Assembly Republican Wildfire Working Group
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Under unusually blue skies, Citizens for Sensible Forest Management responded to Assembly Member James Gallagher‘s invitation to talk about California’s wildfire issues.
Initially, the topic was to be discussed during a legislative hearing. But, sadly canceled, and with only two weeks to go before the end of the legislative session and no wildfire budget, legislators are concerned about the fate of our forests. And they are not the only ones! The government members were clear that California’s forests are burning out of control. Therefore, the urgency is to release funds to fight these fires that continue to ravage the State and prepare for the future.
Main topics of discussion at the meeting
The meeting was divided into four panels:
– Opportunities to Improve Firefighting Operations
– Implementing Wildland Fire Mitigation and Recovery Services
– Preventing Wildfires and Improving Forest Health
– Citizens Perspective
Opportunities to Improve Firefighting Operations
The first panelist, Jess Wills, President of Firestorm Wildland Fire Suppression talked about his personal and professional experience with wildfires. He has been prescribing fires for the past 25 years, yet he knows that fuel reduction is the number one priority to mitigate the risk of mega-fires. As a consequence, he insisted on the fact that we need simple solutions to avoid catastrophic wildfires.
As part of the private sector, he asked for more visibility on his work. His company can provide more than 10.000 firefighters to help, not compete, and he regrets that he can’t get any contract with the State, only with the federal government. He denounces a lack of efficiency in combatting wildfires and urges to declare an emergency on fuel reduction.
Dan Reese has a background of 32 years in fire services. Retired from CALFIRE, he is now President of Global SuperTanker Services, LLC. He couldn’t attend the meeting but left some notes to Assembly Member Gallagher. His main concern is the ability to get to wildfires faster before they become bigger. The lack of Rapid Initial Attack has an impact on the GDP. He is confident that the State could spend less with a better action plan. He added that the State also need more trained personnel, from the private and public sector to fight forest fires.
Implementing Wildland Fire Mitigation and Recovery Services
This part of the meeting was focused on what happens after a fire. Jim Houtman, Project Manager at the Butte County Fire Safe Council, explained the measures they try to implement with the community. He stressed that the State needs a holistic approach to forest fires issues. Jim talked about the causes of fires and the projects that can be implemented before and after a fire. First, he stated that there are no better ways than prevention to avoid wildfires through fuel reductions projects and their maintenance: prevention planning, fuel breaks, thinning, biomass valorization. He also mentioned the work with the community, especially to harden homes in the Wildland-Urban Interface. Next, he talked about the Council’s mission to help owners to obtain grants. He said indeed that we need more fundings for projects and to incentivize harvest and logging plans. Finally, he asked for more infrastructure to benefit the community and the environment.
Chris Wagoner intervened as a Project Manager at the Resource Conservation District of Tehama County. He presented several projects in which he has been involved to reduce the fire risks thanks to fuel reduction programs.
At the end of the panel, there was a long discussion about the need to implement CEQA exemptions (the California Environmental Quality Act) for timber harvest and prevention measures against forest fires.
Preventing Wildfires and Improving Forest Health
John Andersen started to talk during this panel. He is Director of Forest Policy at Humboldt and Mendocino Redwood Companies. He repeated the need to make the forests more resilient, explaining that the number of burn days decreased in his area thanks to harvest plans and prevention measures. But he said his principal problem is with the stringent rules and permits. They limit forest management, leading to catastrophic events. As the previous panelists, he insisted that the State should simplify the rules and consider fuel reduction projects, biomass production, and plantation.
Danielle Lindler represented Jefferson Resource Company, Inc for this panel. She is a registered forester and forest owner. She started with a strong statement, saying that fire is natural, but what is not natural is catastrophic fires. She recognized that there is an urgent need for fuel mitigation. However, her experience is with small owners who don’t have the financial means, time (it takes seven years to get qualified for fundings), and infrastructure to mitigate the risks. She asked for funding and the development of the market, not only for timber products but also for bioenergy as biomass. She added that there are not enough staff and registered foresters to do the job.
Ed Fredrickson ended this panel as the President of Thunder Road Resources. He identified the lack of vegetation management and post-fire fuel treatment as the leading causes of devastating forest fires. He said that more than 60% of forests are unmanaged by public landowners. There are dead trees all over the State, and we need reforestation and stock control. He sadly noted that the legislation is too rigid and regrets that environmentalists don’t let forest owners do their jobs. The fear of lawsuits limits any action to manage the fuel load in the forest and maintenance of tree stands
Robert Longatti and Ralph Goldbeck, respectfully President and Secretary of Citizens for Sensible Forest Management (CSFM), presented the last panel. They reminded that they created CSFM during the 2020 Creek Fire as a non-partisan movement to gain the attention of government leaders and public awareness on pragmatic sustainable forest management. They agree with the previous panelists on the need to act now for changes. They shared the frustration of their co-panelists concerning the lack of progress to mitigate and prevent forest fires. They bring their support to legislators willing to provide forest management measures.
Wildfire Informal Forum in a nutshell
The different participants communicated their experiences and expertise to find solutions. They all agree that the lack of prior action is the origin of these catastrophic fires. The panelists insisted on the need to act as soon as possible for reasoned management of our forests, including vegetation management, risk mitigation, and long-term maintenance. They asked for the provision of personnel and the simplification of stringent rules preventing them from doing their job. They also insisted on the need to set up infrastructures for the future and specifically contemplate bioenergy possibilities.
In concluding the meeting, all recognized that climate change is an issue. However, the major problem lies in the fuel load in our forests and the limitations to carry out forest management through logging, thinning, post-fire fuel treatment, reforestation on both private and public forests.
We can only share the frustration of the experts who spoke that day, and we fully agree with the opinions of our co-panelists. We have indeed ideas, solutions, knowledge that have not been sufficiently implemented in the past.
On behalf of CSFM, a non-partisan movement, Robert Longatti, and Ralph Goldbeck took the opportunity to invite everyone to support wildfire prevention and forest health improvements. The actions described by the speakers are essential for the sake of our forests and our community.