaff’s wildland fire management officer.

“We’re using it to reassure voters that $10 million was wise investment,” he said. “We pay a little now to prevent, or a whole lot more later just to try to fix.”

The analysis, performed by Northern Arizona University’s Arizona Rural Policy Institute, accounted for everything from the projected costs of fighting a severe wildfire in Flagstaff’s watersheds to the revenues businesses could lose to post-wildfire flooding. That number, for example, came to $15 million over five years.


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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.