Wildfire Risk Management on a Landscape with Public & Private Ownership: Who Pays for Protection?

We’ve had these sorts of discussions here before in regards to people building homes in fire-prone forests with an expectation that the federal government (and US taxpayers) will provide funding for fuel reduction activities.  A new(ish) research paper provides another look at the issue.

Abstract: Wildfire, like many natural hazards, affects large landscapes with many landowners and the risk individual owners face depends on both individual and collective protective actions. In this study, we develop a spatially explicit game theoretic model to examine the strategic interaction between landowners’ hazard mitigation decisions on a landscape with public and private ownership. We find that in areas where ownership is mixed, the private landowner performs too little fuel treatment as they ‘‘free ride’ —capture benefits without incurring the costs—on public protection, while areas with public land only are under-protected. Our central result is that this pattern of fuel treatment comes at a cost to society because public resources focus in areas with mixed ownership, where local residents capture the benefits, and are not available for publicly managed land areas that create benefits for society at large. We also find that policies that encourage public expenditures in areas with mixed ownership, such as the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 and public liability for private values, subsidize the residents who choose to locate in the high-risk areas at the cost of lost natural resource benefits for others.

8 thoughts on “Wildfire Risk Management on a Landscape with Public & Private Ownership: Who Pays for Protection?”

  1. The same things could be said about urban people who “capture benefits without incurring the costs”, enjoying several redundant layers of law enforcement. Their choice of living in crime-prone areas is being subsidized by the government, when residents could be employing their own security measures, instead. Taxpayers, including us rural folks, currently pay for the extra law enforcement that people want in urban areas. Additionally, we also help subsidize urban transportation systems, which some might argue are overbuilt to accommodate overbuilt urban areas.

    Again, we see an issue isolated and excluded from the “big picture”. Of course, we don’t do fuels projects solely for resident safety. There are multiple benefits, with impacts mitigated, for modern fuels projects.

    • Larry, If you think about it, you’ll realize that the cost of public safety and transportation is much cheaper _per_person_ in urban areas compared to rural areas, so the subsidies likely flow from urban toward rural areas.

  2. Larry is on his soapbox, making no sense at all with his supposedly comparison with urban people. I could poke numerous holes in his comments, but I am sure most readers will ignore his defensiveness. Not sure where he lives, but is he paying “extra” taxes for some sort of police protection beyond the local sheriff?
    Regardless, the comparison is without merit. Many of the homes in the hazardous zones intermixed in the forest are “trophy” homes worth millions, built there by wealthy persons who have a real choice of where they live, contrary to many urban dwellers of limited income who take what shelter they can get or afford.
    The only answer that comes to mind is for insurance companies who cover these mega-homes in or near the WUI should charge a super-premium, high enough to discourage anything less than a truly fire-resistant structure, with state of the art protection and prevention on the site. Counties who permit these developments need to face reality and enforce building codes that strive to minimize the hazards from wildfire.

  3. I would even go as far as to say that urban people get more “subsidies” than rural folk do. In the end, both law enforcement AND forest management deal with public safety, and it appears that some people just don’t care about the lives of rural people, as well as the health of our public forests.

    In my case, there is public land right across the street from me, and very little has been done to make my community safe(r) from wildfire. Using “mega-homes” as a reason to stop fuels projects is as ludicrous as reducing law enforcement in crime prone areas. The parallel is perfectly valid, and there certainly are alternatives in forest management which will accomplish the goals required. Similarly, “subsidies” for urban people accomplish goals, as well.

    The point is, most people get subsidies from many different sources. Pots should not be calling kettles black.

  4. I find some serious science issues regarding the generalized inference that easterners/urban folks are more heavily subsidized. Let’s see, who get’s cheap electricity from dams built in the 30’s-50’s subsidized by dominantly eastern taxpayers? Westerners.
    Show me the non-cherry picked science/incidents behind that opinion, otherwise I will consider confirmation bias present.
    Also, you think a kid born into a high-crime and disadvantaged economy has much of a choice on where he chooses to live? So we all have the exact same opportunities?

  5. I never said or inferred that fuel hazard reduction programs should be stopped or curtailed in the WUI or any other part of the forest. You are jumping to conclusions. I am trying to make the point (obviously unsuccessfully) that we should be striving to put more of the costs associated with living in or near the public forest on those who choose to live there. I’m fully aware that many forest-edge housing developments are not “trophy” homes built by millionaires.
    But in all cases it is the role and responsibility of local governments to control or limit what is built there, so the rest of us outside of the higher-danger zone don’t have to pay for any extra costs that may come. But most of our western county commissioners are gutless in the face of real estate/developer pressure groups, and they too often cave-in whenever reasonable development restrictions or codes are proposed.
    Case in point right here in Kootenai County, Idaho, with respect to limits on disturbance in the near-shore areas (30feet) along lakes and rivers. The cries of anguish from the builders etal. can be heard for miles…”you’re taking my land, you’re taking my rights”. The point is that some public rights (to clean, unpolluted lakes or well-managed forests) need to be protected; the almighty dollar does not have to dominate ALL decisions.

  6. Cheap coal, “cotton is king” and urban rail are more examples of eastern subsidies. We have our dams and pipelines, which benefit Americans at the expense of habitat. “Free rides” extend from both sides of the aisle. Certainly, there needs to be zoning but, denying fuels treatment/restoration projects for existing communities is pretty damn harsh.

    One could also say that some rural areas have high crime and a disadvantaged economy. If kids are working, in rural areas, they won’t rush to live in cities, where there is more competition for good jobs. The bias seems to go both ways, here. The assumption in Ed’s remark is that because some people have nice mansions on their own lands in the forest, we should not allow fuels projects nearby?? Just how many mansion owners want fuels projects done on lands close by? Just how many fuels projects have been planned or implemented close to mansions? Just what is the definition of a “mansion”, and how many of them are close to Forest Service lands? The Forest Service cannot decide what happens on private lands adjacent to public lands.

  7. My favorite example of “Millionair McMansions, and I don’t think you can get much more millionair than this, is the Yellowstone Club at Big Sky Montana. Millionair Mcmansions built in the most fire proof landscape there is…one giant regenerating clearcut. I love this place. Former Plum Creek clearcuts home to Bill Gates summer home. Check it out on Google Earth. Plug in 45 13 54N, and 111 23 52W into the “fly too” box. Then use the “clockface” toolbar to see what it looked like in the 90’s. It’s all about aesthetics ain’t it boys.

    As for the above. Ask the people of the Apache Sitgreaves if they wished more thinning was done. Screw the WUI, how bout the whole forest. It doesn’t really matter. There wasn’t much of an outcry when the Wolf Rider was used to delist the wolf. Why? because the time had come.


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