Posts tagged with "USDA Forest Service"

Kaelen Felix illustrates wildfire article for 360 MAGAZINE.

Innovating Wildfire Insurance

The Innovative Finance for National Forests grant program, supports partner organizations developing out of the box financial solutions to some of forest management’s most vexing challenges. One partner, The Nature Conservancy, focused on using insurance premium reductions to incentivize forest conservation.

Property insurance premiums for communities, businesses, and homeowners are based on numerous factors and inputs of actuarial science. Some of those inputs include the quantity and history of claims in an area, the location itself, property value. Global warming? While not directly, studies have linked climate change to another risk factor considered in calculating property insurance premiums: wildfire.

Trends in wildfire activity show that fires are growing bigger and more intense across the western United States, destroying more structures with increasing associated costs. In 2020 there were 58,950 wildfires, affecting 10.1 million acres, in contrast to 18,229 wildfires and 1.3 million acres affected in 1983. The ever-growing risk to companies, communities and private landowners has drastically increased insurance premiums for properties at risk of wildfire, and it is expected that those premiums will only continue to rise, making insurance policies unaffordable for many.

But that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. Recently,  The Nature Conservancy, supported by an Innovative Finance for National Forests grant from the USDA Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation, and U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, focused its efforts on proving that ecological forest management could lower insurance premiums.  

“Forested lands in the west and adjacent communities are at risk of increasingly severe wildfires,” said Dave Jones, senior director of environmental risk at The Nature Conservancy and prior Insurance Commissioner for the state of California. “Wildfires are taking more lives, causing more injuries, destroying more homes and other structures, and at the same time, insurers are declining to write insurance policies for those facing substantial wildfire risk.”

State and federal land agencies and conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy already employ proven methods of ecological forestry management practices – such as prescribed burning and forest thinning – to reduce the risk of severe wildfires. These treatments increase forest health and productivity while also reducing the amount of organic material or “fuel” available to burn.

Private property and asset owners, including businesses, public agencies, and communities, also stand to benefit from those same practices. This led The Nature Conservancy to develop an innovative financial solution that would both serve to mitigate severe wildfire risk, thereby lowering insurance premiums.

The project, at its foundation, explored how creating more wildfire-resistant landscapes through ecological management could translate into lower insurance premiums for policyholders.

The Wildfire Resilience Insurance project demonstrated that this reduction in risk and loss can be modeled by insurers,” said Jones, “With the reduction in expected losses due to severe wildfires, the amount of premium which is needed to be collected by insurers to cover those losses declines as well.”

The Nature Conservancy used its French Meadows Forest Restoration Project, a 28,000-acre ecological forestry project in the Tahoe National Forest in Placer County, California, as a test case for the insurance study.

Partnering with global insurance and risk advisory firm Willis Towers Watson, current insurance models were modified to account for ecological forest management.

The study found that there were reductions in premiums for various types of commercial and residential insurance.  For example, The Nature Conservancy and Willis found that 81,000 homes would see a total annual premium savings of 41% or $21 million a year.

The Nature Conservancy also explored how those same insurance savings can be captured and used to fund forest treatment. In most cases, insurance premium savings were sufficient to fund additional ecological forest management projects, leading to further savings and an even more resilient landscape.

What’s more, Jones said the approach is scalable and can be implemented in other states where forests are subject to similar fire behavior as the forests of the Sierra Nevada.

“The approach is applicable wherever there are landscapes at risk of wildfire and where ecological forest treatments can reduce those risks,” said Jones. “Now that we have demonstrated, for the first time, that insurance modeling can take into account the risk reduction benefit of ecological forest treatment, we expect insurers to begin to take up the results of the Wildfire Resilience Insurance project in their own modeling and pricing of wildfire risk.”

Click here for more information on the Wildfire Resiliency Insurance project. To learn more about the Innovation Finance for National Forest grant program and how to apply, visit the National Forest Foundation.

Agriculture illustration by Heather Skovlund for 360 Magazine

USDA Announces Investment

USDA Announces $218 Million Investment in Land and Water Conservation

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the USDA Forest Service will invest more than $218 million to fund Great American Outdoors Act projects to conserve critical forest and wetland habitat, support rural economic recovery, and increase public access to national forests and grasslands.

Leveraging the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) provided by Congress, this investment will improve public access by funding strategic land acquisitions. Funds will also support work with state agencies to encourage private forest landowners to protect their land through conservation easements or land purchases.

“These investments reflect President Biden’s commitment to supporting locally-led conservation efforts from coast to coast and to honoring and building on the proud private land stewardship traditions of farmers, ranchers, and forest owners,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The investments will not only protect our natural heritage, but they will also create jobs, expand access to the outdoors, and help tackle climate change.”

The Forest Service administers two LWCF programs: The Forest Legacy Program and the Land Acquisition program. Together, these programs conserve critical and strategic lands across the nation’s forests on both private and public lands. The Forest Service will invest more than $94 million to fund 28 projects under the Forest Legacy Program and $123 million to fund Land Acquisition Program projects, including projects for recreation access and other needs.

Land Acquisition Program highlights include:

  • $6.4 million in FY 2021 to acquire 8,590 acres for the Lolo Trails Project in Montana. This project aims to mitigate the effects of climate change by providing the cold water that federally listed bull trout and other species need to sustain healthy populations in a warming climate.
  • $3.7 million to acquire 1,550 acres in the Yakima River Basin for the Washington Cascades Project. Supported by a wide coalition of public, private and non-profit partners, this project seeks to ensure a long-term water supply in the face of climate change.

Forest Legacy Program highlights include:

  • Protecting 12,500 acres of habitat, water and timber on the Ceylon Forest in Georgia. 2.5 million people depend on the Ceylon for drinking water that flows from and through the forest. As a working forest, the Ceylon supports a local wood-based economy that includes 121 mills, with a $1.69 million payroll impact. Once completed, the area will also become part of a much larger Wildlife Management Area and serve as an ideal hunting and fishing destination for sportsmen across the Southeast.
  • The East Grand-Weston in Maine builds on a century-old tradition of sustainable forestry and expands recreation opportunities over more than 4,300 acres. The property supports a thriving local recreation industry by protecting lands, waters and trails while also providing sustainable wood products to up to 15 mills. The property will remain in private hands while continuing to be managed for public benefits.
  • The second phase of the Kootenai Forestlands Conservation Project will permanently protect nearly 28,000 acres of land in northwest Montana. The project area belongs to the Stimson Lumber Company and contributes to the local economy while allowing free public access as a recreation destination for hunting, fishing, skiing, hiking, snowmobiling and more. The project will also protect the area from further residential development, reducing future firefighting costs by more than half.

Background

The Forest Service has been administering LWCF projects since 1964 along with the Department of the Interior. The fund supports Forest Service-led conservation projects including acquisition of critical non-federal lands within the boundaries of national forests and grasslands. Now, with full and permanent funding through the Dingell Act and the Great American Outdoors Act, the Forest Service is poised to strengthen its conservation program and provide greater recreation access to national forests and grasslands.

The agency worked with partners, considered multiple criteria and used established competitive processes to select projects for fiscal year 2021. During the review, the agency evaluated the environmental, social, and economic benefits of proposed projects and whether they contributed to other conservation initiatives. The Forest Service also considered local recreation access needs, the level of local support for strategic land acquisitions and how likely it would be for project areas to be converted to non-forest uses.

For more information on the Great American Outdoors Act and related projects, visit the website.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration under Secretary Vilsack, USDA is committed to transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit USDA.