Guest essay Larry Hamlin
The L. A. Times ran an editorial denying the need for wildfire actions recommended by Cal Fire and authorized by Governor Newsom for immediate implementation facilitated by waving California’s onerous, time consuming and costly environmental regulations.
The Times editorial claims that the Cal Fire actions regarding prioritizing and immediately beginning the of thinning of decades long forest overgrowth in selected forests areas are ineffective, costly and unnecessary. Instead the editorial claims that other measures including hardening of structures, increasing greater clearance distances around structures, etc. would be more effective.
The Cal Fire report containing recommended actions for improving the decades long deteriorated conditions of California forests is a comprehensive report involving the efforts of 40 agencies and organizations that addresses both immediate and longer term needs regarding the state’s wildfire debacle.
The agencies included in the development of the report are noted below.
The report addresses the most immediate and urgent actions required that include finally taking long overdue efforts to begin dealing with the failure to maintain healthy forests by properly thinning, clearing excessive undergrowth, etc. Portions of the Cal Fire report addressing these immediate actions are presented below:
“Recognizing the need for urgent action, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-05-19 on January 9, 2019. The Executive Order directs the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), in consultation with other state agencies and departments, to recommend immediate, medium and long-term actions to help prevent destructive wildfires.
With an emphasis on taking necessary actions to protect vulnerable populations, and recognizing a backlog in fuels management work combined with finite resources, the Governor placed an emphasis on pursuing a strategic approach where necessary actions are focused on California’s most vulnerable communities as a prescriptive and deliberative endeavor to realize the greatest returns on reducing risk to life and property.
Using locally developed and vetted fire plans prepared by CAL FIRE Units as a starting point, CAL FIRE identified priority fuel reduction projects that can be implemented almost immediately to protect communities vulnerable to wildfire. It then considered socioeconomic characteristics of the communities that would be protected, including data on poverty levels, residents with disabilities, language barriers, residents over 65 or under five years of age, and households without a car.
In total, CAL FIRE identified 35 priority projects that can be implemented immediately to help reduce public safety risk for over 200 communities. Project examples include removal of hazardous dead trees, vegetation clearing, creation of fuel breaks and community defensible spaces, and creation of ingress and egress corridors. These projects can be implemented immediately if recommendations in this report are taken to enable the work. Details on the projects and CAL FIRE’s analysis can be found online which will remain updated in the coming months. The list of projects is attached to this report as Appendix C.
CAL FIRE has also worked with over 40 entities including government and nongovernment stakeholders to identify administrative, regulatory and policy actions that can be taken in the next 12 months to begin systematically addressing community vulnerability and wildfire fuel buildup through rapid deployment of resources. Implementing several of these recommended actions is necessary to execute the priority fuel reduction projects referenced above.
Other recommendations are intended to put the state on a path toward long-term community protection, wildfire prevention, and forest health.
The recommendations in this report, while significant, are only part of the solution. Additional efforts around protecting lives and property through home hardening and other measures must be vigorously pursued by government and stakeholders at all levels concurrently with the pursuit of the recommendations in this report. California must adopt an “all of the above” approach to protecting public safety and maintaining the health of our forest ecosystems.
It is important to note that California faces a massive backlog of forest management work. Millions of acres are in need of treatment, and this work— once completed—must be repeated over the years. Also, while fuels treatment such as forest thinning and creation of fire breaks can help reduce fire severity, wind-driven wildfire events that destroy lives and property will very likely still occur.
This report’s recommendations on priority fuel reduction projects and administrative, regulatory, and policy changes can protect our most vulnerable communities in the short term and place California on a trajectory away from increasingly destructive fires and toward more a moderate and manageable fire regime.”
Also addressed in the Cal Fire report is the need to deal with longer-term issues that could not be effectively defined and completed within a year long time period. Many of the issues addressed in the Times editorial are included in this section of the report as noted in the material presented below:
“Longer-term Actions: These actions are designed to begin quickly, but likely require more than a year to complete.
15.Certify the California Vegetation Treatment Program Environmental Impact Report.
Beyond the priority fuels treatment projects that CAL FIRE will implement in 2019, CAL FIRE and other land managers must increase the pace and scale of vegetation treatment throughout California. To that end, CAL FIRE and the Board of Forestry are preparing the California Vegetation Treatment Program Environmental Impact Report (CalVTP EIR) to identify and minimize environmental impacts associated with vegetation treatment. Once completed, CAL FIRE and other agencies will be able to rely on that document to streamline the environmental review process for future treatment projects.
To maximize the streamlining value of the CalVTP EIR, other agencies with regulatory authority over vegetation treatment activities should be directed to engage in its development. CAL FIRE and the Board of Forestry should invite agencies within the California Natural Resources Agency and California Environmental Protection Agency to:
a. In the immediate term, identify subsequent permitting processes that may apply to vegetation treatment projects.
b. In the mid-term, develop streamlined permitting recommendations if it is determined that environmental compliance not covered by the CalVTP EIR will preclude projects from timely completion.
16.Develop a scientific research plan for wildfire management and mitigation, with funding recommendations.
The Forest Management Task Force should develop a research plan with funding prioritization. Topics that should be considered include:
a. Leverage the Governor’s Request for Innovative Ideas (RFI2).
b. Best management practices in the face of a changing climate and our understanding of forest health and resilience.
c. Use of LiDAR, satellite and other imagery and elevation data collection, processing and analysis for incorporation into state management plans and emergency response.
d. Funding for collaborative research to address the full range of wildfire related topics. Important research investments could include both basic and applied research as well as social science to better understand social vulnerability, human behavior, land use, and policies that support resilience in communities that coexist with fire and mitigate impacts on life and property.
e. Research and development on new WUI building test standards in future research programs including the use of damage inspection reports from recent fires.
17.Provide technical assistance to local governments to enhance or enable fire hazard planning. With the expansion of urban development into wildland areas, firefighting becomes more dangerous and costly, and the consequences of wildfires to lives and property become more severe. Local governments control land use decisions that can minimize those dangers. CAL FIRE and other state agencies have information and expertise that can support local governments in making safer choices. To enable land use planning that minimizes fire risks:
a. Assist the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in identifying specific land use strategies to reduce fire risk to buildings, infrastructure, and communities and in updating the “Fire Hazard Planning, General Plan Technical Advice Series,” as provided in Assembly Bill 2911 (Friedman, Chapter 641, Statutes of 2018).
b. Work with Cal OES and the Standardized Emergency Management System Advisory Committee to develop robust local evacuation planning models for high or very high Fire Hazard Severity Zones based upon best practices from within California.
c. Provide technical assistance to support land use planning efforts to limit development in high fire hazard areas, as well as technical assistance to support mitigation activities that minimize risk to existing communities, with specific attention to vulnerable communities.
18.CAL FIRE should update codes governing defensible space and forest and rangeland protection.
a. Review the penalty for non-compliance with defensible space code, establishing a fixed compliance date in lieu of three-inspection process. Include vacant land provisions.
b. Review enforcement the full 100 feet of defensible space around a structure when the structure is closer than 100 feet from the parcel line.
c. Consider the home and the first 0-5 feet as the most critical and hardened aspect of home hardening and defensible space. Consider requiring ignition resistant building material, only allow bark and hardscape, not trees or shrubs in this area.
d. Consider science-based regulation of wood piles and wood fences.
19.Request the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection review the Forest Practice Act and Rules and make recommendations on changes needed to protect public safety and restore forest health. The Forest Practice Act, and regulations that implement it, currently contain rules that limit fuel hazard reduction activities. The rules could be updated to facilitate non-commercial fuel reduction projects. The Board should consider where existing exemptions could be expanded further to prevent and mitigate wildfires with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and protection of public health.”
“CAL FIRE has also worked with over 40 entities including government and nongovernment stakeholders to identify administrative, regulatory and policy actions that can be taken in the next 12 months to begin systematically addressing community vulnerability and wildfire fuel buildup through rapid deployment of resources. Implementing several of these recommended actions is necessary to execute the priority fuel reduction projects referenced above. Other recommendations are intended to put the state on a path toward long-term community protection, wildfire prevention, and forest health.
The recommendations in this report, while significant, are only part of the solution. Additional efforts around protecting lives and property through home hardening and other measures must be vigorously pursued by government and stakeholders at all levels concurrently with the pursuit of the recommendations in this report. California must adopt an “all of the above” approach to protecting public safety and maintaining the health of our forest ecosystems.”
The Times editorial fails to properly present the full scope of the Cal Fire report and the time period necessities driving the reports immediate and long term recommendations. Also the Times editorial fails to present the extensive number of agencies involved in the reports findings and recommendations.
The L A Times has never acknowledged the failure of the state of California agencies that created the states wildfire debacle as fully document in the April 2018 report by the Legislative Analyst Office that is unaddressed by the Times.
Additionally the Times has attempted to falsely blame “climate change” as creating this debacle with this claim unsupported by scientific data. This Times editorial is just a continuation of the papers failure to properly address the states responsibility in creating the wildfire debacle.