By David Williams and Chris Brown
The 2021 wildfire season continues to wreak havoc on the Western United States with more than 48,725 wildfires that have burned 6,619,632 acres across the region. These fires, in addition to devastating the states, make affected areas more prone to future burning and other natural catastrophes. The Kruger Rock fire burned 147 acres before it was contained last week. In 2020, the Cameron Peak fire grew to over 200,000 acres — the largest fire in Colorado history.
Though wildfires can’t be extinguished completely, policies can be implemented that will help communities better prepare for and withstand wildfires and natural disasters. SmarterSafer — a coalition of environmental, taxpayer and insurance groups that promotes disaster resilience — recently outlined policy recommendations to help address the rising concerns related to wildfires and disaster mitigation.
Investing in pre-disaster mitigation efforts at the local, state and federal levels can reduce both the physical and fiscal costs from wildfires by not only protecting communities, but by saving taxpayer dollars. Additionally, existing policy proposals can be used to help minimize the physical and financial stress wildfires have on different communities.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, which would create a fund to restore forests and watersheds, and ensure local investments in mitigation. Proposals such as this one are crucial to tackling wildfires before they start because they help re-establish natural barriers that prevent recurring blazes and limit the intensity of those that cannot be avoided. Similarly, Rep. Joe Neguse, who co-chairs the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, re-introduced the Climate Resilient Communities Act in Congress, legislation which would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a report on the benefits to prioritizing resiliency at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Complimentary proposals like the Disaster Mitigation and Tax Parity Act of 2021, introduced by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, provide tax incentives for some of those very investments and must be part of the equation.
Beyond environmental investments, opportunities exist to implement innovative mitigation strategies to ensure the infrastructure and housing is constructed to reduce risk. The Built to Last Act aims to do just that by ensuring building codes draw upon forward-looking climate information, including data on wildfires and other environmental trends. This proposal is a low-cost, high-reward policy that everyone should get behind.
These are just a few of the policies desperately needed to achieve a safer, more resilient society. As the West continues to deal with roaring wildfires, it is important to race against the clock and work together on a bipartisan basis to get ahead of natural disasters. Drawing attention to important policies that could ultimately change the course of how the nation responds and prepares for wildfires is crucial, especially in a year that has taken far too many homes and lives through destruction.
We cannot afford to wait until after the fire strikes: Risk mitigation and investments into resiliency will help us save homes, businesses, taxpayer dollars and lives in Colorado and across the country. For these reasons, we urge Congress to act now to move these important policies forward.
David Williams is president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and Chris Brown is executive director of the SmarterSafer Coalition.