Wildfire season is here; time to prioritize mitigation and resiliency

https://napavalleyregister.com/

https://napavalleyregister.com/

USA – Currently, over 4,400 California firefighters have and continue to battle wildfires that have charred more than 4 million acres since the beginning of the year. The fires have claimed at least 31 lives and displaced thousands from their homes.

Unfortunately, these catastrophes are not unusual. In 2018 and 2019, California wildfires claimed more than 100 lives, destroyed nearly 26,000 buildings, and burned more than 2.2 million acres of land. These alarming figures serve as an urgent reminder of the annual threat that wildfires pose to our communities. According to Verisk’s 2020 Wildfire Risk Analysis, nearly 4.5 million homes in the U.S. are at high or extreme risk for wildfires, of which more than two million are in California.

We must be better prepared, particularly given the resources being diverted to fight the pandemic that has killed more than 12,000 Californians.

Fortunately, there are actions that our leaders can take now to mitigate future wildfire risk and safeguard our communities and first responders. In a climate policy paper released earlier this year, the SmarterSafer Coalition outlined pre-disaster mitigation efforts that our local, state, and federal governments should implement to help decrease the damage caused by natural disasters, such as wildfires and floods.

Pre-disaster mitigation approaches will not only protect our communities but also taxpayer dollars. These savings are far from insignificant. Every dollar spent on pre-disaster mitigation is estimated to save six dollars in post-disaster recovery.

Policymakers are realizing the importance of investing in resilience. On the federal level, Congressmen Joe Neguse (D-CO) and Francis Rooney (R-FL) introduced the bipartisan Climate Resilient Communities Act, which would ensure that building codes and standards set by FEMA address resiliency and incorporate climate risks, including wildfires. Leaders in Washington should advance such initiatives that will guard against natural risks facing California and other states across the nation.

Ecologically appropriate and climate-informed forest restoration and management, such as restoring natural fire regimes, targeted thinning, prescribed burns, and post-fire restoration, will reduce the risks of uncontrolled wildfires, while also protecting essential watersheds and clean drinking water, providing wildlife habitat, and ensuring that our forests endure for future generations. Additionally, tying federal disaster spending to strong pre-disaster mitigation policies would incentivize state and local officials to invest in resilient infrastructure and other protective policies by granting them access to federal funds when disaster inevitably strikes.

At the same time, we must prioritize risk education and encourage individuals to take initiative and enact their own pre-disaster mitigation practices. It’s critical that homeowners and renters have access to information regarding the potential risks associated with living in a wildfire-prone region. Buyer education creates a more informed purchasing decision that energizes homeowners to implement pre-disaster mitigation strategies, such as planting fire-resistant shrubbery around their property before a wildfire hits. Beyond education, tax holidays and tax-preferred savings accounts for disaster supplies can serve as incentives to promote disaster preparedness.

These proposed solutions should appeal to policymakers from both sides of the aisle. For too long, our disaster preparedness framework has leaned heavily on reactive response rather than proactive preparation. In 2018 alone, the federal government spent $3 billion fighting wildfires and virtually nothing on making communities more resilient or restoring forests on federal, state, tribal, and private lands, as called for in the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. Political affiliation aside, our government leaders can agree that there are better, safer options at their fingertips.

The combination of both government and individual action will better protect individuals, homes, and businesses from wildfires while reducing the post-disaster recovery burden on taxpayers.

Now more than ever, the U.S. must consider a rational approach to wildfire disaster policy.

Collin O’Mara is the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Jeff Kupfer is the President of ConservAmerica. Both NWF and ConservAmerica are members of SmarterSafer, a national coalition made up of a diverse chorus of voices united in favor of environmentally responsible, fiscally sound approaches to natural catastrophe policy that promote public safety.

Collin O’Mara is the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Jeff Kupfer is the President of ConservAmerica. Both NWF and ConservAmerica are members of SmarterSafer, a national coalition made up of a diverse chorus of voices united in favor of environmentally responsible, fiscally sound approaches to natural catastrophe policy that promote public safety.

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