CAL FIRE just issued the 4th iteration of a draft “Environmental Impact Report” since 2013 on their Vegetation Treatment Program (VTP) for fire prevention activities. The VTP is massively expanded – CAL FIRE now wants to “thin” or remove, by various means, 250,000 acres per year of native vegetation, including chaparral and globally endangered coastal sage scrub required by a federally threatened bird, the Coastal California Gnatcatcher instead of 50,000 per year as in previous plans.
They base this on Executive Orders by the Governor, yet there is no underlying scientific rationale.
Very importantly, CAL FIRE now admits that these massive treatments will be ineffective in protecting life and property from wind-driven fires. Fires in California forests may be driven by fuel accumulation, especially on the forest floor, which can accumulate after years of fire suppression. In contrast, Southern California fires are largely driven by high velocity Santa Ana winds which usually blow in the fall.
The CAL FIRE VTP has now been entirely repurposed for non-wind-driven fires, even though these typically come under early control by firefighters and cause only a fraction of the damage in comparison. It is a solution in search of a problem, at great environmental cost. While the new draft EIR proposes more biological mitigation for impacts than previous versions, this remains inadequate. The treatments will leave vast areas susceptible to invasion by non-native weeds, making the landscape more rather than less flammable.
The Endangered Habitats League (EHL), a conservation group in Southern California, anticipates litigation in hopes of scaling back this program so that it is smaller, more strategic and effective, with a closer focus on proximity to communities, and less of a ‘blank check.'