CAL FIRE TARGETS ONE-THIRD OF STATE FOR CLEARANCE: SEEKS EXEMPTION FROM ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW

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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.

 

Comments

Once again Mariam

A blazing environmental whacko headline. The California Chaparral Institute is run by a nut job who refuses to listen to any real expert on the subject. His last rant was the clearing of the non native growth that sprung up after the 07 fires. He called it old Chaparral. The post below from Steve0007 is the real story. No big deal. They do it every year and do a major update on their plans every 10 years or so.

How about a story on why the crime rate in the County is up when the Sheriff got a 5 million dollar funding increase last FY?

How about a story on why the County Fire Authority cannot provide firefighters for the fire departments they took over?

Whacko?

There is nothing whacko about informing the public of the broad scope of a proposal.  The Chaparral Institute is far from the only one voicing concerns. Do you think the Naitonal Park Service is a whacko group too? Anyone who is concerned about habitat destruction with zero review?

 

As for the other topics:

 

I agree that these are both good topics.  In fact we are already in the process of research how well or poorly the County Fire Authority takeover has worked out, having heard complaints from people in several districts.  This is an in-depth story that will take time as we intend to contact all the departments involved.

I have heard the Sheriff state that crime is up primarily due to the State's mandatory prisoner release program which turned over large numbers of people from state prisons to the counties, which in turn meant counties with overcrowded jails had to let some lesser offenders go to make rooms for the more serious ones. Not surprisingly crime has gone up as a result, not only in San Diego, but in cities and counties around the State.

I have also heard the Sheriff say, when he spoke at a Chamber last year, that he expects this to be a temporarly problem for our region.  Opening of the expanded Las Colinas Women's Prison in Santee is expected to help, and also in the near future the County is supposed to take back control of a detention facility in the South Bay area that the feds have been using for immigration detention.  This will provide more beds for the county to keep lesser offenders in jail.

I'm not sure where the immigration detentions will go, probably another federal facility, though I did just hear that some of the asylum-seekers are now being allowed out temporarily while awaiting their hearings in court. 

 

 

 

Cal Fire Vegetation Program

This is a very misleading story line.

This exact program has been in place for years. Our State Laws REQUIRE programs like this to be renewed and "refreshed" ever so often. This is the new refreshed version of an "in-place" Cal Fire Program. Cal Fire has already has a CEQA exemption for Prescribe fires...its call a "Programed EIR" and as such it has met all CEQA requirements. Again this is a 'refreshing" of an old already approved CEQA exemption.

I read the Cal Fire proposal an it really read like the previous proposal done years ago, an the one before that one. Only added in some global warming concerns.

It is very hard for CAL FIRE to in reality BURN 1/3 of the State lands it works with under a VMP project,  WITHOUT owner approval. In fact this is never done.

Next lands chewed-up, or sprayed with herbicides is in REALITY rarely done, if a all.

Finally lands treated by Cal Fire under the VMP program, IN REALITY, is very very small compared to all lands burned by unwanted wildfires throughout the State.

Cal Fire has very intelligent Foresters and Managers. CCI's "bullet point" concerns are off base and are all ready included in all Prescribed Fire Projects, past, present and future.

Steve 007

Are you with Cal Fire?  I would like to interview someone at Cal Fire on the proposal.  I had requested an interview before but didn't hear back from them.  Given the comment deadline I went ahead and published but would still like to do a followup with a Cal Fire official to get their side of the story. 

Miniamg

No. I am retired CDF/CalFire, I retired in 2002 but I did manage the Vegetation Management Program for San Diego County CDF from 1990-1996. As a Licensed Professional Forester with the State of California. As I said above, the VMP program has been in place for years, every 5 or 10 years it is "renewed" or refreshed to include new data and inputs.  This is just another refreshing of the VMP project.  Then know no project goes anywhere without a landowner approval...period. Projects are then designed by a Licensed  Forester. A programmed EIR is completed and submitted to various agencies, i.e. BLM, US Forest Service, State Fish and Game, the Indian Tribes, San Diego County Museum of Man and others if necessary. CalFire also calls in experts in Archeology and Biology as needed. All this input is included in a final report and submitted to higher officers with CalFire in Riverside (or other headquarters throughout the State) and Sacramento for approval.  Without approval no project goes forward and the property owner/land holder can with draw their approval at any time. I had many nice projects not go forward because of just one property owner not wanting to be involved.  Much of what you are upset about is just not true, so please keep investigating.

I would encourage you to call CalFire’s office in El Cajon at 619-590-3100 ask to speak with the VMP Forester.  Leave a message if necessary. They should call you back.  If not then ask to speak with the Unit Chief Tom Porter.

Steve D

Steve, Happy Easter!

I plan to contact them on Monday as soon as the holiday weekend is over for a followup to clarify these points and get their point of view. Many thanks for your input.

CAL FIRE EIR

Your story says: "The California Board of Forestry and Cal Fire 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.”

The EIR says:

            "The 38,000,000 acres that might be treated under the Proposed Program......"  (All CAL FIRE protected lands are covered by this EIR)

            "The general suite of treatments likely to be initiated under the Proposed Program in any decade would comprise about 2.16 million acres and would include...:"

The maximum treated acres per year would be around 216,000 acres (that’s 0.57%). That's less acreage than the Cedar fire burned for the entire state.  And it assumes that the state would budget the requisite funds.

Old chaparral burns hotter and faster than young brush. Maintaining our wildland in a younger and healthier state benefits the habitat and the humanity. Hopefully, we can come together to reduce the risk so that others will not lose their homes.

 

CAL FIRE EIR

This is what the web site says.  Aren't you supposed to check your own facts?:

http://bofdata.fire.ca.gov/board_committees/resource_protection_committe...(vtpeir)/pdfs/vtpeir_executive_summary.pdf

Vegetation Treatment Program Environmental Impact Report (VTPEIR)

 
Additional Public Review Period for Vegetation Treatment Program Environmental Impact Report (VTPEIR)

The Board received significant interest during the December 3, 2012 to February 25, 2013 public review period. The Board will provide an extended opportunity for the public to provide the Board comments on the Draft VTPEIR. The extended comment public comment period will run from March 8, 2013 to April 8, 2013. Comments should continue to be sent to either the email address provided below, or by mail to the contact person and address also provided below.