Board approves letter seeking a nuanced approach to fire suppression

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors made it clear that the board supports the intent of proposed fire suppression legislation, but not the ramifications it could bring. The legislation, HR6903, has been a topic for the past two board meetings, with many concerns expressed on Sept. 13, but a consensus reached Sept. 20.

“The Board of Supervisors supports the intent of HR6903 and its urgency for executing wildfire response activities; however, the singular expressed objective to extinguish wildfires on National Forest lands within 24 hours after the wildfire is detected removes the opportunity to assess, then take the appropriate action to address the wildfire, which may end up being suppression but also could be to utilize fire treatment practices to remove surface fuel loads, for example, which has been one of the major influences to the western states’ fuels-driven National Forest System lands wildfire crises,” reads a portion of the letter the board approved Sept. 20.

Advertisement

Congressman Tom McClintock authored HR 6903, a bill that called on the Forest Service “to the maximum extent practicable — use all available resources to carry out wildfire suppression with the purpose of extinguishing wildfires detected on National Forest System lands not later than 24 hours after such a wildfire is detected” along with other directives.

During the Sept. 13 meeting, several individuals objected to the absence of local discretion in deciding how to best manage a fire.

“I believe that that goal requires far more nuanced considerations than the proposed requirement to put out every fire, said Hannah Hepner, representing the Plumas County Fire Safe Council. “The bill seeks to further enmesh policies that we know have contributed to the current fuels crisis.”

Planning Director Tracey Ferguson said that she had researched responses from other counties, and two shared Hepner’s opinion to use a nuanced approach to fires.

After listening to other speakers, the supervisors asked Ferguson and Hepner to work together to craft a new support letter. “One thing I don’t want to do is unintentionally hamstring our local folks,” Goss said at the meeting. “If they can rewrite this thing to where it makes a little more sense …”

Advertisement

The board approved the new letter without discussion on Sept. 20.

It reads as follows:

Dear Congressman McClintock:

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors thanks you, in partnership with Congressman LaMalfa, for co-sponsoring and introducing HR6903 in the House of Representatives on March 2, 2022. The Board of Supervisors understands the proposed legislation has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture and Committee on Natural Resources on March 2, 2022, and subsequently referred to the Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry on March 8, 2022.

The Board of Supervisors recognizes many factors have contributed to the state of public lands within the National Forest System. Strengthening federal policies through wildfire-conscious legislation that considers ecosystem integrity and long-term forest health holds the potential to improve wildfire response in forests across the United States.

Communities and forests in Plumas County have experienced and been seriously impacted by multiple recent years of catastrophic wildfires, burning 65 percent of the Lassen National Forest and Plumas National Forest lands. The Dixie Fire in 2021 was the largest single wildfire in recorded California history burning nearly one million acres, for over three months, thru five counties (Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, and Tehama). There is a significant and fundamental need to protect communities, forest lands, and watersheds from future wildfires.

Advertisement

The Board of Supervisors supports the intent of HR6903 and its urgency for executing wildfire response activities; however, the singular expressed objective to extinguish wildfires on National Forest lands within 24 hours after the wildfire is detected removes the opportunity to assess, then take the appropriate action to address the wildfire, which may end up being suppression but also could be to utilize fire treatment practices to remove surface fuel loads, for example, which has been one of the major influences to the western states’ fuels-driven National Forest System lands wildfire crises.

As written, the bill will remove fire as a critical management tool when each forest management tool has a role to play. Once a wildfire management tool is unilaterally removed from the hands of local, state and federal decision makers that are authorized to respond to wildfire on National Forest System lands, collectively greater obstacles are faced which further limit the opportunities for innovative and collaborative solutions.

Advertisement

Please inform the Board of Supervisors as to what the County can be doing to cooperate at the federal level to support the continued development of HR6903 into a bill that will appropriately balance wildfire suppression and forest treatment needs to meet the long-term goals of community protection, forest resilience and restoration, and watershed health.

Sincerely,

Kevin Goss,

Plumas County Board of Supervisors