Your right to challenge clearance projects may be taken away
UPDATE: COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED TO APRIL 8
By Miriam Raftery
Updated March 28, 2013 (San Diego's East County)--The California Board of Forestry and CalFire has released a proposal to target about 38 million acres (1/3rd of the entire state) to be burned, chewed-up, or sprayed with herbicides. This increases its habitat clearance program five times over current levels in what the California Chaparral Institute (CCI) calls a “major threat” to wildlife.
Robert S. Taylor Jr., a fire specialist with the National Park Service, has also blasted the proposal as a “very poor use of public funds” that would cause irreversible environmental damage. “I strongly recommend that Cal Fire withdraw the current proposal and produce a new one based on best available science," he wrote. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has also criticized the plan.
If approved, the proposal will exempt individual clearance projects from the citizen and independent scientific oversight that is currently required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The Los Angeles Times has called for Cal Fire to “withdraw the EIR and start over — consulting the experts who pointed out its flaws. If California is to have a comprehensive plan for surviving in a fire-prone region, it should be the strongest one possible.”
The comment period has now been extended to April 8, after originally closing February 25. East County Magazine was not notified of this proposal by Cal Fire, despite the fact that we are on Cal Fire’s media notification list and operate the Viejas Wildfire & Emergency Alert service. East County Magazine editor Miriam Raftery asked Cal Fire to reopen the comment period be reopened because of the failure to notify ECM, which has 150,000 readers a month in the most fire-prone regions of San Diego’s East County. ECM operates the Viejas Wildfire & Emergency Alerts service and is on the media notification list for state and local Cal Fire news releases. We are pleased to announce that the comment period has been extended to April 8.
View the Cal Fire proposal here.
CCI submitted a detailed letter along with a petition with 3,080 signatures (with citizen comments) that called on the Board of Forestry to retract its proposed habitat clearance program and to instead to work with the California Natural Resources Agency and the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water to create a Comprehensive Fire Protection Program that:
- focuses on actual assets at risk rather than habitat clearance
- preserves the rights of citizens to object to destructive projects
- incorporates the most current science
- understands the difference between forests and other ecosystems
We are waiting to hear back from the Board of Forestry. To stay up to date on this matter please go to CCI’s CONTACT page and sign up for an email list. You can sign a petition here . Submit your comments here: VegetationTreatment@fire.ca.gov
To view the CCI’s proposal please go here: Vegetation Treatment Program Document and see CCI’s highlights of its proposal below:
1. We Requested the Board of Forestry to retract the Vegetation Treatment Program Program EIR (Environmental Impact Report) and create a program that will properly consider the entire fire environment, reflect regional differences, allow for independent oversight, and incorporate the most up to date science.
2. The Wrong Focus. This program focuses entirely on clearing vegetation, despite extensive scientific research that clearly indicates the best way to protect lives, property, and the natural environment from wildfire is by addressing the entire fire environment: ignitability of structures, community and regional planning, and science-based vegetation management within and directly around communities at risk. Leave the natural landscape alone! Concentrate where the actual risks are: in and around communities.
Additional details here: Protecting Your Home
3. Inadequate Alternatives. By law this document is required to offer reasonable alternatives to the proposed program. The only differences between the alternatives offered are different mixes of methods to clear vegetation. There is no alternative that looks at the entire fire environment (see #2 above).
4. Impossible to Determine Impacts. The Vegetation Treatment Program is so generalized that it is impossible to determine its environmental impacts on wildlife, plant communities, water and air quality, visual and aesthetic resources, recreation, soils, and invasive weed spread. There are no maps showing the location of clearance projects, only estimated number of acres per region.
5. Taking Away Citizen Rights. All projects within the scope of this Program will only be evaluated by a yet-to-be formulated checklist. They will not be reviewed through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as they normally are now. This will prevent citizens and independent scientists from challenging a project under CEQA that they feel is environmentally damaging. Citizens have the right to have individual projects thoroughly evaluated under CEQA.
6. Underlying Bias. This proposal is based on the questionable, overly-broad assumption that past fire suppression efforts have allowed a buildup of unnatural amounts of vegetation across the landscape, thus creating a fire hazard. While it may be true that some forests have been negatively impacted by fire suppression, this is not true for many other ecosystems, especially the chaparral. The proposal takes a simplistic, forest-centric approach that attempts to make fire issues out as broadly similar across the region, when in fact they are very different.
Additional details here: Fire and Science
7. Ignored Contrary Views. By law this document is supposed to make an honest effort to review points of disagreement among experts. It failed to do so in areas such as the effectiveness of vegetation treatments, prescribed burns, and impact of fire severity in forests.
8. Cumulative Impacts Dismissed. The document only considers clearance programs conducted by other agencies and timber harvest activities in determining cumulative impacts. It does not include the impact of increased fire frequency on ecosystems, such as chaparral, already impacted by such a trend. Such an approach precludes a proper analysis of cumulative effects.