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Sierra Club: Board of Forestry Approves Misguided Vegetation Management Plan By Daniel Barad
While most of us were still eating leftover gingersnaps, on December 30 the Board of Forestry approved a wildlands management plan that endangers California’s famous chaparral, disregards ecosystem diversity, and ultimately isn’t likely to protect Californians from the most destructive fires.
Work on the California Vegetation Treatment Program (CalVTP) and its accompanying Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR), which make up the plan, was initiated more than a decade ago. In the interim, climate change has arrived and the nature of wildfires has changed.
Unfortunately, the final version of the plan doesn’t reflect the knowledge gained over the last decade. Moreover, it may have been too ambitious to begin with by assuming that a single environmental review could adequately cover a state as geographically and ecologically diverse as California.
A decade ago, wildfire season in the state lasted just several months. Now, as the impacts of climate change set in–including drier seasons and unusually high winds in unexpected places-the season has become nearly year round. Likewise, the emphasis on protecting communities by focusing on fire breaks and thinning of distant forests, has been proven ineffective in protecting homes.
Nevertheless, the new wildfire plan emphasizes conducting more than 250,000 acres of tree removal, prescribed burns and other fuel reduction every year on over 6 million acres of California, even though, as the CalVTP flatly states, that work won’t prevent. the devastation associated with wind-driven wildfires. Six wind-driven wildfires were responsible for 87% of the damage associated with California’s 2018 wildfires.
The plan also endangers the state’s chaparral ecosystems by failing to recognize that they have a fire tolerance that is distinct from traditional forests. Chaparral ecosystems around the state cannot tolerate frequent prescribed burns. Additionally, thinning of chaparral opens up opportunities for more flammable invasive grasses to take hold.
Fire experts, like respected former U.S. Forest Service scientist Jack Cohen, argue that the best way to protect lives and property from wildfire threats is to create limited defensible space and harden homes through measures like attic vent ember guards.
The CalVTP does not include any incentives or requirements for these preventative measures.
In the last two years, while the CalVTP was going through final development, a coalition of environmental groups, including Sierra Club California, presented written comments on the plan raising concerns about its inadequacy.
Unfortunately, most of our concerns were not addressed in the final document.