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Do We Need a Distinct Rural Land-Use Law?

In the Line of Fire

By: Alison Berry

Date: Feb, 20 2013

A recent study from Headwaters Economics sheds new light on the unseen costs of building homes in remote areas. This research investigates the costs of fighting wildfires in the wildland-urban interface—where private lands border fire-prone public forests. [caption id="attachment_1212" align="alignright" width="300"]Source: Sonoran Institute Source: Sonoran Institute[/caption] Currently, in the West, only about 16 percent of the wildland-urban interface is developed, and federal firefighting costs average $1.8 billion each year. Much of this spending—as much as 50 to 95 percent, according to one USDA study—goes to protecting private homes in the wildland urban interface. According to Headwaters Economics, if only half of the wildland urban interface is developed in the future, annual federal firefighting costs could escalate to between $2.3 billion and $4.3 billion. By comparison, the Forests Service’s total average annual budget—including not just firefighting, but forest management, research, education, and more—is currently $5.5 billion. How can we stop firefighting expenditures from spiraling out of control? We offer some suggestions in our report, “In the Line of Fire: Managing Growth at the Forest’s Edge.” One option is to adopt local policies that encourage development in safer areas, while steering development away from fire prone areas. For example, clustering ordinances can allow developers to build as many—or even more—homes in low-risk areas in exchange for not building in high risk areas. Alternatively, local governments can use overlay zoning districts, that restrict development in high-risk areas, or require fire-resistant building and landscaping materials.

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By: Alison Berry

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