The Colusa County Board of Supervisors issued a letter last week to U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-San Francisco) in support of the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020.
Feinstein introduced the bipartisan Senate bill in August, as a measure to protect the western United States from catastrophic wildfires by providing federal agencies with critical new tools to reduce hazardous fuels that allow wildfires to burn hotter, flame higher, and travel faster.
The Senate bill, which is supported with a companion House bill sponsored by California Representatives John Garamendi (D-3rd District) and Doug LaMalfa (R-1st District), would help federal agencies sustain healthier forests, support forestry jobs, and provide important energy and retrofitting assistance to businesses and residences to protect from future risks of wildfire.
The Mendocino National Forest, a portion of which lies in western Colusa County, has been the site of the two largest wildfires in history: the current August Fire, which has burned 955,513 acres as of Oct. 1 and is only 55 percent contained, and the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire in 2018, which burned 457,123 acres.
“While the acreage lost and structural damage experienced in Colusa County was far less that what our neighbors have experienced, the harsh reality is that 100 percent of the Mendocino Forest located in Colusa County has been burned in the past three years,” said Colusa County Board of Supervisors Chair, Denise Carter, in the Sept. 29 letter to Feinstein. “It is long past time to invest resources in safe and smart forest management practices that mitigate wildfire risk in our communities, and the informed approach provided by S. 4431 is a helpful response to the growing challenges we face in California.”
The bill, which also calls for more biomass development, is a result of extensive stakeholder engagement, outreach across party lines, and months of deliberations to ensure a bipartisan, pragmatic approach to reduce the risk of wildfires.
“Proactively managing our forests is the best way to minimize the risk of wildfire in the
West and protect our areas from further disaster,” LaMalfa said, in a statement. “The Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act takes great steps to streamline forest management, like creating fuel breaks and three 75,000 acre wildfire risk reduction projects in the West, to make sure that our forests stay healthy and intact.”
Colusa County Supervisor Gary Evans, who nearly lost his home on Goat Mountain in the Mendocino Complex fire several years ago, has long called for the return of forest management practices, including creating fire breaks and the removal of forest overgrowth, dead wood, and underbrush.
While Evans said S. 4431 is “a little late,” to save forest land and private property from the massive destruction the state has seen in just two years, he supports the bill and its efforts to combat the cause of hard-to-control forest fires: the accumulation of hazardous fuels.
“It sounds good if some of the stuff in here pans out, where potentially it pays for some small biomass development,” Evans said. “We’ll see. There is so much destruction and no infrastructure to absorb the material now. Anything that could be put in place could help.”
Feinstein’s bill also eliminates a 50-year prohibition of shipping unprocessed federal timber offshore.
“That may open up the market for raw logs,” Evans said.
The bill has received opposition from environmental groups, such as Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, and National Parks Conservation Association, who said the bill would result in increased unregulated logging, rather than focusing on making homes and communities safer, and would take federal resources away from clean energy sources.
“Congress needs to directly support communities in hardening homes and creating defensible space, rather than spending hundreds of millions for increased logging efforts, which have exacerbated recent fires in the West in areas where clear-cutting and thinning operations have removed the largest, most fire-resistant trees,” said The Community Voice, in an Oct. 1 statement. “S. 4431 is calling for more biomass energy production, which spews carbon dioxide and other toxic byproducts into the air by the ton. This bill completely ignores the value of forests as storehouses of carbon.”
Feinstein, who introduced the bill with Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, of Montana, said the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act will make wildfire protection a priority and help communities better prepare and respond to wildfires.
“If we don’t take strong action, I worry that what’s happening will soon become the new normal, not just in California but in other states as well,” Feinstein stated. ♣