fire risk shows urgent need for prevention work
In this July 28, 2018, photo, a Cal Fire
firefighter creates a back burn on Cloverdale Road near Redding,
Calif., during the Carr Fire.
California (AP) — With nearly 40 million people living in
California and development spreading into once-wild regions,
some of the state’s best tools toward preventing wildfires
can’t be widely used.
Still, there is
growing agreement that the state must step up its use of
forest management through prescribed burns and vegetation
removal in an attempt to lessen the impact of wildfires.
In March, Gov.
Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on wildfires,
designed to expedite forest-thinning projects and other
programs. In May 2018, former Gov. Jerry Brown called for
doubling the amount of forest land treated each year in
California by 2023. The state significantly increased the
money it was spending on those efforts, with the Legislature
earmarking $1 billion over five years in funds generated by
the state’s carbon trading program. The Trump administration
has also vowed to manage forests more aggressively.
Cal Fire and
the state Board of Forestry estimate 23 million acres in the
state’s responsibility area could benefit from fuel
reduction. And those treatments aren’t one-time efforts:
they must be repeated every few years to be effective.
biggest complications in forest management are California’s
strict environmental regulations.
treatment projects must obtain approvals under the
California Environmental Quality Act. Butte County Fire Safe
Council Executive Director Calli-Jane DeAnda said the
environmental review process typically uses up 10 to 15
percent of grant funds local fire agencies receive for
forest management projects. The reviews can take years.
The state has
been working since 2010 on an EIR that would cover all
vegetation treatments in California under one overarching
environmental document. It would identify environmentally
sound processes for various natural landscapes. Then, if a
project were proposed that met the guidelines for its
landscape, it could be approved through a “checklist
scenario,” according to Board of Forestry Executive Director
wouldn’t fit the template, he said, and would require more
review, but the idea would be to get projects approved and
moving forward in a matter of weeks instead of years. A goal
has been set to complete the document by the end of the
environmental groups say state officials are pursuing the
wrong path altogether.
Rick Halsey of
the California Chaparral Institute said Cal Fire should
place more focus on making communities more fire resistant,
not on clearing vegetation.
“We have a home
ignition problem,” he said, “not a vegetation control
He said it
makes more sense to spend some of the vegetation control
dollars on fireproofing measures like ember-resistant vents
and fire resistant rooftops.
“We’ve got to
stop looking in different directions than where people are,
and frankly Cal Fire is not doing a good job at that,” he
said. “The fundamental problem is that they’re a vegetation
management agency ... they’re not into the building thing.
They have to look at the whole picture.”
chaparral needs high-intensity but infrequent fires.
Vegetation removal won’t help that process. About all people
can do to help the chaparral is to stop setting it on fire.
“There are so
many people on the landscape causing so many unnatural
ignitions,” he said.
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