The increasing cost of wildfires and their decimation of the Forest Service’s budget for other things is raising more and more controversy.

The Salt Lake Tribune has a story on it. Wildfires: Should taxpayers pay for those who build mansions in ‘the stupid zone’?By Patty Henetz. The Salt Lake Tribune

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

18 Responses to Wildfires: Should taxpayers pay for those who build mansions in 'the stupid zone'?

  1. avatar April Clauson says:

    if they could afford the first mansion that burned down they can afford insurance and to build again. NO, taxpayers should not help the rich rebuild. They built it there and they took that risk.

  2. avatar skyrim says:

    Hell No!
    I’m not sure they (we, us, them) should pay for any of it.
    I have a small place in Central Utah at about 7800 feet The fire danger gets higher every year that it doesn’t burn. County officials told us at a fire meeting that the total of their resources; money, equipment, manpower would be depleted within 30 minutes. Not terribly good news but it certainly wised us all up. I’m not too worried though. I’m pretty close to a state senators $750K log “cabin”.

  3. avatar Carl says:

    The issue is that the USFS is spending millions of dollars protecting the new homes and subdivisions going into rural areas. In many cases they are using their limited resources to protect these homes and not being able to attack the fire. This results in the fires getting larger and threatening other communities which again forces the firefighters to protect the newly threaten homes and abandon fighting the fire. It’s a vicious circle.

  4. avatar kim kaiser says:

    hate to tell you folks but you are paying for them to live on the beaches of florida after hurricanes ravage te areas.. everyone has to take a bite when the insurance company has to rewrite..and fires that burn out dozens of home get the same treatment, they just recalc there risk, and make everyone buy in,, just because you dont live ont he coast, doest mean you are paying for there rebuilding,

  5. avatar Mike says:

    I raise this issue repeatedly on my site.

    A recent story indicates 14% of the land bordering national forests is developed with homes. It’s getting to the point whre we have to say “you’re on your own” when it comes to wildfire costs. Personally, I’d much rather see the firefighters attack the fires than worry about people’s material items (safety and human lives of course being the highest priority).

    There seems to be alot of problems and conflict with fires in the wildland interface and it’s not going to change anytime soon unless people stop building their second homes there.

  6. avatar BobCaesar says:

    So what you are sayiong then is – if I live in town and my heighbor’s house catches fire it’s up to HIM to put it out. If he doesn’t, or Government doesn’t, then everyone will burn down.

    Why should those in rural areas be any different?

    AND, not everyone living on the edge is a “fat cat”. Some are just folks like you and me. Some are just luckier than others – in the eye of the beholder.

  7. avatar Mike says:

    I think it’s important to identify the problem so that future development is limited, just like floodplains.

    For those that already chose to live near wilderness areas and national forests, they have to make do with the fire precautions for their specific area.

    Comparing a 2,000 rural forested subdivision with 10 acre lots to a city block isn’t really the same thing. One would be a desparate attempt at controlling what we can’t control (mother nature), and throwing national forest dollars down the drain on a futile effort. The other is paid for by higher city taxes and easily stopped.

    What’s worse than logging or ranching? Subdivisions. I guess it’s just our nature though, isn’t it? We want to be close to the things we love, but we end up destroying them. I wonder how much of this USFS money being wasted on protecting vacation homes could be used for ATV enforcement, roadless area planning, keeping campgrounds,etc.

  8. avatar mikarooni says:

    Most of the people who build these McMansions are Republicans and Republicans have clearly and repeatedly declared their strong belief in personal accountability and in not using tax funds to mitigate personal stupidity. In this case, we should have the courtesy to take these Republicans at their word and just say no to taxpayer bailouts of McMansioneers. As you sow, so shall you reap.

  9. avatar sal says:

    What Mikarooni said!

  10. avatar BobCaesar says:

    Frankly, as you drive around Forests in Wyoming and Montana anyway, the vast majority of people living in close proximity to public lands are just hard working stiffs – loggers, ranchers, outfitters, country folk. Where does this “RICH” people thing come from? Is it just because someone happens to have some money that our society should choose to not offer them the same protection afforded to other, less wealthy, citizens?

    Or is it that some people are simply jealous of those, who for what ever reason are lucky enough to live in the country where we’d probably like to live?

  11. avatar BobCaesar says:

    Isn’t what’s good for the goose (who happens to live in the city) also good for the gander (who happens to live in the country). Isn’t government’s role to provide for security and protection its citizens like defense, rule of law, fire protection, civil order, etc? How does where one lives have any effect on that?

    The real problem here isn’t with you – nor even with me! Isn’t it that our government, the Forest Service in particular, is total inability to do the job it assigned.

    The Forest Svc wastes more time, more $ than I can begin to imagine. For example, we are in the middle of a very busy time in the forest – hunting season. More Forest visitors than all the rest of the year. Yet the local Forest Service (Bridger Teton) just sent three “rangers”, one who is one of their only off highway vehicle enforcement officers, some sixty miles from his patrol area – TO FIX A CORRAL FENCE. A corral which has no practical use until next summer! Three people…. on a totally senseless mission. They do this kind of stuff regularly. They have so many desk bound employees it’s no wonder they can’t fight fires. Go into any regional and see all the ants running, no sitting, around staring at computer screens.

    If they were in a private corporation they’d be fired immediately for dereliction of duty. Generally speaking that is. Of course, there are hard working, diligent, well intending people in the Service, but darn few!

  12. avatar steve c says:

    People should be required build homes that are as fireproof as possible (slate roof, brick construction, aluminum siding etc) in high fire areas or they should get NOTHING.

  13. I think maybe people are talking about homes this size.

    Boise natives say 12,000-square-foot home will be a haven for family. Idaho Statesman.

  14. Also, from what I have heard from folks, it is the second homes, very large houses that the owners, non-residents, only come to stay at for a few weeks out of the year. This is a really dicey topic. {Supposedly they do not contribute much in taxes.?} And due to current world “situations” there are far less people to fight the fires. Fire officials are trying to do the best they can to try and stretch a very limited amount of firefighters. Should they drop in enough people to stand guard around a solitary house that is basically out in the “wilderness” or concentrate on keeping the fire contained and away from town?? It is complecated further by the topography and wind. Should they concentrate enough people to try and keep the fire from the largest concentration of homes? I guess it comes down to the greater good vs a couple homes. So unless planaria could be turned into firefighters, it is going to be like this for a long time to come.
    My friend’s in-laws have a house, their only home, in Montana up on a mountain by a national forest. Their daughter was getting married and a fire was threatening to come their way. In preparation for having to evacuate, they loaded up a truck with a few things that their house-sitter could drive away with, along with the family dog, and went to the wedding. They took responsibility for their property knowing they were out in the woods, and quite a ways from town. They also took time to take care of brush and any forest “litter”.

    I can understand why a community would be angry about
    non-resident houses that were closed up for most of the year. Is it fair to allocate persons to go and protect those houses, when there is only a fraction of firefighters that are usually available?

  15. avatar JEFF E says:

    what ever ones personal opinion might be of the house in the article that Ralph linked above, I feel it should be pointed out that, at least in this case, the house is in the Boise city limits in an established subdivision.

  16. That’s true, it’s in a subdivision, but the comments people made and the story itself indicate to me that the subdivision is on the Boise Front — a dry face of the mountains, and a very high fire incidence zone.

  17. avatar JEFF E says:

    while this house and subdivision itself is not in the Boise front, but rather on a bench immediately above the valley floor, it is dry there but no drier than on the Valley floor where there is open land. (not much any more). the more interesting thing in this particular case is that this bench is actually a huge ancient sand dune. An earthquake of the right type and magnitude and it will all come tumbling down.

  18. Thanks, Jeff.

    Building on bad geology is another problem where the public ends up paying, at least in part, when the problem could have been avoided by better standards for where building is acceptable.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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