Cal Fire and Governor Newsom Ignore the Most Devastating Wildfires

Governor Newsom’s Executive Order to waive environmental protection laws for a large number of Cal Fire’s habitat clearance and logging operations ignores science, dismisses the lessons of the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, and is following the pattern President Trump has established – if facts get in the way of ideology, circumvent the facts.

The back story on this is that Cal Fire has consistently failed to produce a legitimate Vegetation Treatment Plan for more than 15 years. Draft after draft repeated the same mistakes, misrepresented scientific research, contradicted itself numerous times, and relied on logical fallacies to support its misguided conclusions.

As reported in the LA Times, Cal Fire “has been struggling for the last 15 years to certify a sweeping statewide environmental impact report.”

What that actually means is that the agency has been incapable of producing a competent plan based on science and has been called on it every time. We, along with many others like the Sierra Club and CNPS, have been at the forefront of the effort to expose the agency’s failure to develop a plan that would actually protect lives and property. At every turn, Cal Fire and the California Board of Forestry have continually turned back to their outdated clearance paradigm that serves little more than supporting the biomass and timber industries and Cal Fire’s entrenched bureaucracy.

Hence, Cal Fire convinced Governor Newsom to repeat the same approach to fire protection that has failed to protect us from the most devastating wildfires year after year.

Here’s our latest comment letter on Cal Fire’s latest Vegetation Treatment Program proposal.

So instead of following the law and completing a competent plan as required, Cal Fire does an end run to get what it wants. This is little different from the recent scandal whereby wealthy parents were able to get their kids into the best universities. If you can’t meet the standards and find the public process inconvenient, cut a deal behind closed doors.

The LA Times further reported that Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said, “the state will continue to encourage home hardening, but his agency does not have jurisdiction over local governments to require work on existing homes. He agreed that fuel breaks won’t have an impact on every fire, but said they have stopped the spread of blazes under certain wind conditions.”

This defines the real problem Californian’s face. The state agency responsible for protecting them from fire throws up its hands at the very thing that will save the most lives and property in deference to the thing they prefer to do, clear more habitat.

While it is commendable that Cal Fire acknowledges that “fuel breaks won’t have an impact on every fire,” the failure to recognize the meaning of the admission reflects the agency’s confirmation bias and blinding bureaucratic inertia.

Fuel breaks are irrelevant during the wind-driven wildfires that kill the most people and burn the most homes, yet fuel breaks are the preferred approach.

So why are the governor and Cal Fire ignoring the fires that cause the most devastation and failing to address the one thing that can save lives and property now (reducing community flammability)? Why has Governor Newsom ignored a comprehensive list of recommendations assembled by fire scientists, former fire officials, and environmental organizations? One explanation is that Cal Fire and the governor are not willing to think out of the box and listen to what the fire science community has been trying help all of us understand for decades – we have a home ignition problem, not a wildfire control problem.

The video from the National Fire Protection Association below does an excellent job making this point.

Here’s the  link to see the list of 35 projects exempted by the governor from environmental review. Click on each of the projects for more basic info (many do not have maps).

With that, we pass on to you the task of staying informed and fighting a state fire complex that is immune to change and scientific truth. Write the governor.

Ask the governor, considering his record of establishing bold, innovative policies, to issue another emergency declaration that focuses on the flammability of communities. Ask the governor to demand that all agencies under his control come together and develop a plan within 45 days on how to quickly, and efficiently retrofit flammable homes within one year. If the cities of Big Bear and Idyllwild can do it, certainly the state of California can.

DSC_0946 IV
Embers from the 2007 Witch Creek Fire jumped over ice plant and a dense stand of chamise chaparral and ignited a home that did not have proper fire safety features such as ember resistant vents or exterior sprinklers.

After years of teaching and environmental advocacy work, we have come to the conclusion that the only way to heal environmentally and personally damaging behaviors is to address their actual cause – our disassociation from Nature and self, and the resulting alienation from each other.

Despite civilization’s influence, our ties to Nature remain strong as evidenced by the positive impact of spending time outdoors surrounded by the green felt of plant life, the conversations of birds, insects, and frogs, and the fragrance of sage, laurel sumac, and ceanothus blooms. With an open heart, Nature can foster a reconnection with the innocent, wild self that dwells within each of us. As that connection becomes stronger, it becomes increasingly easy to follow the dreams we have for ourselves, recognize when we project our inner conflicts on others, and see the natural environment as an integral part of who we are.

“Nature is an incomparable guide, if you know how to follow her.”
– Carl Jung

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