Official Year-to-Date Wildfire Stats: Beyond the Rhetoric & Hysteria

By Matthew Koehler, WildWest Institute

With so much media and political attention focused on wildfires – and in some cases public lands management and calls to greatly increase logging on national forests by reducing public input and environmental analysis – it may be helpful to take a look at this year’s wildfire stats to see what’s burned and where.

Here’s a copy ( of the National Interagency Coordinator Center’s ‘Incident Management Situation Report’ from Tuesday, September 1, 2015.

• As of today, a total of 8,202,557 acres have burned in U.S. wildfires. In 1930 and 1931, over 50 million acres burned each year and during the 10 year (hot and dry) period from the late 1920’s to the late 1930’s an AVERAGE of 30 million acres burned every year in the United States. Additionally, the 2001 National Fire Plan update ( indicates that an average of 145 million acres burned annually in the pre-industrial, conterminous United States.

[NOTE: Under the George W. Bush Administration, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal government agencies largely purged all records and information about wildfire acre burned stats from before the period of 1960].

• This year, 63% of ALL wildfire acres burned in the U.S. burned in Alaska, much of it over remote tundra ecosystems. According to federal records, since 1959 the average temperature in Alaska has jumped 3.3 degrees and the average winter temperature has spiked 5 degrees.

• Less than 8% of ALL wildfires that have burned this year in the U.S. have burned in the northern Rockies.

• National Forests account for ONLY 15% of all wildfire acres burned in U.S. this year.

• 88% of all BLM (Bureau of Land Management) acres burned in wildfires this year were in Alaska, again much of tundra, not forests.

This information is not meant to discount specific experiences communities, homeowners or citizens have had with wildfires this year, but just serves as a bit of important, fact-based information and context regarding what land ownerships have burned and where they are located.

Again, this information is especially important in the context of recent statements (and pending federal legislation) from certain politicians blaming wildfires on a lack of national forest logging or a handful of timber sale lawsuits.

If politicians are going to predictably use another wildfire season to yet again weaken our nation’s key environmental or public lands laws by increasing logging (including calls by politicians like Montana’s Rep Ryan Zinke for logging within Wilderness Areas) then the public should at least have some facts and statistics available to help put the wildfires in context.

Finally, please keep in mind that right now the U.S. Forest Service has the ability to conduct an unlimited number of ‘fast-track’ logging projects on over 45 MILLION acres of National Forest nationally – and on 5 MILLION acres of National Forests in Montana. This public lands logging would all be ‘categorically excluded from the requirements of NEPA.’

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11 Responses to Official Year-to-Date Wildfire Stats: Beyond the Rhetoric & Hysteria

  1. The smoke of often worse than the underlying blaze, the burned areas recover nice,y, though our own lifetimes are much shorter than that of the forest.

  2. steve kelly says:

    Genesis 1:28
    God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”’

    Every last inch of Earth must be managed, right? God said. Ample justification for the insanity, no?

    Man, however, met his match with wildfire. Hard to “rule over” and not possible to “subdue” when conditions are in favor of fire. God kept fire in his back pocket to screw with us. It’s working. Loggers, yellow shirts and congressmen forget that they’re not little gods and naturally get pissed when reminded of their righful place in the order of things. Wildfire is a human problem, not a forest problem. And for all you control freaks out there, may I suggest counciling, or if your health care plan doesn’t cover that, just take a pill.

  3. Matthew Koehler says:

    Here’s something else to consider:

    The graph shows a very strong and clear correlation between wildfires in the western U.S. and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which is a robust, recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centered over the mid-latitude Pacific Basin.

    Anyone think that perhaps the Warm PDO period we’re currently in could have something to do with recent wildfire seasons? Or perhaps there were a bunch of environmental groups (lost to history, unfortunately) filing National Forest timber sale lawsuits back in the 1920s and 30s?

  4. steve kelly says:

    Then let’s do away with it. National forests probably would like a break from the SOP. I remember almost luring Rep. Helen Chenowith (R-ID) into a joint press conference years ago with that message, only to be brought back to D.C. “reality” by her young legislative assistant — from Yale as I recall.

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