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Future Scenarios of Wildfires

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Contrasting Scenarios
  3. Collective 25-Year Vision
    Stakeholder Vignettes


For this paper, our team will continue with the work started with our first paper and identify various scenarios and results that we can foresee occurring with the problem of wildfires and the systems that are enmeshed in them. We have constructed different scenarios, and will also outline a positive and realistic vision that will lead into several stakeholder vignettes, imagined as a day in the life of various involved stakeholders.

Contrasting Scenarios

The negative scenario for this problem would occur when all stakeholders involved collectively fail to take appropriate action. For example, primary stakeholders such as the electric utility industry and the transportation industry may become complacent if the government does not effectively enforce emissions and energy standards. With no repercussions or clear goals set by the government, they will continue with the “status-quo” mindset. Consequently, key stakeholders may lose their motivation and willingness to spend money on refining energy efficient technologies if they don’t have support from government or a way to make money on their product. Wildfires may continue to burn out of control frequently and on a massive scale-thus forcing our government resources to be exclusively spent on fighting these fires and not preventing them. This is a truly grim future for our world and if we don’t take appropriate action, has a high degree of likelihood to occur according to a study that used a “…regression model to investigate the potential impacts of climate change from 2000 to 2050 on wildfire activity and smoke emissions for the western United States and predicted a 54% temperature-related increase of annual mean area burned by 2050 relative to present” (Luo, 2013).

On the other hand, it is possible to see a decrease in severity and frequency of wildfires if appropriate, timely action is taken to address various key factors contributing to these raging fires. Carbon dioxide emitted from vehicles is a major contributor in greenhouse gas emissions and current, standard cars that run on solely gasoline create on average 11,435 pounds of CO2 per year (U.S. Department of Energy). Switching to a hybrid vehicle, that annually creates about 6,250 pounds of CO2 would almost halve the amount of emissions per vehicle (U.S. Department of Energy). Another factor in decreasing the severity of wildfires is government funding for preventing and fighting forest fires. Taking away funding for fighting forest fires would negatively affect local communities and their wellbeing, but increasing the funding for removing dead trees and dry brush “can reduce the total CO2 emissions by as much as 15%” (Bonnickson, 2008). This is key in decreasing the severity of wildfires because by removing dead trees results in less carbon for a wildfire to burn and release.

As a society, we would want to move into a more sustainable and environmentally conscious direction. One possible way of transitioning to this lifestyle is to promote the use of electric cars among consumers. By having more electric vehicles on the road, CO2 emissions could be cut by 3.2 billions tons a year, which currently accounts for 60% of the total US emissions (Leahy, 2017). Certain countries have actually announced bans on the sales of fossil-fuel burning cars by 2025 and 2040, including: Norway, France, the Netherlands, and U.K. (Leahy, 2017). Even car companies such as Volvo are pushing the shift for electric powered cars by having all cars they produce have a battery in them by 2019 (Kahn, 2017). These shifts can begin to work towards slowing any more climate change effects, which are one of the leading drivers of fires. This way, at least for the foreseeable future, wildfire conditions won’t get any worse.

Another way of creating an environmentally conscious society is to put more focus on protecting our natural spaces and preventing wildfires/doing periodic burns when needed (NFPA). Not only is this something the government can do, but also something people can do in their everyday lives (Ryan & Hamin, 2008). There are a multitude of outlets for finding information on preventing wildfires caused by campfires, backyard debris, etc. Certain types of forest depend on periodic fires to promote biodiversity along with burning dead plant materials, which include the Ponderosa Pine, Chaparral, Oak-Hickory, Midwest Prairie, and others various plantlife (Fire in Nature, 2018). Prescribed burns in these particular forest types may be a beneficial way of keeping the forest healthy and preventing larger and uncontrolled fires to occur in the future.

Collective 25-Year Vision

First and foremost, public education on the severity of the effects of rising CO2 levels is of the utmost importance in creating the vision of a future with less severe wildfires. While there are many factors involved in climate, we must focus on educating the public on the gravity of the situation and what one can do to help remediate the costly effects of climate change. Local communities of wildfire prone areas are able to help prevent severe and large scale burning by simply maintaining their yard. The National Wildfire Protection Association recommends “clearing gutters of dead leaves and pine needles that could ignite, keeping lawns mowed to 4”, pruning trees and clearing large amounts of vegetation from under trees” (NWPA). Firewise USA is a government program that helps to educate local communities of how they can adapt to living with wildfires and how communities can work together to prevent more loss. Directly involving stakeholder communities in preventative measures to protect their homes helps to specifically targets areas that are prone to catching fire.

Increasing government budget for preventing wildfires through a higher tax on oil and gas companies that perform unsustainable business practices would focus more funds on wildfire prevention, while not having to shift funds from the current budget spent on fighting current blazing fires. It is important to continue protecting the safety of the affected stakeholders, while also being able to increase wildfire prevention. Taxing oil companies is an increasingly difficult feat to accomplish due to the enormity of oil usage in the U.S. and the amount of stakeholders this potential tax would affect, combined with the lobbyists that would work against such a tax. Allowing and incentivising oil companies to switch to more sustainable energy sources would help to mitigate potential, unhealthy consequences of imposing a costly tax. We must consider that extracting oil and the purchasing of oil is a complex system that could easily become disrupted, even with a tax meant to aid the general public. Oil extraction, refining, and purchasing is a large portion of the economy and many people could find themselves unable to purchase previously affordable gasoline if the oil and gas companies responded with a price hike. We have witnessed over the past 10 years how much gasoline prices can fluctuate – in 2009, the price per gallon was 2.406 USD, while only 2 years later in 2011 the average price had shot up to 3.576 USD (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2017).

Subsidizing electric and hybrid car production corporations would support green alternatives and offer more affordable eco-friendly vehicles. Channeling monies to the future of creating sustainable, green energy is extremely important to move away from traditional oil using vehicles. Subsidizing would allow for greater and easier exploration of green energy. This in turn would create job opportunity in this field and make electric and hybrid cars more affordable to the general public due to lowering the amount of money companies currently have to spend on research and development. In 2010 Tesla received a loan of $465 million from the Department of Energy’s loan office for a manufacturing facility, proceeded to pay the loan off in full 9 years earlier than anticipated, and became the largest auto industry employer in California (Loan Programs Office, 2014). Giving correct funding to alternative energy companies and other electric/hybrid companies will create a stronger field and more job opportunities for a sustainable future.

Stakeholder Vignettes

The Current State Analysis from last week had a more vast group of stakeholders, but for this paper, the focus will be on only two stakeholders with tangible benefits from the vision being proposed: government entities that economically benefit from wildfire prevention over suppression, and the communities and individuals affected in wildfire prone areas.

Government stakeholders: After funds were allocated by Congress from the tax income received from the Sustainable Land Use Tax Act, and increased prices on some of the National timber salvage and land disposals programs were collected (USDA Forest Service, 2017), the Forest Service has been able to sustain our wildfire prevention and protection programs throughout the United States with help from local and state governments. With our budget increased and secured for the foreseeable future, our efforts day to day have started to focus more on the effect of preventing human error wildfire occurrences, mitigating naturally occurring wildfires through our National Forests and near towns and communities, and educating public throughout our National Parks and Monuments programs that focus on how climate change and sustainable choices prevent more fire susceptible areas from growing.

While we do still fight fires often during the spring and summer months, especially in the Western U.S., our efforts have become successful in preceding larger wildfires with smaller burns throughout endangered dry areas. This has had a economically viable effect in that all of our state parks and National Parks have had less closures, which increases revenue at both levels. Communities have been able to spend less time recovering from disasters and attending emergency preparedness meetings, and instead, can relish in their public lands and special places (Ryan & Hamin, 2008).

Affected communities and individuals stakeholders: Our small town in the Rocky Mountains is currently seeing unprecedented tourism due to the wildfire season being dramatically reduced in the past 20 years. Because of this, our town has seen an economic boon and our town leadership and public servants have been able to help provide our community members the information they need to help with the fight in wildfire prevention, and they don’t have to come to town meetings for wildfire suppression (Ryan & Hamin, 2008). While our town has greatly benefited from the Forest Service’s prevention programs, our community itself has been able to decrease the amount of BAER funds it receives by preventing fires in our community, and the National Forest and National Recreation Area nearby as well.

Our community has even saved money by implementing greener energy solutions, like our all solar Town Center and Police and Fire buildings, which we have learned goes to diminish the type of environment drivers in which the fires we used to have more frequently grow. As our community realized that wildfires are natural but often preventable, they took charge over their own private lands, and as a community we’ve come together to support the efforts across the Rocky Mountains by contributing as a town in little ways, like our greener choices and our newfound knowledge about wildfire prevention and safety. It’s a welcome change to see our future more through the eyes of prevention, and not of suppression and response.

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