Costly new wildfire suppression effort unlikely to prevent catastrophic fires

 

Last updated 2/2/2020 at 2:28pm



SACRAMENTO – A wildfire suppression plan adopted Dec. 30 by the California Board of Forestry could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars but will do very little to actually reduce fire risk for communities throughout the state.

Proposed by Cal Fire, the state’s fire management agency, the new Vegetation Treatment Program is expected to be ineffectual against wind-driven fires. The state’s massive financial commitment to this program is puzzling, as it is wind-driven wildfires that caused the devastating loss of life and property associated with the largescale fires seen in the state in recent years.

The VTP calls for removal of native sage scrub, chaparral and forests on a grand scale – on the order of 250,000 acres each year – at enormous financial and ecological cost. This approach does not stand up to scientific scrutiny and in many locations would actually be counterproductive by promoting the growth of highly flammable weeds.

In addition, the VTP does not properly differentiate between what might work for northern forests versus chaparral and sage scrub in Southern California; these habitat types require very different approaches when it comes to wildfire safety.

“The VTP will be a gargantuan waste of money – money that could be spend on actually making people safer,” Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League, said. “I encourage Governor Newsom and state legislators to recognize both the futility and the grave fiscal irresponsibility of funding the VTP.”


Cal Fire argued the VTP will be used to prevent damage from fires not driven by wind. But non-wind-driven fires typically come under control quickly and are not a major threat.

The environmental review document for the VTP said, “When high-wind conditions drive a large fire, such as when large embers travel long distances in advance of the fire, vegetation treatment would do little, if anything, to stop downwind advance of the fire front.”

So why is the state of California planning to spend what may amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years on an ineffectual effort?

Alternatives to VTP do exist. The Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area Plan is an example of a forward-thinking wildfire plan that doesn’t use vegetation clearing and unnecessary habitat destruction.

Instead of the VTP, Cal Fire could focus on strategies that have been recommended by fire scientists, such as hardening existing structures, improving early warning and evacuation systems, enforcing defensible space around houses, creating carefully selected strategic fuel breaks to act as access corridors for firefighters and not building new developments in high-risk areas in the first place.


Submitted by Endangered Habitat League.

 

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