Let’s Discuss The Wildfire Emergency Act of 2021-I: Landscape Projects

There are many interesting things we could discuss about this bill… here’s a link to the summary, section by section, and the bill itself.  I’m interested in exploring Zones of Agreement above the collaborative forest organization level, and this legislation offers some clues to the environmental/conservation point of view. There’s plenty to discuss here, but I’ll start with the large landscape provisions (from the section by section):

Subsection (c)(1) establishes eligibility criteria for the a project, including:
o Purposes shall include 1) restoration of ecological integrity; 2) restoration of appropriate natural fire regimes; and 3) wildfire risk reduction in the wildland urban interface (WUI), to
the extent that the project includes lands in the WUI

o A collaborative group representing diverse interests must develop and support the project

2 o The project shall be based on a landscape assessment that
1) covers at least 100,000 acres (with limited exceptions for assessments of at least 50,000 acres for Eastern forests, or at least 80,000 acres if the assessments are already complete or substantially completed and the Secretary determines a larger assessment area is not necessary)
2) evaluates ecological integrity and reference conditions for the landscape;
3) identifies areas that have departed from reference conditions;
4) identifies criteria for determining appropriate restoration treatments;
5) are based on the best available scientific information, including, where applicable, high-resolution imagery and LiDAR; and
6) identifies priority restoration strategies.
o Restoration actions shall 1) emphasize the reintroduction of characteristic fire; 2) for any proposed mechanical treatments, seek to restore reference conditions and the establishment
of conditions facilitating prescribed fire; and 3) fully maintain or contribute to the restoration of reference old forest conditions, including protecting large old trees
o The project shall be consistent with all applicable environmental laws, and the roadless rule
o Multiparty monitoring is required
o No new permanent road may be built as part of the project, and any temporary roads needed to implement the project shall be decommissioned within 3 years of the project’s completion
o The project uses an efficient approach to landscape-scale analysis and decision-making that is consistent with NEPA (we’ll talk about this in post II in greater detail.)


I’ve some concerns with this part.

    1. As we’ve seen with the Blue Mountains, the extra funds are great and allow them to do great work. Still, it does tend to separate forests into haves and have-nots. It’s discouraging for busy forest workers and the public to work hard on a proposal and not be funded.  Those places may actually “need” the extra support the most.
    2.  Of course, I’m not a fan of spending megabucks determining “reference conditions” when we have no clue about whether it’s a good investment to try to “restore” them for (which?)  “ecological reasons”.  I still think we should have stuck with managing for individual wildlife species and trying to keep them on the landscape. I know that coarse-filter fine filter is supposed to work better, but has it? It’s always seemed like a full employment program for historic vegetation ecologists to me.
    3. People who want strategic fuel treatments to help suppression folks protect their communities seem to have no place in all this; in fact, it seems very wet (Coastal) in its focus.  It seems like instead of saying.. here is a landscape where threats from wildfires are serious as evidenced by these (x) criteria, we will fund communities and the Forest Service to plan and implement strategic fuel treatments and ongoing prescribed fire, considering factors as in the Stewardship and Fireshed Assessments.

You could have numerous considerations and restrictions proposed by the environmental community, but what’s fundamentally flawed about this section for me is that its’ not about protecting communities, infrastructure, plants, animals and watersheds from destructive wildfires at all, but about restoring to reference conditions with possible wildfire utility.

Not only do I think a Wildfire bill with landscape scale projects should focus on wildfire projects (but perhaps large landscapes are not the appropriate mechanism?), I also think it should have a preference for underserved and low-income communities at risk of disastrous wildfires and their druthers.

I’ve heard this proposal characterized as CFLRP 2.0, so it would be interesting to hear from CFLRP participants on what you all think about this.


1 thought on “Let’s Discuss The Wildfire Emergency Act of 2021-I: Landscape Projects”

  1. I agree with this: “its’ not about protecting communities, infrastructure, plants, animals and watersheds from destructive wildfires at all, but about restoring to reference conditions with possible wildfire utility.” It does not focus resources on defensible space. WUI shows up as an also-ran in (3). (I wouldn’t call this a “flaw,” since restoring reference conditions is a good thing; in fact, I’m actually glad to see legislation that recognizes this existing regulatory requirement.)

    I would like to see someone confront the reality that some of the WUI is in places where the reference conditions for fire frequency and severity are such that those who choose to live there might not like them. Where managing for locally-favored “departure” conditions has implications for at-risk wildlife species, there may be a need to provide offsetting protection for these species elsewhere. These considerations should be addressed through forest planning.


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