My Turn: Court, Sierra Club increase fire danger
The Sierra Club made a costly decision in filing a lawsuit before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court’s decision sets back recent progress in fire safety, could cost lives and property and devastate the environment.
In Sierra Club v. Bosworth the court stopped the U.S. Forest Service program of cutting brush and thinning dead and dying trees to protect communities from catastrophic wildfires. Devastating fires have raged throughout California in recent years killing people, burning millions of acres, and forcing the evacuations of hundreds of thousands of residents.
The court’s actions have the same results as an arsonist stacking up combustible fuel and setting fires. We know what happens in the Sierra where we’ve had the Gap, Ralston and Star fires, and in June the Angora Fire burned 3,100 acres and destroyed 254 homes.
I urge my friends in the Sierra Club to understand that vital natural resources are endangered. Specifically, the decision will halt a Cascade Properties project intended to protect Emerald Bay, one of the most beautiful spots on earth. A fire starting at the popular tourist beaches to the south would destroy 100 homes and burn into Emerald Bay.
Thankfully, at Kingswood West, off Highway 267, a project to clean chest-high dead white fir threatening 200 homes and wildlife habitat escaped the court’s decision.
The Sierra Club alleged, and the court incorrectly ruled, that the Forest Service did inadequate environmental analysis on its hazard reduction program. Steve Eubanks, supervisor of the Tahoe National Forest, says the individual fuels reduction projects perform the same level of analysis as environmental assessments under the National Environmental Protection Act, with less paperwork and shorter delays.
Now unnecessary repetition of the very same environmental work and critical delays on every project may cost lives and environmental value. Eubanks disagrees that the forestry projects are “a gross abuse of discretion.” The claim that clearing brush and trimming and thinning trees are a “ramping up of logging with limited environmental review” is also false.
John Picket is the Tahoe Basin coordinator for the Nevada Fire Safe Council, a forestry manager and Sierra Club member. Pickett walks Sierra forests marking dead, dying and thick trees for removal, but he has “never marked a tree for its economic value” and knows no Forest Service employee who does so. Pickett and others in the business of protecting lives, property and, yes, environment, are stewards of the environment.
Monster fires fill the air with tons of carbon, destroy watersheds, sterilize soil, hasten soil erosion and kill fish, wildlife and habitat. Fire after fire, we learn what burns and what doesn’t. We know the value of cutting brush, thinning trees to provide defensible space, fuels reduction and healthy forests.
A consensus has emerged on what to do. Sen. Dianne Feinstein led the enactment of the bipartisan Healthy Forest Restoration Act in 2003 to reduce fuels and, yes, protect old-growth trees. In 2004, the environmentally conscious California Legislature increased defensible space from 30 to 100 feet. Calfire has assisted fire districts with defensible space inspections to comply with the 100-foot standard.
After the Angora Fire, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons established the California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission to clean up the regulatory underbrush. Following public outrage over regulatory obstacles, even the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency increased the size of trees that may be thinned without a permit from 6 inches to 14 inches.
After his home burned in the Angora Fire, Harold Singer, executive officer of the California Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board said, “I have called fire officials and they’ve said that (Angora) stream zone was the primary path of the fire.”
Singer’s board streamlined permits to reduce hazardous fuels and is seriously considering using low-impact equipment as well as hand tools to remove excess fuels from meadows and stream zones.
Surely the Sierra Club is out of touch with the people, their elected representatives
and their civil servants.
I’m trying to do my part reforming TRPA, pushing the enactment of a Placer County ordinance removing hazardous vegetation between adjacent private properties. I’m fighting to give Placer’s tree ordinance a critically needed upgrade to recognize that when you save the wrong trees, you burn down houses, endanger people and harm the environment. I’ve worked through the chipper and box programs to get forest waste to biomass plants.
The court’s decision and the Sierra Club’s complicity could halt these important efforts. The cost of delay will be counted in lives, property and our environment. The decision also risks the credibility and future of the Sierra Club and the legitimacy of our judicial system.
“It is time for the Sierra Club to stop its broad brush condemnation of all forest thinning operations,” said Pickett, who invited, “Anyone to put on some boots and get out on the ground and see what we do.” Call him at 775-220-7675.
I too look forward to an opportunity to work with the Sierra Club and forest professionals in cooperative relationships to bring us back from potential catastrophic wildfires, which none of us want.