Nevada County Board of Supervisors endorse congressional fire bill
Special to the Sierra Sun
In a four-to-one vote on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors supported a congressional bill that provides additional weight in a national effort to contain wildfires.
Co-sponsored by Representative Tom McClintock and Rep. Doug LaMalfa, the bill was brought to the board’s attention by District 3 Supervisor Dan Miller.
The bill would require the U.S. Forest Service to suppress wildfires on National Forest System lands immediately.
“It’s a bill that kind of piggybacks on what we experienced last year with the Caldor and Dixie fires, with the loss of human life and property that prompted the congressmen to bring the bill before Congress,” Miller said.
Other counties such as Placer, Amador, El Dorado, and Alpine have endorsed the bill, and the cities of Roseville and Rocklin. Kimberly Pruett, community outreach director for Rep. McClintock, testified before the board for its support. Pruett pointed out that the fires around Markleeville and Lake Tahoe last summer ruined the tourism economy they rely upon for significant revenue.
“This bill gives a lot of latitude, and you need all the tools at your disposal because mutual aid agreements usually last only a limited time,” Pruett said. “Last summer’s fires were catastrophic. The Dixie Fire alone burned 963,276 acres. We’re all for fire management, but we have to support that with all available resources to get out these fires immediately.”
ONE NO VOTE
District 1 Supervisor Heidi Hall opposed the letter of support, explaining that many fire agencies are not supporting the bill because it is broad and vague.
“I’d love to see this bill be more specific, clarify issues and come back to the board for review,” Hall said. “But it takes us back to the old suppression policies that got us here in the first place. This letter to NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) is pretty adamant and is signed by numerous scientists. I’m not sure why it is being brought to the board as vague as it is now.”
Hall read a quote from the letter, which said, “Attempting to extinguish all fires is a losing proposition that is based on a misunderstanding of current policy and an outdated notion of what is operationally feasible. It takes tools out of the management toolbox at a time when we need them the most. And it disregards local knowledge, ecology, needs and opportunities.” Dozens of academics and others signed the letter, including Lenya Quinn-Davidson, area fire advisor/director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, University of California, Cooperative Extension.
Miller explained that some of the fire agencies took a no position on the bill because inter-agency cooperation has to be there.
“For instance, in the Tamarack Fire, Cal Fire responded, and the Forest Service called them off,” Miller said. “When you come upon a fire, and the Forest Service sends out a guy in a pick-up truck to verify if a fire is actually occurring … well, if you’re going to verify, go out in a fire truck, it’s got water on it, and that is what you have to have.”
Miller went on to say that the bill implies the Forest Service needs to use all the resources outside its organization to put out fires, especially during fire season.
Supervisor Susan Hoek also noted the role science and forest management have played in leading to this bill.
“There’s a ton of work that goes into prescribed burns,” Hoek said. “All the preparation as well as the folks needed to come in to manage it. And the window of prescribed burns is shortening. Fire season is nearly year-round. This bill says we need to make a change. So we have to give the Forest Service a tool that says you can call in somebody else for fire.”
The bill was introduced five weeks ago and has now been referred to the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Natural Resources for review by the Speaker of the House.
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com
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