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Who, Me? Wildfire and Drought

Individual and collective action is still wanting.

Two items prompted me to write this blog post. One is the once “Great Salt Lake” in Utah. It has decreased in size by one third.

Will it eventually dry completely up? What are the ecological impacts and how about the impacts to people? The real story is that water usage in the vicinity of the lake exceeds that of other Western states on a per-person basis. The impact of it drying up has not sunk in when it comes to the individual actions of people and organizations. You have homeowner associations fining people for not watering their grass. Duh! To borrow a phrase, “It’s the people, stupid.” People don’t sense the danger and they are not reacting to it. In fact, growth in and around the Salt Lake area is expected to increase by 40 percent in the coming years. More people, less water — do the math!

Then there is this: Wildland Urban Interface: A Look at Issues and Resolutions. You can’t get much more current than that.

There are scores of recommendations in the document, but I’ll boil it down to the same big one that has to do with water as mentioned above, in that people don’t sense the danger. In one 20-year period, 8 million new homes were built in the wildland interface zone.

It is easy to point fingers. There are the developers, builders and prospective homeowners demanding their right to build homes and businesses in an area that is subject to wildfire. Then you have local governments, who are happy to pocket the development fee payments, planning fees and increased business activity that will help their local economies. New homes means new carpets, new furniture, and the labor needed to build and provide all the comforts of home.

Governments, meaning elected officials, don’t appear to have the guts to reject growth plans and those seeking economic gain from that growth won’t support anyone looking to constrain it.

Perhaps one generation of people will avoid the consequences of their actions, but as time goes on and the hazard increases due to climate change, the “rolling of the dice” seems to favor the wildland fire more than it does the homeowner.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.