Beyond the Trumpstorm: How California Is Ramping Up Forest Management

Current California Governor Jerry Brown

It’s interesting that the many outlets that reported on the President’s tweet seemed to question the relevance of forest management- and didn’t seem to check on what California is actually doing with regard to forest management. Maybe emotional critiques are click-worthy and facts, not so much. It didn’t take me long to access the below information on what California is doing from local media outlets.

We find that Trump was wrong, California is ramping it up forest management-wise and (2) if forest management is irrelevant (or an R plot) why is the California state legislature and governor (all D’s) doing so much? Of course, where there are no trees, forest management isn’t relevant. But plenty of California has trees.

So what has the State Legislature passed? Here’s a detailed story by Guy Kuvner of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Kudos to him for digging into the details! There’s also a nice summary of all the new wildfire legislation.

Wara (Stanford professor), who was called as a witness at the committee’s first hearing, said it was “almost a no-brainer” that California had to spend more money on “vegetation management,” the term that refers to controlled burns, thinning forests and other means of reducing the fuel available to fires. He recalled that Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott was asked at a hearing how much it would cost to make the wildlands safe. Pimlott couldn’t say.

“It’s such a big problem they never even thought they would conceivably have the resources to address it,” Wara said.

Assemblyman Jim Wood, a Santa Rosa Democrat who served on the committee, risked some political capital by stating he would not vote for the committee’s centerpiece bill without guaranteed annual funding for vegetation management, which he said should be $300 million a year.

That bill, SB 901, ultimately included just one new appropriation — $200 million a year for five years, or $1 billion — for vegetation management.

Wood, who also wrote five other fire-related bills, said he and Brian Dahle, the Assembly Republican leader from Lassen County, had been pushing a fire prevention plan for four years and the hazardous summer provided the right time to sell it.

“People have heard us, they’ve seen the catastrophic fires,” Wood said. “It was the perfect opportunity to make a big step toward protection in the future.”

“Jim Wood really lit a fire under the committee and the administration to get this done,” Dodd said.

“That was an accomplishment,” Wara said.

Cal Fire had dispensed $243 million in grants to local fire agencies and nonprofit organizations for controlled burns, forest thinning and other fire prevention programs over the past five years, according to Porter, the agency’s region chief.

“We’re super excited,” he said, referring to the $1 billion funding stream. “It’s an amazing investment the state is making in a proactive approach to controlling large, damaging fires.”

Wood’s other bills include AB 2551, which authorizes Cal Fire to collaborate with private landowners on prescribed burns, and AB 1919, which makes it a misdemeanor for a landlord to boost rent more than 10 percent in the wake of a disastrous wildfire.

Then there’s the Governor’s executive order, which specifically deals with streamlining the regulations for private landowners. This story is from CBS local San Francisco here.

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order on Thursday that aims to reduce the dangers of wildfires following some of the deadliest and most destructive blazes in state history.

The order calls for accelerating forest management procedures such as cutting back dense stands of trees and setting controlled fires to burn out thick brush. Brown wants to double the forest area managed by such practices to 500,000 acres (781 square miles) within five years.

Brown’s order also calls for streamlining the process of allowing private landowners to thin trees and encouraging the building industry to use more innovative wood products.

His office said a Forest Management Task Force will be convened in coming weeks to help implement the order.

The governor’s May budget revision, due for release on Friday, includes $96 million to support his order. That’s in addition to $160 million Brown already proposed for fire protection and forest work in the upcoming fiscal year.

Californians, please comment on what you’ve seen as the results of this new bill.

22 thoughts on “Beyond the Trumpstorm: How California Is Ramping Up Forest Management”

  1. I’m not sure why we want to give such a pass to the words, actions and/or “tweets” (words, but sometimes written in shorthand) to the President of the United States of America.

    Let’s never forget that within 24 hours of the wildfires in Paradise, Malibu and Thousand Oaks the President of the United States of America said this:

    Let’s also never forget that a few months ago, as wildfires were burning in another part of California and people were losing their homes and their lives, President Trump’s Interior Secretary blamed the wildfires on “environmental terrorist groups.”

    This is not some ‘click-bait’ made up or used by the media to sell newspapers or gain viewers. These are the action words and actions (and threats) made by the President of the United States and the President’s cabinet members as American citizens are facing a tragedy.

    Here is what one fire scientist/expert did say in the news media about the most recent wildfires:

    Mismanagement isn’t to blame for California wildfires, scientists say, bucking Trump (LINK)

    University of Utah fire scientist Philip Dennison said that researchers know that mismanagement isn’t to blame because some of the same areas now burning were charred in 2005 and 2008.

    They aren’t “fuel-choked closed-canopy forests,” Dennison said.

    In those earlier fires, Paradise was threatened but escaped major damage, he said. In the current blazes, the town was virtually destroyed.

    The other major fire, in Southern California, burned through shrub land, not forest, Dennison said.

    “It’s not about forest management,” he said. “These aren’t forests.”

    Again, I’d like to know that specifically, what type of “forest management” or “vegetation management” would have made much of a difference during the Camp Fire, Woosley Fire or Hill Fire, given the weather conditions at the time? Also, $200 million a year for vegetation management over a 5 year period doesn’t really sound like it will accomplish very much.

    P.S. In September, California officially pledged to get all its electricity from zero carbon, renewable energy sources by 2045. Maybe in the long-term that will have more of an impact on wildfires than spending $200 million a year over 5 years on “forest management” and “vegetation management.”

  2. Something else the state could do – ” Given the costs to society and danger to inhabitants, some, however, believe it may be time to break the burn-rebuild-burn-again cycle. Under some circumstances, that might mean not rebuilding in an area repeatedly ravaged by fire and helping residents to relocate, said Alice Hill, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think tank at at Stanford University, who helped develop climate-change policy during the Obama administration.” (But some people don’t like regulations.)

    • Yes and we could help people from the Palo Alto relocate after earthquakes, people from Houston, New Orleans, and Florida, relocate after hurricanes. And Kansans and Oklahomans and many others after tornados. Tennessee could get really crowded.
      And let’s not forget that fire- prone areas include places like Malibu. Denizens there could take the lead in promoting these ideas.

      • Sharon: “And let’s not forget that fire- prone areas include places like Malibu. Denizens there could take the lead in promoting these ideas.”

        I’m not sure the culture of people in and around Malibu are use to being told what they can and cannot do. Although they have no problem engaging in militant occupy activism to force others to do what they themselves are unwilling to submit to. I think it’s always been that way there.

        John Haber: “(But some people don’t like regulations.)”

        Yup, see ? John actually agrees with me.

      • Do I hear a straw man? Yes, we should consider condemnation/relocation where the likelihood of recurrence is predictably high and the alternatives are more costly or infeasible. In some fire zones this is probably the case, as in some flood zones (from hurricanes or otherwise). I wouldn’t be surprised if the ultra-rich (who can live anywhere) might be the most likely to relocate. (There have been about 1200 tornadoes in Tennessee since 1950.)

  3. Given the wind speeds, there was probably very little that forest management could do (other than to have a very large clearcut) to affect the Camp Fire. I remember looking at the King Fire and thinking about how wide the shaded fuel break (or open fuel break) would have had to be to alter that fire behavior, and given that that fire was spotting several miles ahead of itself…
    However, it appears that powerlines and wind were once again involved in this latest spate of fires. One of the reports that I saw from first responders was that once the fire left the maintained powerline corridor that the fire really took off (for the Camp Fire). While we often think of community protection when it comes to forest management/fuels treatments, I don’t know that we think of “powerline protection” – while there is a corridor for the powerline and the power company maintains that corridor to prevent trees from falling across the powerline, it seems like the management of the forests adjacent to the powerline could help in some cases. So, instead of WUI, we might also have to think about “PCI” (Powerline Corridor Interface).

    • The analysis will be ‘interesting’ but, nothing stops a wind-driven fire, as long as there is some fuel. The ten-year old brush and grass was plenty enough to produce embers, spotting far ahead of the main fire. I guess one could wander around the streets of Paradise, on Google Earth, to judge whether properties were actually up to code, before the fire. I’ve seen dense green trees around smoldering piles of ash. One side of a street is completely decimated and the other side is untouched. We will continue to be plagued by “unplanned ignitions”. It would be nice if our forests were resilient to such fires.

      • Apparently, it’s just easier (and more profitable politically) to blame #wildfires on “environmental terrorist groups” and “extremists” than engage in some simple, 21st century, job-producing solutions…liking burying power lines in the ground. Go figure.

  4. But burying power lines has environmental impacts including equipment on site, disturbing vegetation and so on .. I’ve reviewed pipeline EIS’s. In fact, if your powerline is in a roadless area, there has been litigation on pipelines that running equipment is effectively a temp road so therefore illegal. This one was settled via doing a deal, so I don’t think we ever saw how it would play out in court.

    Maybe the ultimate solution is distributed energy production such that power lines are no longer necessary. Then underground powerlines would be m/l a “stranded asset.” It’s another of those infrastructure questions like natural gas power plants. Relatively good in the short term but necessary in the long term?

    • FWIW: Cal Fire determined that of the 21 major wildfires last fall (2017) in Northern California, at least 17 were caused by power lines, poles and other equipment owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company. It’s best not to focus on this fact and look for any solutions. Blaming environmentalists is just too much fun and profitable, both politically and for industries (such as the logging and resource extraction industries) that reap greater profits when bedrock environmental laws are gutted, weakened or undermined.

  5. What Started the California Fires? Experts Track the Blazes’ Origins

    A changing climate is potentially part of the Camp Fire’s story, in deepening patterns of drought in California. Some researchers said that logging in the burned area after a fire in 2008, which was intended to clear out fuels and make this part of Northern California safer, may have had the opposite result. The logging may have left fast-burning weeds and young trees in the fire’s path.

    “When it got to the logged area, it spread very rapidly and people just didn’t have much time to evacuate in Paradise, so this whole notion that logging — so-called hazardous fuels reduction — was going to save the town is a dangerous falsehood,” said Chad Hanson, a fire ecologist at the John Muir Project, an environmental group that has been critical of land-management policies and logging practices on public lands. The speed at which the fire spread has raised concerns about the nearly 100 people who are still missing.

  6. I visited the northern edge of the Klondike fire in Southern Oregon this week. Much of this fire burned through areas that were burned in the Biscuit fire. The fire appeared to burn most intensely in the areas that had burned before. There appeared to be little difference between areas that were salvaged and those that weren’t. The fire did kill some of the stands of old growth that survived the Biscuit fire. In most areas it seemed to burn under the green trees. I will be interested to see if these stands survive through next summer. One point of interest to me was that the Nobel fir on the upper slopes that were killed in Biscuit fire were totally incinerated by the Klondike. I assume this is because the white firs deteriorate much faster than the Douglas fir.
    The 20 foot tan oak and the few conifers that had grown back since the Biscuit fire were also pretty well incinerated. So what is next? I know one direct result is fewer trees, and less forest.


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