Should policy makers limit where homes are built along the wildland urban interface?

Should policy makers limit where homes are built along the wildland urban interface?

19 August 2013

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USA — At least 13 percent of Idaho’s wildland urban interface (WUI) is developed. That’s according to data gathered by Montana-based think tank Headwaters Economics. As wildfire season continues in the West, Stateline pulled together an interesting article about the increasing number of homes being built on the edge of forests and how that can complicate wildfire management.

Headwaters Economics wildfire expert Ray Rasker told Stateline more people will continue to build in the wildland urban interface, and taxpayers will be on the hook for defending those homes in the event of a wildfire.

A major problem Rasker sees is the disconnect between federal and local authorities that few lawmakers appear willing to address. Although state and local leaders play a huge role in fire policy by setting laws on zoning, building construction and property maintenance, it’s often the federal government’s job to step in to fight the fires or later dole out disaster aid.

“There just aren’t financial repercussions for building in dangerous zones,” Rasker said. “You solve that problem and the others will fall into place.”

Some experts suggest that federal and state lawmakers examine broad policy changes that would slow the population shift into the WUI, or at least make its inhabitants more responsible for their decisions. – Stateline

Rasker is hitting on something Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter was asked recently during a press conference. Thirty-eight homes were destroyed by the Elk Complex wildfire last week. Gov. Otter told the Idaho Statesman those homes couldn’t have been saved by homeowners doing their part to create defensible space and other precautions.

“That was almost an indefensible area,” Otter said during the press conference. Still, he told the Statesman homeowners shouldn’t be prevented from rebuilding in the same area.

He values their private property rights, he said.

“We have the responsibility to warn them,” he said. The state also can inform insurance companies that it considers the area indefensible, Otter said.

“As far as these people rebuilding on their property, that’s going to be on them, not Butch Otter,” he said. – Idaho Statesman

Stateline reports since 2002, the average cost of wildfire protection and suppression is more than $3 billion annually.

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