Oregon is no stranger to wildfires. However, the 2020 wildfire season has been one of the most destructive on record with over 400 fires taking at least 11 lives and destroying thousands of homes. The magnitude of this year’s blazes should be alarming to both residents and officials.
Fortunately, there are bipartisan approaches that could significantly mitigate future wildfire risk across the state.
In a climate policy paper released this year, the SmarterSafer Coalition suggested introducing pre-disaster mitigation efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to decrease the cost and damage incurred from natural catastrophes. Pre-disaster mitigation approaches not only help protect our communities, but also our taxpayer dollars. In fact, every dollar spent on pre-disaster mitigation is estimated to save six dollars in post-disaster recovery.https://e.infogram.com/3f0ed068-de31-4cb0-8d60-993678b6665b?src=embed#async_embed
Policymakers are beginning to recognize the importance of investing in resilience, too. Congressmen Neguse (D-Colo.) and Rooney (R-Fla.) introduced the bipartisan Climate Resilient Communities Act, which would ensure that building codes and standards set by FEMA address resiliency and incorporate climate risks.
Oregon’s leaders also have been spearheading efforts to ensure communities have the resources to address the underlying conditions leading to these massive fires. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, recently introduced the National Prescribed Fire Act with Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to increase the pace and scale of controlled burns — a strategy proven to protect communities and supported by science. Initiatives like this will better protect our communities against natural disasters.
Ecologically appropriate and climate-informed forest restoration and management, including restoring natural fire regimes, targeted thinning, prescribed burns, and post-fire restoration will decrease wildfire risk. Additionally, these strategies will protect clean drinking water and enhance the health of our forests. Improving the resilience of our forests will reduce wildfire risks, but we also must consider how climate affects these unprecedented conflagrations.
In order to maximize resiliency and mitigate risk across the board, we must encourage Oregonians to take initiative and enact their own pre-disaster mitigation practices.
By providing accurate information, policymakers can better educate homeowners and renters about the risks of living in wildfire-prone areas. Tax holidays and tax-preferred savings accounts for disaster supplies can also incentivize disaster preparedness. Additionally, by tying federal spending to pre-disaster mitigation policies, state and local officials would be incentivized to invest in resilient infrastructure.
When it comes to wildfire mitigation, we cannot afford to wait. 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.
As Oregon continues to cope with the twin crises of an ongoing pandemic and the widespread destruction caused by this year’s wildfires, we must work to implement a rational approach to natural disasters.
Through the combined efforts of individuals and government officials, we can better protect our homes, businesses and communities from the risks posed by wildfires, while reducing the post-disaster recovery burden on taxpayers.
Collin O’Mara is president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation. You may reach him via [email protected] Steve Pociask is president and chief executive officer of the American Consumer Institute. You may reach him at [email protected] Both organizations are members of SmarterSafer, a national coalition focused on promoting environmentally-responsible, fiscally-sound approaches to natural catastrophe policy.