In the past week the Associated Press released an article about California lawmakers’ decision to charge an annual firefighting fee to people who live in or near forests (Fire fee a solution for strapped Western States). This $150 fee will be levied to each structure on a parcel protected by CAL FIRE, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. As the article points out, this is not an entirely new concept. Other western states, including Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, also collect a fee that goes toward fire fighting budget, although these fees are less than $150.
California’s decision is part of its effort to balance its General Fund. Governor Jerry Brown cites his reasoning for the fee to the California State Assembly: “As a result of population increases and urban development in state responsibility areas in recent decades, there has been a significant increase in state costs associated with fire protection in state wildland areas. This bill recognizes that a portion of the costs borne by the state for wildland fire prevention and protection services should be funded by the landowners in these areas.”
These words shouldn’t come as a surprise. Some of you may recall an earlier post I wrote this past January “Irresponsible Development Cited as Reason for Wildfire Budget Slashing [in California]” when I discussed Governor Brown’s statements regarding the need to curb state wildfire suppression costs being spent on protecting rural areas.
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In spite of state’s motives to balance their budgets, the “beneficiary pays principle” for firefighting fees raises an interesting debate. Should folks who live in the wildland-urban interface have to pay an extra fee to the state? What if they are already doing defensible space, and/or paying a local fire prevention fee for the unincorporated area where they live? And does this fee result in reducing catastrophic fire losses? In other words, in order to reduce wildfire suppression costs, shouldn’t we be putting our efforts into mitigation projects such as fuel thinning and educational efforts such as Firewise/Fire Safe Councils?