Cal Fire seeks to lift restrictions for forest management ahead of wildfires

Cal Fire has asked Gov. Newsom for relief from certain environmental regulations in order to better manage forest lands under state control.
FILE: Firefighters stage in front of the County Fore on June 30, 2018. Photo by Matthew Keys / Winters Express
FILE: Firefighters stage in front of the County Fore on June 30, 2018. Photo by Matthew Keys / Winters Express

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29-page report released last week, Cal Fire stated better forest management is key to ensure the state is protected against destructive and deadly wildfires similar to ones that have erupted throughout California over the past two years. The agency was required to produce the report under an executive order signed by Newsom in his first hours as governor. The executive order requires Cal Fire to inform the governor of any “recommendations of the most-impactful administrative, regulatory and policy changes or waivers the governor can initiate” in order to prevent wildfires. Cal Fire did not shy away in its response, using the opportunity to argue that better forest management practices were needed now and in the future. Among other things, Cal Fire asks the governor to suspend immediately certain regulatory requirements in order to “complete fuels reduction projects” this year. “Numerous laws and regulations govern fuels reduction projects, and implementation often requires coordination with – and approval from – various state and local agencies,” Cal Fire said. Some of those restrictions include where and when Cal Fire can conduct controlled fires in densely vegetated areas in an effort to prevent more significant, uncontrolled fires from happening in the future. Those restrictions are sometimes put in place in an effort to control unhealthy air quality, but Cal Fire argues in the report that controlled burns generate less unhealthy air quality than an uncontrolled wildfire. The agency recommends a system that would allow Cal Fire to collaborate with the California Air Resources Board to modify regulations that could effectively increase the number of prescribed burns throughout the year. The controlled burn issue is just one part of a much-broader fuel reduction plan that Cal Fire outlines in the report. The agency identifies nearly three dozen fuel reduction projects throughout the state that it said would significantly reduce, but not entirely eliminate, wildfire risks. Those projects would involve clearing fuels along more than 2 million acres throughout the state. None of the projects fell within the jurisdiction of Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa administrative unit, which has jurisdiction over rural fires that break out in Yolo County. Those projects can be accelerated, Cal Fire reports, if the state is willing to waive certain environmental regulations this year and modify regulations in the years to come. “As wildfire threats have worsened over the last two years, wildfire response, pre-emptive fire prevention and vegetation management to reduce fire severity and contain erratic wildfire have been intensified,” Cal Fire reports. “Further action is imperative. While restoring forest health and resilience will take decades to achieve, the immediate actions recommended in this report can immediately begin to protect our most vulnerable communities.” Some lawmakers in Sacramento have already started to take action on the issue. State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, pushed through a bill last year that created exemptions in the state’s Forest Protection Act to accelerate tree harvesting by allowing private landowners to remove small trees and other vegetation from their properties in order to create defensible space. Around the same time, Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, authored legislation that called for state officials to begin exploring new markets for timber and other forest products in an effort to clamp down on the state’s overly dense forests. Both bills were signed into law last year by former Gov. Jerry Brown. A good start, but Cal Fire says the state can – and needs to – do more in the face of dangerous wildfires that are likely to continue. “While it is not possible to eliminate wildfire risks in California, focused and deliberate action can protect communities and improve forest and fuels conditions to enable a more moderate and healthy wildfire cycle that can coexist with Californians,” Cal Fire said.]]>

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