With the 2018 wildfire season still burned in the memories of many, it is surprising to realize that it’s already time to begin preparing for the next season. Washington State, one of the hardest hit states last season, is seriously considering passing legislation that would create a fund specifically designated to help fight wildfires each year.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz spoke with state legislators in March of 2019 about the growing wildfire threat. “Never before have we faced a wildfire crisis of this magnitude,” said Franz. “And one way or another, we are going to pay for our wildfires and dying forests. The question is whether we are going to pay to react as we deal with smoke and flames, or pay to be proactive.”
The proposal would be funded through a tax increase on premiums for property and casualty insurance. In order for the current proposal to be funded they would need to raise approximately $62.5 million a year.
Naturally, insurers are not thrilled with this proposal since they will be shouldering the majority of the new costs. In fact, the Washington insurance industry has already filed a formal complaint claiming that the legislation is a de facto 20% tax increase specifically targeting the insurance industry.
Over the last five years the average cost of fighting wildfires in Washington state is a staggering $153 million per year. That number is expected to rise over the coming years. According to the Claims Journal, “Last year was the Department of Natural Resources’ busiest fire season ever. The agency responded to more than 1,850 wildfires, and 440,000 acres burned across Washington. Forty percent of those fires were west of the Cascades.”
It’s easy to see the logic from both sides here, but the reality is that wildfires are becoming more devastating, and more prevalent. Doing nothing simply is not an option anymore.