Where We Stand: Keep our Forests

Editor’s note: Portola resident Dave Valle submitted this declaration signed by a former governor and a host of forest experts including two Plumas County residents. “This recent proposal for forest management is excellent,” Valle said. “Kudos to former Governor Brown for gathering experts to address this issue including Jonathan Kusel and others from our area of Northern California. It’s brief, concise and offers real remedies to guide our crisis with forest health and fire threat. Hope for implementation in the near future. Spread Declaration to those in the local, state and federal agencies and politicians, and interested private partners or corporations.

 

A Declaration, and Call to Action, from California’s Scientists, Land Managers and Former Government Leaders California is facing a forestry and fire crisis.

Over the past 16 months, more than 6 million of California’s 33 million acres of forestland have burned. At this rate — which will only accelerate with climate change — it’s possible that in the next 10 to 20 years most of California’s forestland will burn and, by mid-century, much of California’s forests will be lost. Landscapes that have been treasured for centuries will be unrecognizable.

The clean water, fresh air, carbon sequestration, forest products, recreation and biodiversity these forests make possible will disappear. And toxic air pollution and smoke will continue to choke communities across California.

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With this in mind and with smoke still lingering in the air from one of California’s worst summers of wildfires on record, a group of scientists, forestry and resource professionals and community leaders met at the Mountain House, located in the historic Venado district of West Colusa County, to set forth a credible action plan.

These leaders shared their perspectives, catalogued the massive challenges facing the state and agreed on a set of principles to guide the management of our forests — and most importantly, reached consensus on what must be done.

What follows is the Venado Declaration:

THE FACTS

●Wildfires are getting larger and lives and property are being lost. California’seight largest wildfireson recordhave all burned over the past four years. Overthe past decade, more than 43,000 structures have been destroyed and 173 lives have been lost.

● Wildfires are burning with greater intensity, permanently transforming landscapes. High-severity fire begets more high-severity fire, transitioning forests to shrubs and grasses over time (Taylor et al. 2021).  In 2021, the Dixie Fire grew 100,000 acres in one day—much of which burned at high severity. The 2020 Castle Fire killed more than 10 percent of the world’s mature giant sequoia trees (Stephenson and Brigham 2021), and more giant sequoiasvwere lost to fires this year.

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● Wildfires are hurting our economy. California’s 2018fire season led to nearly $150 billion in economic losses, including $27.7 billion in capital losses, $32.2 billion in health costs and $88.6 billion in indirect losses, impacting industries and sectors statewide far from where fires burned (Wang et al. 2020).

● Wildfires are hurting our health. Smoke exposure, even at minimal levels, can significantly increase risk of pre-term birth (Heft-Neal et al. 2022) and other health problems, including death. Many urban areas in California have seen dramatic increases in smoke days in recent years, including San Jose (up 400%) and LA (up 230%).

● Active and dynamic land management protects communities and improves forest health.Active management, fire use and intact fire regimes can increase forest resilience, overcome the effects of climate change, increase water availability and biodiversity and mitigate health impacts of wildfire (Taylor et al. 2016,Koontz et al. 2020,Stephenset al. 2020, Burke et al. 2021).

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● Fuel modification and home hardening can also reduce structure loss and save lives.(Knapp et al. 2021).

OUR PRINCIPLES

●Invest in sustained, proactive solutions that match the state’s challenges. Proactive investments need to be scaled to match fire suppression spending. In 2020 alone, more than $5 billion was spent suppressing fire in California, but only a fraction of that was proactively spent on improving forest health, reducing hazardous fuels and bolstering community resilience. It’s time to shift the fire paradigm from one of suppression and exclusion, to one of stewardship and adaptation.

● Address forest resiliency on every acre. We know that fire will eventually impact all of the landscape, so we must have a plan to address forest resiliency on every acre. Planned fuels treatments should include the use of fire whenever possible to increase the amount of forestland treated. For example, a proactive policy and regulatory strategy is needed to maintain future forest health. NEPA and CEQA should be updated to consider the detrimental impacts of decades of fire suppression on our forested landscapes and the importance of beneficial fire on maintaining forest health.

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● Partner and collaborate in new and unprecedented ways. Living with fire and making this paradigm shift requires new, unique partnerships and necessitates co-ownership of fire management and shared responsibility across all levels of government and with private, tribal, and community-based groups. The focus should be on shared values, shared vision, and shared investments, with a central recognition that fire is a natural and essential part of the California landscape.

● Redefine and broaden how success is measured. Ratherthan simply counting acres treated, we should consider other factors, such as jobs created, people trained, increases in water yield, water quality, publichealth improvements, homes hardened and processingfacilities developed.

URGENT ACTIONS

● Spend $5 billion annually on proactive management .Allocate $5 billion per year from public/private sources for proactive fuels reduction, workforce development, infrastructure, and other facets of community fire adaptation.

● Build infrastructure to support this work.Investin strategically located infrastructure, including biomass facilities and sawmills, to process forest products, treat waste material, and provide energy.

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● Leverage R&D and new technology.Invest in research,innovation, and technology to stimulate improvements in planning, new value-added products, and project coordination.

● Increase the state’s capacity to conduct prescribed burns.Develop and fund a collaborative California prescribed fire training center that builds capacity for prescribed fire across federal, state, tribal, and private lands. Continue to support statutory liability protections and insurance solutions for prescribed fire practitioners in California.

● Create jobs and train workers. Invest in jobs andtraining programs to build a robust and diversified workforce. Jobs and training should service a broad spectrum of related skills and disciplines, including everything from fuels reduction and prescribed fire to public health and landowner and industry assistance.

● Support initiatives to protect communities and property.vInvest in home hardening and community wildfire protection planning, and support 100 percent compliance in defensible space projects.

● Amend and adapt state and federal law so it’s consistent with the current crisis.Reinterpret and implement state and federal laws within the current context of fire, climate change, and drought.

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Signed by:

Edmund G. Brown Governor of California, 1975-83, 2011-19

Jonathan Kusel, Ph.D. Executive Director Sierra Institute for Community and Environment

Ryan Tompkins Forester & Natural Resources Advisor Univ. of Calif. Cooperative Extension: Plumas, Sierra, & Lassen Counties

Ken Pimlott CAL FIRE Director, 2010-18

Marshall Burke Associate professor of Earth System Science Stanford University

Jason Carlson Vice President & General Manager, California OperationsGreen Diamond Resource Company

Chris Chase General Manager California Operations Timber Products Company Michigan-California Timber Company

Brandon Collins Associate Adjunct Professor UC Berkeley

Nick Goulette Executive Director Watershed Research & Training Center

Niel Fischer, RPF #2448, Esq Western Resource Manager Collins

Don Hankins, Ph.D. ProfessorCalifornia State University Chico

Michelle Medley-Daniel Deputy Director Watershed Research and Training Center

Malcolm North Dept of Plant Sciences University of California

Davis Lenya N. Quinn-Davidson Area Fire Advisor, University of California Cooperative Extension Director, Northern California Prescribed Fire Council

Carl Skinner Research Geographer (Fire) Retired

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Dan Tomascheski Vice President Resources Sierra Pacific Industries

Yana Valachovic, RPF #2740 Forest Advisor and County Director University of California Cooperative Extension- Humboldt and Del Norte Counties

Michael Wara Director, Climate and Energy Policy Program Senior Research Scholar, Woods Institute for the Environment Stanford University

Allison Wolff CEOVibrant Planet