Three Summary Findings
Our paper details 14 specific lessons, grouped here into three broad categories:
First, mapping fire risks is a necessary first step for managing risk. The federal government and some states have started producing and sharing fire-risk maps to better understand the extent of the problem. Such maps already are an element of Community Wildfire Protection Plans and are used in some states, but are not widely available or consistent across jurisdictions. Improving these risk-maps should be prioritized.
Second, the federal government should incentivize the adoption of risk reduction measures. This can be done by tying suppression dollars and disaster aid to minimum mitigation requirements or a rating program to reward communities that reduce wildfire risk. A bundle of incentives—such as higher levels of financial and technical planning assistance, and, where appropriate, funds for land purchases—would be given preferentially to higher ranking communities. A separate program could help fund community wildfire mitigation, as has been the case for floods.
Third, the federal government must pass some wildfire costs on to local governments. Incentives, while important, by themselves have a limited ability to reduce building in high-risk areas or encourage the adoption of cost-effective measures. Currently, federal dollars for reconstruction post-disaster, and for combating disasters as they unfold, create a moral hazard problem where local governments receive the benefits of allowing development in high-risk areas, but pay few of the costs of those actions. Requiring local governments to pay more disaster costs may induce them to invest more heavily in risk reduction.