Considering equity in wildfire protection

Sustain Sci. 2021;16(6):2163-2169. doi: 10.1007/s11625-021-01024-8. Epub 2021 Aug 31.


Climate change, drought, forest pest infestations, and pathogens, and high fuel loadings all factor into the expansion of territory in the United States deemed high-risk for high-intensity wildfire. Risks also mount as a decades-long demographic shift plays out, with individuals and families relocating from urban centers to more sparsely populated, vegetated areas on the margins of cities and towns-a trend that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. As some insurance carriers cease underwriting homeowners insurance in wildfire-prone areas, property owners can be expected to shoulder more costs for home hardening. The equity implications of who pays to fireproof homes and neighborhoods will intensify as wildfire risks multiply in areas beyond the comparatively wealthier wildland-urban interfaces (WUI) of the Pacific coastal states. Systems of polycentric governance, consisting of problem-solving actors who collaborate across jurisdictional and geographical boundaries, can help make wildfire mitigation more equitable. Polycentric governance institutions already help communities adapt to destructive wildfire in the United States. Lessons learned from these institutions must be tailored to poor and marginalized communities in harm's way-with a sense of urgency.

Keywords: Firewise; Homeowners insurance; Polycentric governance; Wildland fire; Wildland–urban interface.