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Firefighting consumes nearly half of the U.S. Forest Service's budget ("Stand down from Western wildfires," HCN, 7/22/13). Arguably, the bulk of this spending is necessitated by the presence of private structures in the wildland-urban interface. That these structures -- which include many second homes -- are often located in harm's way is a deliberate lifestyle choice. As the wildfire budget explodes to protect them, funds for food stamps and Social Security are slashed. And the Forest Service pleads poverty to the rest of its users, charging fees at trailheads, increasing campground fees, deferring maintenance, and closing facilities and services. Meanwhile, the Forest Service spends billions to protect private homes in the woods. We need to have a national dialogue about priorities, private property risk, and the expectations of government services.

Malcolm McMichael
Carbondale, Colorado

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