Monday, September 19, 2016

The Wrong Carrots and Sticks for Reducing Wildfire Losses.

Blue Cut Fire in California, August 2016.  Photo: Mike Nelson, EPA

Ray Rasker, Executive Director of Headwaters Economics, offers his perspective on how to mitigate losses from wildfire in his recent op-ed piece in the LA Times.  

Wildfire is not the problem, Rasker says.  The problem is people living in dangerous places and the reason people continue building on fire-prone lands, despite the known hazards, is because we have the incentives all wrong. Typically, new home construction is approved on or near the most flammable of lands.  When fire comes, federal and state agencies send in crews and air tankers to defend private homes. Most of the cost is borne by taxpayers, and by firefighters, especially those who lose their lives.  

Rasker suggests that communities that focus on better incentives as well as where and how homes are built, will be better suited to withstand wildfire.  
He suggests the new Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire program, which offers assistance to communities in the form of land-use planning advice and detailed wildfire risk mapping as one way to confront the development issue. Communities that participate learn how to adopt land use and development codes to encourage developers to set aside open space and recreational trails as fuel breaks in fire prone settings, and how to use building codes to require ignition-resistant construction materials.
Another approach is to enact a community rating system, where cities and towns that put in place safety restrictions on development would become eligible for a cluster of rewards, such as free land-use planning assistance, detailed wildfire-risk mapping or targeted fuel reduction on nearby federal lands. Funding channels could be directed to those efforts in the highest-rated communities.
The Cohesive Strategy supports a variety of methods and actions through which communities can better prepare themselves for wildfire.  Land use planning, development codes and standards, and local government ordinances can all be part of the solution to mitigating losses from wildfire.  
Read full opinion piece here

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