STOP destruction of 500,000 acres of habitat per year & protect our communities from fire
STOP destruction of 500,000 acres of habitat per year & protect our communities from fire
The California Legislature is considering allocating $5 billion over 5 years to fund Cal Fire to log, clear, herbicide, or burn 500,000 acres per year of priceless native habitat throughout the state.
Under the approved Vegetation Treatment Program, the public will not be able to comment or object to any habitat clearance projects Cal Fire decides to implement. Cal Fire will have free rein and billions of dollars to target every forest and native shrubland in the state.
There are three things you can do to help bring Cal Fire back under control.
1. Become informed. Please visit our website to explore the issue and the recommendations we have made to develop a rational fire risk reduction policy without destroying the natural environment.
2. Contact your state representatives (instructions below).
3. Support our lawsuit. Our best hope to stop Cal Fire from locking out the public and preventing objective oversight is our ongoing lawsuit. Please make a donation to help us with legal costs. We will take this to the State Supreme Court if necessary, so the costs will be significant.
4. Sign this petition.
How and What to Write to Your State Representatives
Governor Newsom and the legislature are determined to clear as much habitat as possible with the false premise that such action will prevent wildfires. The science doesn’t support this approach, but facts cannot effectively counter massive lobbying by timber and clearance corporations and the Cal Fire bureaucracy, arguably the most powerful government entity in the state.
At this point, we doubt we can stop the money flow, but we might be able to put some restrictions on what they do with it. In particular, we can try to stop them from causing further damage to or eliminating native chaparral. There is a chance to add some language to SB 456 (Laird) and/or SB 63 (Stern) that will provide the needed protection.
Getting this language into legislation and passed will take heavy and successful lobbying on behalf of citizens and major environmental groups. Otherwise, much of what remains of California's intact, native shrublands will be threatened with elimination, especially chaparral.
Here’s how to find your state senator and assembly member and send an email urging the incorporation of the above language into SB 456 or SB 63:
Find your state representative here.
Suggested email language:
I value California’s most characteristic habitat, the chaparral. These native shrublands support much of California’s priceless biodiversity, sequester massive amounts of carbon, and provide irreplaceable recreation and health benefits to our communities. I also value effective efforts to help reduce fire risk to our homes and families by using science-based strategies that focus directly in and around communities to make them fire resilient. Clearing vast areas of native shrublands through burning, clearing, and herbicide use is not the answer and will only make matters worse by spreading flammable weeds and taking funds away from community-focused fire safe programs.
Therefore, I urge you to support including the following language in SB 456 and/or SB 63:
“Consistent with California’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan’s differentiation of chaparral and shrublands from conifer forests in terms of appropriate management approaches and risk of type conversion, treatments in chaparral and shrublands shall consist solely of removal of flammable non-native, invasive species and restoration of native species in damaged or type-converted vegetation, properly thinned defensible space of 100-ft around threatened structures and/or communities, strategic fuel breaks within 1,000 feet of communities at risk, ignition control along roadways, and maintenance of fire roads that provide firefighting access to communities. To protect biodiversity, intact, old-growth chaparral (older than 50-years-old) shall be avoided to the greatest extent possible.”
Give them 5 days. If you don't hear back from them, send you message again and ask that they respond to your concerns.
Thank you for your help!
The California state government has refused to do what is necessary to protect us from the wind-driven wildfires that kill the most people and destroy the most homes.
Their solution? To double down on what they've always done - clear 500,000 acres of native habitat per year (20 million acres total targeted) through grinding, burning, and herbicides as described in Cal Fire's Vegetation Treatment Program (VTP). Even though the state admits that this approach will fail to protect lives and property during the most devastating wildfires, it nonetheless remains California's priority solution to the wildfire problem.
Here is what the state admitted in response to our proposals to make communities fire safe:
"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."
In other words, the state is going to ignore the fires that cause the greatest loss of life and property. Instead, Cal Fire, the state fire agency, will only address 95% of the fires - the ones they can easily control under calm conditions.
This is absurd. Imagine if we designed buildings to withstand only 95th percentile earthquake movements, or what you would feel as a result of a magnitude 2.5.
The science is clear. Proper vegetation management around homes and directly around communities is an important part of reducing fire risk. But the wholesale destruction of the natural environment is not.
We need to follow the science. We need to protect communities from the fires that actually do the most damage. And we need to stop pretending we can control Nature by destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of native habitat through Cal Fire's proposed Vegetation Treatment Program (VTP).
The California state government has shown a pattern of failure when it comes to protecting us.
Here's what the Los Angeles Times' editorial board said about the VTP:
By The Times Editorial Board
Nov. 29, 2019
After three years of devastating and deadly wildfires, perhaps we should no longer be surprised by them.
It was shocking in 2017 when the Tubbs fire jumped the 101 Freeway and charred a suburban subdivision in Santa Rosa. It was unthinkable last year when Paradise residents had to run for their lives as the city was almost entirely destroyed by the Camp fire. And still people were caught off guard last month when the Saddleridge fire forced hundreds of residents in Sylmar and Porter Ranch to flee their homes in the middle of the night.
A terrifying pattern has been revealed. California’s wildfires are now regularly destroying subdivisions and established neighborhoods that once seemed at low risk from wildfires. There’s ample scientific data and research to explain why: Climate change amplifies natural variations in the weather, leading to more frequent and more destructive wildfires. Poorly maintained utility lines are setting blazes.
Despite that, we’re still building homes — more and more of them — in fire-prone areas. State and local leaders have been slow to adopt the housing, land-use and development reforms that would make California communities much safer in the coming years. Here are a few suggestions culled from experts that, if enacted soon, could deliver lasting security.
The devastation in Paradise, Santa Rosa, Ventura County and Malibu demonstrated that homes are not only casualties in the fires, but also the fuel that feeds and exacerbates the blazes. Wind-driven fires can blow embers over great distances. The embers lodge under eaves, get sucked into vents or broken windows and can ignite a house from the inside out, which creates more embers and more heat. The fire then spreads from house to house, sometimes leaving surrounding trees largely untouched. The first and most obvious step is to retrofit homes in high-risk areas to make them more resistant to fire. Researchers analyzed some 40,000 buildings exposed to wildfires between 2013 and 2018. They found that homes built to keep out embers and withstand extreme heat were much more likely to survive. Yet so far, the state has done little to require home hardening or to fund it.
The needed retrofits aren’t very expensive. Homeowners should cover their vents with fine wire mesh and enclose their eaves to prevent embers from getting inside the structure. Double-paned windows are less likely to shatter in high heat, and steel shutters can help too.
Properties also need regular inspections to make sure they are prepared for fire season. Are there gaps in roof tiles that might allow embers into the attic? Are the gutters full of dry leaves and twigs? Do the residents know to shut the doggie door when they evacuate?
Earlier this year, Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) proposed creating a billion-dollar revolving loan fund to help homeowners pay for retrofits and to remove flammable vegetation near their homes. The funding was cut from the bill.
Next year, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers should invest that $1 billion — or more — to help people in high-risk areas make their homes more fire resistant. But it’s not enough to have individual homeowners voluntarily harden their houses if neighboring properties are tinder boxes. Fire is contagious. The greatest protection comes when entire neighborhoods are hardened together and maintained together. Whatever legislation is passed should reflect that.
Buy out burned properties
Still, all the fire-resistant materials and hardening in the world can’t guarantee safety. During the 2017 Thomas fire in Ventura County, new houses built to the strictest fire codes still burned down. The houses were in a state-designated “very high fire hazard severity zone,” which means the area has the greatest probability of burning based on vegetation, topography and fire history. And when 80-mile-per-hour winds blow embers across a landscape that is already prone to burn, the fire can quickly overwhelm hardened homes.
State officials have to recognize that there are some homes and neighborhoods that shouldn’t be rebuilt. Or rebuilt again, since some communities have burned more than once. For decades, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has helped buy out properties destroyed by flood waters, in a bid to stop the expensive and sometimes deadly cycle of flood-rescue-and-rebuild in high-risk areas. In Texas, communities have used a combination of local bonds, drainage fees and federal dollars to buy out flood-prone houses.
Buyouts are considered one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent flood destruction. These are voluntary sales and the government pays fair market value. The homes are demolished and the property becomes open space. It’s pricey to buy up dozens of properties at a time, but it can be cheaper and more effective than developing new flood control infrastructure.
Yet there’s been little discussion in California of trying to use FEMA grants or other funds to make similar buyout offers in high fire-risk areas. It wouldn’t be possible to buy out every property owner in the very high fire hazard severity zones — there are an estimated 2.7 million Californians living there. Rather, a buyout program could target the areas at the very greatest risk, perhaps because the community was built without adequate evacuation routes, or because the neighborhood has been burned two or more times before.
Don’t build in high fire-risk areas. But if development must be approved, build exceptionally safe communities
The best way to prevent wildfire destruction and death is to stop building houses in the path of fire. Half of all buildings destroyed by wildfire in California over the last 30 years have been in developed areas next to wildlands.
So far, though, gentle suggestions that local governments should consider wildfire risk when approving development aren’t working, and neither is Newsom’s call to “deprioritize” development in high fire-risk areas. Land-use decisions are made by local elected officials and they’ve proven themselves unwilling to say no to dangerous sprawl development and equally unwilling to say yes to denser, urban infill housing construction that would be more sustainable. Just look at Los Angeles County, where the Board of Supervisors approved construction of a 19,000-home mini-city to be built at Tejon Ranch in a remote valley that has been deemed a high risk for wildfires.
California lawmakers need to push — even force — local elected officials to make more responsible development decisions.
Earlier this year, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) introduced Senate Bill 182, which would prohibit cities and counties from approving new housing developments in high fire-risk areas unless the projects meet new “wildfire risk reduction standards.” Those would include siting the homes so they have natural fire breaks and are easier for firefighters to defend, building evacuation routes, and having an ongoing, funded program to inspect and maintain defensible space around homes.
The bill was held up amid concerns that it could allow anti-growth cities to use the presence of some high fire-risk areas within their borders as an excuse to shirk their responsibility to build enough housing in the non-fire-risk areas of the city. That should not be allowed.
Yes, California has a severe housing shortage that is making the state unaffordable and unlivable for too many people. But the state can’t keep counting on sprawl to solve the housing crisis. That only puts more people at risk in future wildfires, and it generates more greenhouse gases as residents commute from far-flung subdivisions. That hastens climate change, which, in turn, worsens wildfire conditions in California.