News Highlights

Report: Investment in Natural Defenses Protecting America’s Communities

Best-in-class disaster risk reduction efforts from across the United States are the focus of a new report from The National Wildlife Federation, America’s largest conservation organization, and Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, AG, a global provider of insurance and reinsurance solutions. These examples highlight how properly managed ecosystems and well-designed policies can help reduce disaster risk in ways that are good for both people and nature.

According to a new report, Natural Defenses in Action: Harnessing Nature to Protect Our Communities, also developed in collaboration with the Association of State Floodplain Managers, America’s communities are already using natural defenses to avoid or reduce hazard risks from flooding, coastal storms, erosion, and wildfire, but much more can and must be done to anticipate and reduce climate risks and disaster impacts. The report lays out a number of recommendations for expanding the use of these practices in the areas policy reform, targeted research, and development of best practices.

The report launched today with panel discussion at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, co-hosted by NWF President and CEO Collin O’Mara and Allied World Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Wes Dupont, and featuring local leaders in ecological and community resilience from around the country.

“Hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and droughts pose greater hazards to our communities and economy with each passing year, and are becoming more frequent, more severe, and more costly. By investing in protective natural systems, we can reduce risks before disasters strike our communities. We need to encourage solutions that will work with nature rather than against it,” said O’Mara. “The dozen case studies featured in Natural Defenses in Action provide innovative models for using natural features like wetlands, dunes, floodplains, native vegetation and shellfish beds to provide year-round protection from flood, drought, and erosion, while creating vibrant habitats for fish and wildlife.”

“As we’ve learned from the aftermath of natural disasters, particularly in recent years, disaster recovery planning is no longer enough,” said Scott Carmilani, CEO of Allied World. “It is critical for government, communities, businesses and insurers to prioritize pre-disaster risk reduction, and take a proactive approach to understanding the protective functions that natural systems can provide. We are encouraged by the examples of disaster risk reduction included in our report and hope to see other communities follow this path.”

A dozen successful examples from around the country are featured in the report, which highlight how local communities are putting natural defenses to work. These are:

  • Discouraging risky development on Alabama’s barrier islands
  • Keeping pace with rising tides around San Francisco Bay
  • Bringing back the bayou in coastal Louisiana
  • Partnering with beavers to reduce flooding in Oregon
  • Moving out of floodplains along the Mississippi
  • Managing floodplains for extremes of wet and dry in California’s Central Valley
  • Creating living shorelines in the Mid-Atlantic
  • Managing forests to break the fire-flood cycle in Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Protecting dunes and other natural features in Cape May, New Jersey
  • Using native vegetation to stabilize Great Lakes shorelines
  • Linking ecosystem and community resilience in coastal Massachusetts
  • Blending green and grey infrastructure in New York City’s Jamaica Bay

The new report highlights a number of ways policies and practices will need to shift for the nation to take better advantage of its natural defenses, including:

  • Adopt policies that protect and restore healthy rivers, wetlands, and other natural ecosystems to maximize flood, erosion, drought, and wildfire protection
  • Implement updated wetland protection rules under the Clean Water Act
  • Encourage new or reconstructed levees to be set back from the water’s edge to improve floodplain function
  • Support and conservation programs that protect and/or acquire environmentally sensitive natural systems and open space
  • Expand the Coastal Barrier Resources System to ensure that federal subsidies do not provide incentives for new development in these environmentally sensitive and hazard-prone areas
  • Increase emphasis under the Stafford Act on pre-disaster planning and mitigation, and encourage communities to focus more fully on risk reduction, using nature-based approaches
  • Reduce incentives to develop high-risk areas like active floodplains or barrier islands by reforming insurance programs at the state and federal level
  • Invest in natural defenses like living shorelines, wetlands restoration, functional floodplains, and proactive forest management that provide long-term gains and protections for both wildlife and human communities

Source: National Wildlife Federation, By Casey Skeens

Read the full report here.