In a 15-year effort to protect ten million acres of priceless habitat from being destroyed by Cal Fire, the California Chaparral Institute and other environmental groups claim Cal Fire has ignored the wind-driven fires that cause the greatest loss of life and property.
Fire safety experts and environmental protection advocates filed suit on January 28, to block a state-wide plan, the California Vegetation Treatment Program (VTP), targeting a quarter-million acres of habitat per year for clearance under the guise of fire protection. Through the use of herbicides, grinding machines, unnatural fire (prescribed burns), and soil disturbance, Cal Fire plans to clear vast areas of important carbon-absorbing habitat already threatened by climate change.
While large, high-intensity wildfires are inevitable in California, the destruction of our communities is not. Extensive scientific research clearly indicates that the best way to protect lives, property, and the natural environment from wildfire is through a comprehensive approach that focuses on community and regional planning, reducing ignitability of structures, and modifying vegetation within and directly around communities at risk.
By focusing exclusively on clearing habitat across the landscape, Cal Fire is not addressing the main causes for loss of life and property from wildland fire—flammable homes placed on flammable terrain.
Despite the fact that 87 percent of the destruction of homes in 2017 and 2018 was caused by only six wind-driven wildfires (out of a total of approximately 16,000 fires), Cal Fire is doubling down on its failed strategy of focusing on wildland fires that pose the least risk.
“The VTP is a massive taxpayer boondoggle,” said Dan Silver, Director of the Endangered Habitats League, “as it wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on ineffective measures.”
Among other things, the lawsuit alleges the VTP is misguided in utilizing the same techniques that have not worked in the past, and that, in fact, create conditions that increase the rate of fire movement, facilitate the spread of embers, and allow for increased wind speeds, all of which endanger homes and communities.
“The EIR failed to adequately analyze impacts to human health, community protection, air quality, and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Everett DeLano, the attorney representing the groups filing the lawsuit.
“The Program also illegally limits protections to coastal chaparral and fails to protect inland and forest chaparral. The lawsuit asks that the agencies go back and do that analysis, and also consider alternative measures that would be less harmful to the environment and human health and would be more effective in preventing fires,” DeLano said.
The California Chaparral Institute, Endangered Habitats League, and many others are calling on Governor Newsom, the California Board of Forestry, and Cal Fire to retract their proposal and work collaboratively with all interested parties to create a comprehensive wildfire risk reduction program that will actually protect lives and property from the fires that cause all the damage, reduce fire suppression costs, reduce carbon in the atmosphere, and protect fragile, native habitats already threatened by climate change.
For additional details on the Cal Fire habitat clearance plan: californiachaparral.org/helpcalfireeir.html