Decades of fighting the spread of all wildfires has prevented a natural cycle of thinning that had kept forest fires under control. Before European settlement of the West, 1.5m acres would burn each year; since then, it’s been about 57k acres/year. Less than 2% of California forestland saw proactive treatment in some recent years, and one of the most effective means at controlling future fires – prescribed burns – is limited by cultural and legal hurdles, EPA standards and the Endangered Species Act. However, this takes a short-term view on the dangers of uncontrolled wildfires to both environmental quality and animals in these habitats.
We have a problem in this country, and it’s costing us billions of dollars a year. It’s only going to get worse as climate change exacerbates the problem. We need to start listening to what the experts recommend on how to control these fires.
More money needs to be spent on prevention to match the scope of the problem, and we need to properly fund the US Forest Service in order to proactively address threats before they become fires. We need to provide western states with the same amount of funding for local fire prevention and emergency preparedness planning initiatives. We also need to shift our cultural view that all wildfires must be stopped in order to allow the natural cycle to regain control.
These natural fires need to be supplemented with prescribed burns, which stay limited to their defined areas 99% of the time. The EPA must take a long-term view towards the dangers of megafires versus prescribed fires when analyzing the environmental impact of controlled burns.
Finally, we need the federal government to partner with state and local governments to aggressively collaborate in finding solutions to these life-threatening risks. The federal government can properly fund the cost of preventing and fighting fires on federal land, while also learning from state best practices in administering these prevention efforts. The federal government can assist state efforts by providing a federal fire insurance program that depends on the homeowner’s compliance with state fire prevention policies. Incentives for developing land in safe areas also need to be implemented, either through changes to federal standards, changes to mortgage-interest deductions for housing built in high-risk areas, or the implementation of a federal fire insurance program, to price in the costs of living in high risk areas.
Problems to be Solved
- checkWildfires are becoming increasingly frequent and damaging, costing billions of dollars each year, and will only get worse as climate change continues to dry out our forests.
- checkMany homeowners are prevented by insurance companies from purchasing fire insurance because they live in high risk fire zones.
- checkMany states have great fire prevention and emergency response techniques, they just don’t have the resources needed to implement these systems effectively.
- I can’t help but think that the huge recent wildfires are a metaphor for many other things in our society. We avoid spending what we should – but end up paying for it in the end, often tragically. One thing I can say for sure – my first budget as President will involve a quintupling of the U.S. Forest Service budget. It would create jobs in an area we clearly need to invest in. Let’s solve these problems instead of waiting for them to develop into literal fires.
- checkReadjust incentives and priorities to promote investments that will reduce the frequency and impact of megafires
- checkWork with states to implement the expert fire prevention methods and emergency response systems they have developed
- checkProvide homeowners access to fire insurance along with requirements to employ certain fire prevention techniques
As President I will...
- Quintuple the budget for the U.S. Forest Service to $24.5 billion for at least 5 years, and specifically tailor it to focus on fire prevention, and promote partnerships with local experts on combating wildfires in their areas. This will more than pay for itself by preventing megafires.
- Appoint a Secretary of Agriculture who recognizes the importance of preventing megafires using science-backed techniques.
- Work with federal agencies such as the EPA to adjust how specific metrics are measured to take a more long-term view of the costs and benefits of prescribed fires.
- Work with Congress to pass legislation aligning incentives for states, developers, and homeowners towards fire prevention and avoiding high-risk areas.
- Establish a National Fire Insurance Program that provides insurance for homeowners in high risk fire zones, with a stipulation that homes must take preventative actions such as defensible space and reevaluation standards in case locations are determined to be dangerous for rebuilding.