The right public policy can ensure that wildfires are not the new normal

The wildfire season of 2021 continues to wreak havoc in the western United States with more than 48,725 wildfires burning 6,619,632 acres across the region. These fires, in addition to destroying states, make affected areas more prone to future burns and other natural disasters. The Kruger Rock Fire burned 147 acres before being dammed last week. By 2020, the Cameron Peak fire grew to over 200,000 acres – the largest fire in Colorado’s history.

Although wildfires can not be completely extinguished, policies can be implemented that will help local communities better prepare for and resist wildfires and natural disasters. SmarterSafer – a coalition of environmental, taxpayer and insurance groups that promote disaster resilience – recently outlined policy recommendations to help address the growing concerns about wildfires and disaster relief.

Investing in pre-disaster mitigation efforts at the local, state, and federal levels can reduce both the physical and tax costs of forest fires by not only protecting communities, but by saving taxpayers’ dollars. In addition, existing policy proposals can be used to help minimize the physical and economic stress that wildfires have on various communities.

Late. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Introduced the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, which would create a fund to restore forests and watersheds and secure local investment in mitigation. Suggestions like this are essential to tackling wildfires before they start because they help re-establish natural barriers that prevent recurring fires and limit the intensity of those that cannot be avoided. Similarly reintroduced rep. Joe Neguse, co-chair of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, the Climate Resilient Communities Act in Congress, legislation that would require the Government Accountability Office to prepare a report on the benefits of prioritizing resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Bureau.

Free proposals like the Disaster Mitigation and Tax Parity Act of 2021, introduced by California Senator Dianne Feinstein, provide tax incentives for some of these very investments and should be part of the equation.

In addition to environmental investments, there are opportunities to implement innovative mitigation strategies to ensure that the infrastructure and housing are designed to reduce risk. The Built to Last Act aims to do just that by ensuring that building codes draw on forward-looking climate information, including data on wildfires and other environmental trends. This proposal is a cheap policy with high rewards that everyone should stand behind.

These are just a few of the policies that are desperately needed to achieve a safer and more resilient society. As the West continues to deal with roaring forest fires, it is important to run counterclockwise and work together on a two-part 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 can not afford to wait until after the fire hits: Risk mitigation and investment in resilience will help us save homes, businesses, taxpayers 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 CEO of the SmarterSafer Coalition.

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