In response to the devastating 2012 wildfire season, Gov. John Hickenlooper convened the Wildfire Insurance and Forest Health Task Force to make recommendations on how to best protect Coloradans who live in the wildland-urban interface and high risk fire areas.
Last month, the Task Force released its report to the governor. I believe the state can and should take measures to reduce the threat of wildfires, but the recommendations in this report appear to punish homeowners living in the wildland-urban interface rather than offering constructive fire mitigation policies. The Task Force recommended the state enact a state-wide building code, establish a rating system to determine the risk factor of homes in and near wooded areas, and from that rating, assess a fee on homeowners.
Not only do these recommendations fail to address forest management on state and federal lands, they enact unnecessary regulations and fees on Colorado residents.
To address my concerns in greater detail, let me start by saying it is not the role of the state to supersede local authorities on how people choose to build a home. Local communities understand the specific geography in their area, and work with their local officials, insurance companies and fire crews to establish building regulations that best suit their needs.
A one-size-fits-all building code for the state will not recognize the work already being done on the local level and will likely enact unnecessary building restrictions on homeowners.
Additionally, if we start assessing fees on homeowners based on their risk of requiring emergency services, we open the door to fees on homeowners living in high flood zones, areas susceptible to high snowfall, high crime, or any other natural or human-made disaster. The state is using the high cost associated with fighting these fires to justify a fee for mitigation, but the same can be said for residents living in any area in Colorado that may require emergency services.
Furthermore, how will the state manage the revenue from this fee? Will this fee imposed on homeowners simply create another bureaucratic state entity charged with allocating these funds? I believe this sets a dangerous precedent, and one which will only place heavier burdens on Colorado residents.
Homeowners who choose to live in forested areas already pay higher insurance premiums, have higher property taxes and typically go through greater scrutiny to obtain a mortgage. I agree we can do better at helping homeowners lower their risk of fire, but it should not be the top-down approach recommended in this report.
The health of our forests directly impacts the risk and severity of these wildfires. We must be more focused on proper forest management, in particular, increased cooperation with the Federal government. Of the 22.6 million acres of forested land in Colorado, 68 percent is controlled and managed by the federal government. Regrettably, nothing in this report mentions anything about working with our federal counterparts to ensure the majority of forested land in Colorado is properly managed.
I urge the governor to reject these overreaching and burdensome recommendations. The state should focus on proper management of our forests and permit the local governments to establish building codes and mitigation polices to combat future wildfires in our state.
Dan Nordberg, R-Colorado Springs, serves in the Colorado House of Representatives. Reach him at (303) 866-2965.