By Roger Bales and Martha Conklin

Many of California’s 33 million acres of forests face widespread threats stemming from past management choices. Today the U.S. Forest Service estimates that of the 20 million acres it manages in California, 6-9 million acres need to be restored.

Forest restoration basically means removing the less fire-resistant smaller trees and returning to a forest with larger trees that are widely spaced. These stewardship projects require partnerships across the many interests who benefit from healthy forests, to help bring innovative financing to this huge challenge.

The California Wildfires in Photos

california wildfires

We are engineers who work on many natural resource challenges, including forest management. We’re encouraged to see California and other western states striving to use forest management to reduce the risk of high-severity wildfire.

But there are major bottlenecks. They include scarce resources and limited engagement between forest managers and many local, regional and state agencies and organizations that have roles to play in managing forests.

However, some of these groups are forming local partnerships to work with land managers and develop innovative financing strategies. We see these partnerships as key to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration.

Under contemporary conditions, trees in California’s forests experience increased competition for water. The exceptionally warm 2011-2015 California drought contributed to the death of over 100 million trees. As the forest’s water demand exceeded the amount available during the drought, water-stressed trees succumbed to insect attacks.

Funding is a significant barrier to scaling up treatments. Nearly half of the Forest Service’s annual budget is spent on fighting wildfires, which is important for protecting communities and other built infrastructure. But this means the agency can restore only a fraction of the acres that need treatment each year.

The Benefits of Restoration

Forest restoration provides many benefits in

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 12, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Wildfire season is well underway, with wildfires scorching a record breaking number of acres up and down California, and the peak of the season is yet to come. Mercury Insurance (NYSE: MCY) today announced two new programs the company is launching to help Californians better protect their homes and families if they live in areas prone to wildfires. Homeowners who take one or more steps to either harden their homes against wildfires or live in a community recognized by the National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA) as a Firewise USA® site will be eligible to receive discounts of up to 18%.  And, homeowners who have a California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan policy are now able to strengthen their protection with Mercury’s new difference-in-conditions endorsement, which fills the gaps in their FAIR Plan coverage.

Mercury Insurance is one of the first companies to offer wildfire mitigation discounts to California homeowners living in the wildland urban interface. Homeowners who take property and community wildfire prevention measures could be eligible to save up to 18% on the wildfire premium portion of their insurance policy.

“We’re in this together, which is why Mercury is engineering solutions to encourage proactive actions that better protect homeowners from wildfires,” said Jane Li, Mercury Insurance’s director of product management. “It’s important for homeowners in these areas to take proactive steps to help shield their property from fire, and it’s just as important for everyone in the community to work together to reduce their shared ignition risks, which could save them money and improve their insurance eligibility.”

The property level discount applies to policies for hardened home structures and landscapes with sufficient defensible space. Installing a class “A” rated roof, using siding made of stucco, metal or

Three years since the Tubbs fire, there have been some notable improvements for homeowners who are wrangling with their insurance carriers in the aftermath of a wildfire loss.

The state Legislature enacted some reforms, such as boosting rental living expenses from a maximum of two years to three years after a disaster while a homeowner waits for their home to be rebuilt. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that required carriers to provide initial payments of at least 25% of their personal property that was destroyed without having the homeowner detail their entire inventory.

Yet there is still no solution for the most vexing problem of all: How to ensure that homeowners have sufficient coverage to rebuild their house and that they actually receive that amount?

In California, the onus is on the homeowner to ensure they have the right coverage amount to rebuild — a figure that only a local contractor would likely know. And most residents don’t reach out to a builder when pricing or updating their coverage.

That was proven after the 2017 wildfires when a survey by the consumer group United Policyholders found about two-thirds of those fire victims were underinsured — with some in pricey Fountaingrove facing a shortfall of more than $1 million. That number likely hasn’t changed much, said Amy Bach, executive director of the San Francisco-based consumer group. It is a cold reality that will soon be discovered by hundreds of homeowners in the wake of the Glass fire, which destroyed or damaged about 800 single-family homes.

“At this point, I’m convinced that insurers don’t want to solve the problem,” Bach said.

As the problem lingers, a Santa Rosa firm is attempting to help homeowners protect themselves. BW Builder Inc. assists homeowners in the aftermath of a fire by preparing detailed

Wildfire victims who lose their home and possessions will be able to recoup money for their expenses faster, thanks to legislation that makes property insurance benefits easier to collect.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 872 into law Thursday, providing a suite of insurance protections and streamlined claims processing to better respond to the recovery challenges residents face right after a disaster.

The law won’t take effect until next year. It got Newsom’s endorsement as Sonoma and Napa counties and numerous California communities confront property losses during two months of widespread fires that have burned 4 million acres statewide this year.

Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, who co-authored the legislation, viewed it as part of the growing movement to address home insurance hurdles for disaster survivors after consecutive years of destructive wildfires in the North Bay, he said.

“None of these bills are a silver bullet, but all of them put together in a patchwork quilt of legislation are moving the needle and, I think, meeting the moment to really help consumers,” Dodd said.

The law requires insurance companies to pay up to four months of living expenses in advance, opposed to just one month now.

However, victims of this year’s blazes will go without that and other new regulations, including a provision that requires insurers to submit an advance payment of at least 25% for the value of lost possessions without having to file an inventory form.

The California Department of Insurance has received numerous complaints from residents who have struggled identifying every item that was lost in a fire, Commissioner Ricardo Lara said Friday in a prepared statement.

Lara urged insurance companies to help wildfire survivors and provide up to 100% of their personal property coverage limits without a detailed, itemized form, which has been a common request.

“Wildfire