Until insurers are allowed to charge premiums high enough to cover actual risks, people will continue to build and reside in places they probably shouldn't, secure in the knowledge that when Mother Nature inevitably strikes, someone else will write a rescue check.
According to a recent study of 11 Western states by Headwaters Economics, just 14% of the wildland urban interface [WUI] is currently developed. But that number has been growing steadily, as have the costs of protecting the WUI. Since 1992, the Forest Service's fire expenditures have grown by 450%, and well over half of that has been spent protecting private property next to public land.
"The only behavioral change I can imagine is if fire-fighting costs were borne by local counties," says Ray Rasker of Headwaters. "Right now, if you're declared a disaster area, FEMA will bail you out, or BLM will bail you out," he says, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Bureau of Land Management, two of the more than two dozen federal agencies that respond to emergencies.
California's last big fires occurred in 2003 and largely in the same areas burning today. Which is to say these fires are not only natural but somewhat predictable in location. And while the immediate priority is to suppress them while giving aid and comfort to the displaced, policy makers might also look to mitigate the potential damage the next time they occur. And that means holding homeowners, developers, states and local communities more accountable. Link.
As it is, the over-regulated insurance market and the promise of federal emergency money means we're effectively paying people to live in communities that destroy our wildlands.
I don't get it.