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July 22, 2004

You Don't Need a Weatherman, III

Today’s Bend Bulletin has more on who pays for fire fighting, taxpayers or people who choose to live in fire-prone woodlands. Oregon is debating whether to charge woodland residents more of the cost.

Two quotes warrant comment. First, woodland dweller Kathy Schultz says, "I don't know if [paying for forest-fire protection] should be the sole responsibility of those of us who live in the woods," she said. "It does everybody good to prevent forest fires."

Well, the soaring cost of fire protection is not for preventing forest fires. It’s for fighting them. And it’s for fighting them where there are buildings and people. Furthermore, many forests are fire-adapted; that is, regular fire keeps them healthy. A century of aggressive fire suppression (along with other pressures such as grazing) has turned them into thickets of tinder-dry trees. Mix in a wave of woodland exurbanites and you have set a time bomb. The low-cost and ecologically sensible approach is to discourage people from living in such places, to make them pay for their own fire protection, and to let fires burn elsewhere. (See our writeup on the subject, here.)


Steve Buckstein, president of the Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based free market think tank, said Wednesday that landowners shouldn't expect public subsidies when it comes to fighting forest fires on their land.
And if rural landowners were forced to pay the full cost of fire protection, it might help slow the development of houses in vulnerable forest interface areas, he said.

I don’t see eye-to-eye with the Cascade Policy Institute on urban planning issues, but I agree wholeheartedly on this question.

Posted by Alan Durning | Permalink


I agree! Another solution could also be to put a "fire prevention tax" on matches, cigarettes, and fireworks. That'll help remind people about how many (preventable) fires start.

Posted by: M. Parker | Jul 23, 2004 4:43:59 PM

Ditto... Further, why allow development on vulnerable flood plains? It seems that every time we have a major flood catostrophe in this country the policitians clamor for federal relief (our tax dollars) and stricken citizens vow "we will rebuild." The inherent risk in building on marginal lands should be reflected in astronomical insurance costs. We can still help the poor who are afflicted by natural disasters, but better community planning is needed to minimize the costs to the rest of us.

Posted by: R. Sporseen | Jul 26, 2004 10:07:59 AM