When politicians need to be educated….SB 901 uses faulty science and doesn’t address major issues

SB 901 uses faulty science and fails big time to address future fire concerns. So why did Jim Wood support this? And Governor Brown signed this…..

“Your support for approval of SB 901 was not well thought out and your response to me indicates that you (and your staff) are ill informed.”

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COAST ACTION GROUP
126 Steiner Ct.
Santa Rosa, CA 95404

October 8,2018

Affiliate of Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance

Assemblymember Jim Wood

State Capitol
P.O Box 94249
Sacramento, CA 94249-2002

Assembly Member Wood:

On the Date (Sept. 20, 2018) , you sent me the response (included below the text of this letter) in regards to issues I had raised  concerning your efforts (misguided) in the approval of SB 901.

In this document I am responding to your assertions and arguments.

Certainly the fires of last October were devastating. It can be fairly argued that the devastation could have been mitigated by proper planning. However,  your support for and the approval of SB 901  will provide very little positive effect in dealing with the issue of forests and minimizing effects of wildfire on forests and the community.

First, I will point out that the areas that burned had a history of wildfire events and community planning ignored that history allowing for non-fire hardened construction in known fire paths. SB 901 actively employs no effective actions that will address the issue of planning for fire and fire hardening communities.  This is a problem as there will be fires in the future and the best way to deal with potential  fire effects is planning for those events in a way that will protect the community in the future.

Your response suggests that SB 901 will help protect and recover ravaged forests.  I must point out that the fires did not occur in managed forest areas (for the most part).  For the most part, the fires were in mixed chaparral /grass lands/oak woodland, and lightly populated conifer forested areas.  Furthermore, properly managed forested areas that contain mixed aged class trees – and that have been properly thinned after post-harvest regeneration – are less subject to severe fire effects (larger trees do not burn readily and harvested areas  – especially clear-cut areas – that are not thinned support regeneration of brush and/or overstocked areas of small (slow growing trees) that are subject to fire.  SB 901 does not address this issue – and – in fact, makes it worse by allowing clear-cut type silviculture. Additionally, SB 901 removes the Review Team (multi-agency timber harvest review of harvesting activity) oversight from controlling such projects – thus eliminating oversight that might mitigate mismanagement and negative effects on resources.

You probably are not aware that every major river (except the Smith River) – from the Russian River to the Klamath system is listed as impaired (State List of Water Quality Limited Segments) due the pollutants of sediment, temperature, and nutrients.  These impairments are directly linked  to inappropriate timber harvest activity –  where such activity  failed to address issues  of erosion  from harvest activity and inappropriate road construction, low stocking requirements, and failure to employ near stream and watercourse protections. [Note:  agricultural effects and urban effects do play a role in the impairment on some of these impaired waterbodies – timber harvest is the dominant land use on these rivers – where  inappropriate timber harvest activity plays the major role in impairment] . SB 901 effectively removed protections of these resources by eliminating the requirement of an Erosion Control Implementation Plan as part of the working project document and oversight  for the Working Forest Management Plan.   Not only that, SB 901 removed forest stocking  and inventory requirements for assuring forest growth to satisfy forest health and productivity outcomes – which would provide added benefits for wildlife values, water quality benefits, and carbon sequestration.

You also note devastating effects of wildfire to our watercourses.  Such adverse effects to watercourses – as a result of aggravated runoff  during rain events causing erosion can be, and are often, a result of wildfire events. I the case of last years fire storms,  pollutant runoff from chemicals and byproducts of structure incineration were also a large issue.  The Regional Water Quality Control Board exercised a huge effort to control those contaminants – and – were fairly successful in their efforts.

The “protective”  management efforts (exemptions for harvesting, road construction, and changes to requirements for the Working Forest Management Plans) that you claim are part of SB 901 are mostly facilitated by exemptions that allow timber harvest, fuel reduction activity, and road construction to occur – without agency review.  And, in fact, the managing agencies (Regional Water Quality Control Board, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife) are not afforded notice of these activities.

Finally, you tout the 200 million dollars secured from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund as a benefit in aiding fuel reduction.   First, (and again) it was not managed forests that burned (for the most part).  The areas that burned – mixed chaparral/grass/ oak woodland – regenerate  quite rapidly. These areas are quite large  – millions of acres spread across the State – with much of those acres in difficult terrain and hard to access.  Mechanical management of these areas is next to impossible. Furthermore,  the rapid regeneration (re-growth) will quickly negate all the efforts and expense (many of these areas would require periodic management).  Additionally, mechanical fuel reduction may have devastating effects to watercourses – creating  area disturbance and aggravated runoff and erosion from rain events – flushing more pollutants into our already impaired streams.  

That 200 million dollars was slated, by Statute to support Greenhouse Gas Reduction.  What Greenhouse Gas Reduction will be attained by the implementation of fuel reduction plans that will not work?

[Note: Existing law requires the Department of Finance, in consultation with the state air board and any other relevant state agency, to develop and update, as specified, a 3-year investment plan for the moneys deposited in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund This bill (SB 901) would require the state air board (California Air Resources Board), in consultation with CalFire, to develop a standardized approach to quantifying the direct carbon emissions and decay from fuel reduction activities for purposes of meeting the accounting requirements for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund expenditures, a historic baseline of greenhouse gas emissions from California’s natural fire regime reflecting conditions before modern fire suppression, and a report that assesses greenhouse gas emissions associated with wildfire and forest management activities, as provided ( language from Legislative Analyst – SB 901).  Additionally, it should be pointed out that Calfire has a carbon accounting system for analysis of GHG effects related to timber harvest. This Calfire GHG accounting methodology has been deemed inadequate (missing pertinent accounting factors) by scientists at Oregon State University (scientific papers available).  This fact, in part, is basis for the finding by the Legislative Analyst  Office that Calfire is not capable of the task of administering forest practices in California (2018) ]

Your response indicates greenbelts, as protective measures, are to be employed around high fire risk areas (assessment to be completed by Calfire).  This idea simply will not work. High fire risk areas in California are numerous (to the extreme) and complex. There simply is not enough time  or money to complete this objective. This strategy my be miss paced.  In Santa Rosa  hundreds of yards of noncombustible  freeway did not stop the fire – pushed by 70 mph winds.  Nor did large swaths of vineyard.  What is the reasoning and technology (science ) supporting this greenbelt idea?  Who will maintain and pay for such  greenbelts to be employed in numerous high fire risk areas, The whole $200 million dollars taken from the Cap and Trade program might cover part of a greenbelt – just for Santa Rosa.  Where is there sufficient funds to employ greenbelts in fire risk areas in rest of the State?  (where Southern California has millions of acres of combustible mixed chaparral/grasslands that reside near populated areas (with severe fire risk) that are subject to wildfire threat – is that money not to be shared with the rest of the State or is it just for our local use in Santa Rosa?).  There are many millions of acres in this State that would need to be treated – either by mechanical methods, greenbelt, or some other method.  Out of a target of  500,000 acres (that is the yearly target) acres to be treated for fuel load reduction for the year of 2017 – Calfire treated less than 20,000 acres. (Statistics from Calfire).

Furthermore – fuel load reduction alone  (with its costs and environmental  hazards) can not keep up with the regeneration  – nor can it provide safety from wildfire.  Nothing can provide such safety when winds  in excess of 70 mph are driving the fire.  The fires will occur and they need to be planned for.  SB 901 does not address that issue.

URBAN PLANNING

SB 901 authorizes the Office of Planning and Research to convene (a commission, with experts, and Calfire) and report on planning strategies to assess and mitigate wildfire threat.
[65040.21. Before July 1, 2020, the office shall update the guidance document entitled “Fire Hazard Planning General Plan Technical Advice Series” in consultation with the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Office of Emergency Services, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and other fire and safety experts. The guidance document shall include specific land use strategies to reduce fire risk to buildings, infrastructure, and communities. The office shall update the guidance document thereafter as necessary. (SB 901)]

Given the above noted language.  The Office of Planning and Research and Planning mandated for assessing and implementing was already in place.  As with the Legislative Analyst’s Report on Calfire’s forestry management capabilities  – the information provided was ignored. Also ignored by planners (planning departments, Supervisors, and City Councils) was placement of construction (housing and industrial development) in known fire paths and high fire risk areas.

SB 901 may give an appearance of correcting and addressing issue – when there is sufficient historical evidence that this is not the case.

Your claim that SB 901 improves forestry conditions is unfound. Subsequent to the passing of the Forest Practice Act (1973 – which was passed to protect and restore diminished forest conditions in the State) –  nothing has changed.  SB 901 will only make matters worse by allowing uncontrolled harvesting in inventory reduction (by exemptions and harvest plans not subject to future review) – and – road construction to facilitate this activity that is also not subject to agency review.
Forest inventories remain at 1973 low levels.  These low inventory levels and disruptive logging techniques are responsible for continuing effects on water quality issues – and – forest productivity and related forest values.

Your support for approval of SB 901 was not well thought out and your response to me indicates that you (and your staff) are ill informed.

Please review the attached paper for more information.  This letter and related information are being widely circulated.

Sincerely,

                                   Alan Levine for Coast Action Group

Attachments:

E – mail response from Assembly Member Jim Wood

Fire Season Stoked by Climate Change (Guy Kovner) – News Article In the Press Democrat (Sept. 9. 2018).

E-Mail to Alan Levine from Assemblymember Wood

Delivered-To: alevine@mcn.org
Date: 20 Sep 2018 16:17:39 -0700
X-IronPort-AV: E=Sophos;i=“5.54,282,1534834800″;
d=”scan’208″;a=”220185784″
From: Assemblymember.Wood@assembly.ca.gov
To: alevine@mcn.org
Subject: From the Office of Assemblymember Jim Wood

Dear Alan:

Thank you for contacting my office regarding wildfire resiliency in California. I appreciate hearing your concerns on this important issue.

As a member of the Wildfire Preparedness and Response Conference Committee, I became very familiar with the incredibly formidable challenges California is facing. In the past two years, wildfires have not only violently taken lives, homes and possessions, but they have also negatively impacted our air quality, diminished tourism, shocked our housing markets, ravaged our forests and wildlands and damaged our waterways. California needs to adapt to wildfires quickly, and in many different ways.

SB 901 (Dodd) was the result of the committee’s work addressing utility regulations, forest and vegetation management and fire safety and prevention. This bill puts into place a funding stream and a comprehensive framework to tackle both fire recovery and prevention.

This legislation puts forth several different programs for landowners which simplify the tenants of vegetation management and seek to streamline the process for fire resiliency land management. Specifically, CAL Fire will create the Wildfire Resiliency Program which will assist nonindustrial timber owners with resources and technical assistance on fuel removal projects, best practices for wildfire resiliency and grant opportunities. The Small Timberland Owner Exemptions provides for limited harvesting of smaller trees and is set to sunset in five years. The purpose of this program is to eliminate the continuity of vegetative fuels to reduce flammable materials and maintain a fuel break. This program does not allow for unchecked or harmful logging practices. SB 901 also requires that any forestland conservation easement purchased with state funds is to include an agreement to maintain and improve forest health through promoting natural tree density, species diversity and habitat function.

The Committee has been able to secure $200 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to be continuously appropriated to CAL Fire for projects that improve forest health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires, fuel reduction plans and the operation of year round prescribed fire crews. Furthermore, this legislation sets aside $1 billion over the next five years, for the California Office of Emergency Services to be used to provide local assistance, equipment and technology that improves California’s Mutual Aid System and activities that are directly related to regional response and readiness.

SB 901 also begins to address the vast and complex issue of local fire safety and resiliency. It directs the Board of Forestry to develop minimum fire safety standards for residential, commercial and industrial construction in very high fire hazard severity zones. It also requires the Board to update regulations for fuel breaks and greenbelts on the perimeter of communities to provide greater fire safety. Additionally, the Board will develop criteria and maintain a list of local agencies that meet best practices for local fire planning.

SB 901 has gained passage in the Assembly and the Senate and been sent to the Governor’s desk for his signature. If you would like to track the progress of it, you may do so by logging onto http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/.

Thank you again for your thoughtful comments; I appreciate your engagement and feedback. Please don’t hesitate to contact my office in the future, on this issue or any others, through my website https://a02.asmdc.org/. Be assured that I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Legislature to mandate safer utility standards, better vegetation management practices, and community resiliency.

Sincerely,

JIM WOOD
Assemblymember, 2nd District

Fire Season Stoked by Climate Change (Guy Kovner) – News Article In the Press Democrat (Sept. 9. 2018).

The Press Democrat, since the fire(s), has presented numerous news articles and opinions on the effects and causes of these events. It is assumed there is interest in informing the public and finding a path to recovery and dealing with future issues related to the threat of calamitous fire and other effects of climate change.  Additionally, the Press Democrat was historically the paper of note regarding forestry issues.  This no longer is the case.

I have no issue with this article.  It presents the issue of increased threat due to climate change.
The larger issue is what about climate change and how best to deal with it (controlling sources that exacerbate climate change and resources that can mitigate climate change and wildfire threat).

My argument is that the reporting by the Press Democrat has been myopic – leaving out major issues – including the role that mature forests play, what type of areas are more subject to wildfire, and what State and local programs can do and/or are doing to exacerbate and remedy the issue.  It is also my argument that the State legislators, and the Governor, have no idea what they are doing and have failed to pay attention to existing science and their own agency staff and executive leadership  (Calfire, State Water Board, Legislative Analyst Office, Senate and Assembly Natural Resources Committees). There exists abundant science and history that is available to the decision makers that goes unrecognized and is ignored.   Thus, legislation dealing with these issues is subject to political manifestation(s) that end up supporting a profit driven outcome rather than actually providing remedy and safety.

A Short Summary of Forestry and Climate issues (related to wildfire and other resources) that you should be aware of:

The areas subject to wildfire were, to a very great extent,  not subject to managed forestlands.  These fires burned mostly grassy oak woodland, chaparral/brush areas and areas sparsely inhabited by noncommercial conifer species.  These areas recover from wildfire quickly and provide a fuel ladder in a relative short period of time. Managing the abundance of fuel in these areas (which are very large ) by mechanical methods is expensive an can be damaging to soil and water resources.  Management by controlled burning is preferable.  Management by controlled burning  is unlikely due to inherent danger and repercussions if fire gets away.  [Not: For the year of 2017 of 500,000 acres intended for such management less than 20,000 acres were actually managed. The Cal Fire yearly target is 500,000 acres per year].   Additionally, much of this type of ground is not readily accessible and probably will not be managed.

Areas of managed forestlands (populated by commercial species) that have been logged often (repeated severe logging regimes) allows for regeneration that presents an over population of stems (small trees).  Appropriate management would provide for thinning. However, thinning is expensive and provides no economic incentive.  Thus, these areas, overpopulated with small trees exist and provide a fuel ladder and fire threat.   Small conifers burn readily.  Larger trees are more immune to fire effects.  A fire resilient forest is one with well distributed multi-aged class trees (with a large population of mature larger trees).

Forest volume is a deterrent to climate change.  Fossil fuel burning – and other emissions CO2, methane, fluorocarbons, etc.. exacerbate climate change trends.  Forests store carbon and process CO2. Thus, maintaining or enhancing forest volume is an important factor in dealing with climate change.  Forests are also important as a water resource – where forests store water and limit (meter) water discharges.  And, forests are important for limiting erosion  – providing healthy streams, rivers, and lakes.

Forest density (volume) in the Untied States has been diminished by a factor of 75% – since the settlement by Europeans.  This number is similar for the State of California.  The Z’berg-Negedly Forest Practice Act (1973) was passed in an effort to deal with this issue “protect and restore”.
However, things have not changed since the passage of the Act.  The Board of Forestry (the rule writers) is controlled by industry and forest inventories are maintained at low levels and the thinning of forested areas (where a appropriate of the larger trees would be maintained) is not supported. There is also an economic paradox here – where,  if  forestlands with low inventories (10,000 to 20, 000 bf/acre) were increased to larger inventories (40,000 to 60,000 bf/acre) the economic benefit, via increased productivity of more larger aged class tress, would outstrip (be larger than) the inventory increase.  Note:  This would take some time – but – can be accomplished in a reasonable period of time –  if harvest was 30% to 50% of the growth rate.  Also Note: these numbers are for our coastal range. Growth is slower in other areas (northern and southern Sierra’s – with regional variation).  Historically the coastal range inventories originally were in excess of 100,000 bf/acre and currently are less than 15,000 bf/acre in Mendocino and Sonoma County. There would be other benefits from increasing forest inventory – including: fire resiliency (larger tree size classes), more carbon sequestration, improved water quality and water supply, and wildfire and fishery habitat improvement.

To make matters worse the California Air Resources Board (CARB), relying on the Climate Action Reserve (CAR)  to produce projects (carbon securing plans qualifying for Carbon Credits) are approving such plans that allow for the sale of those credits – where such plans do not meet their own protocol by allowing “business as usual” (credits are providing no real benefit), and existing external constraints (planning documents submitted to CalFire)  that are supposed to be considered – are not considered. [Note: CAR has stated that considering such constraints is a “race to the bottom” – with noting that we are close to the bottom and why these constraints should not  be considered – as the protocol calls for).

Finally, there are numerous scientific and agency reports to support the above statements and the fact the current Forest Practice Rules and their Administration do not support good forestry and the beneficial uses of water – including:

Little  Hoover  Commission.  1994, Timber  harvest  plans:  a  flawed  effort  to  balance
economic and environmental needs.\ Report 124. Sacramento; 85 pp

Coastal Zone Management Act (CZARA Re-Authorization – 1997) – both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Environmental Protection Agency find that the State of California’s administration of timber harvest activity (effects of)  cause for impaired conditions in California’s rivers and streams – and – that the State must develop programs to curtail such activity effecting forested areas.

Ligon,  F.K.; Rich,  A.A.; Rynearson,  G.;Thornburgh,  D.;  Trush,  W.  1999.  Report  of  the Scientific  Review  Panel  on  California’s  Forest  Practice  Rules  and  salmonid  habitat., Sacramento, California.
.
Dunne Report 2001:  Failure to assess Cumulative Impacts on Timber Harvesting
A SCIENTIFIC BASIS FOR THE PREDICTION OF CUMULATIVE WATERSHED EFFECTS by The University of California Committee on Cumulative Watershed Effects
June 2001

I have in my possession a letter from forester and mensurationist at Calfire  (90 pages + 300 pages of appendices) that indicates he can not assess compliance of forestry planning documents with the Rules – stating that the foresters providing the documents did such lousy work that nothing can be assessed. (no determinations of compliance with the rules or planning documents can be made).

Legislative Analysts Office Report (2018): States that Calfire is not capable of managing Forestry Resources – with the objectives considered in this document.  And, suggests that forestry and timber harvest review and planning responsibilities be turned over to another agency.

As you can see many of the “Problems have been identified. However they have fallen off the table”  (Richard Wilson, Director of Calfire 1991 to 1999).  Richard is supporting a campaign “Why Forests Matter” supporting concepts in good forestry  and champion of the idea that current foresters (to a significant extent) have not benefited from  being properly informed and educated.  Not until such education  is supported  will we have people working in the  field that understand the issues and how to make forests productive and beneficial to climate and other resource issues.

The current salvo of approved Bills to deal with the subject of fire resiliency considers none of the above.

Note:  Some of the statements in this document are generalized – for brevity. It must be understood that there are spatial, temporal, species type, and ground condition differences in the status of California forestlands  – and – that being understood – there will be variance in the prescriptions and methods in attainment of desired conditions.  None of the newly adopted legislative endeavors accurately considers such variance.  Thus, we are headed for nothing good.

Alan Levine

For Coast Action Group.

Alan Levine
Coast Action Group
Affiliate of Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance
126 Steiner Ct.
Santa Rosa, CA 95404

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