California Wildfires: Land Management?

California is being devastated by fires once again, one destroying the entire town of Paradise, destroying homes, cars, and killing 25 people, a second fire rages in southern California northwest of LA causing multiple homes to burn in affluent Malibu and Oak Park.  A third fire has erupted in Ventura County.   They are truly a catastrophic perpetuation of California’s human and economic toll!

While wind speeds topping 55 mph have fueled the fires and rapidly propelled them leaving little time to evacuate, the cause of the fires has yet to be officially determined.   Dry, brittle groundcover, and winds have said to be the catalyst.

Within the devastation a fight is brewing regarding land management and fire prevention management. While the IAFF, International Association of Firefighters and the California Professional Firefighters Union have called out Trump’s comment that poor management has led to the devastation, there are facts that have been liberally manipulated to serve a purpose.

1)   Yes the Federal government is tasked with managing  a portion of California’s land, that land includes national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges. It does not include towns, cities, and metropolitan areas.

2)  While the IAFF stated that percentage of Federal land in California tops 60%, that is incorrect, it is 45.8% – a statistic they should know…

2)   Governor Jerry Brown has done little to nothing to mitigate the constant drought issues that plague California creating a continuum of environmental risk.

3)   FIREPAC, through the IAFF is among the top 1% largest PAC’s in the US, it is affiliated with the AFL-CIO whose efforts are predominantly political lobbying. They did NOT support Trump’s election.

4)  The president of IAFF is Harold Schaitberger who is also a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council created March 2002 by Executive Order.  Council Members of HSCA include Bill Brattan, a Democrat, appointed by Obama.  A former NYC Police Commissioner appointed by Bill De-Blasio, he is also Co-Chair on the CBP Integrity Advisory Panel, formed as an adjunct to HSCA by Obama in 2014.

Unfortunately, the California fire situation is political.

According to the UN regarding Fire Management:   “From an assessment of megafires it was concluded that the main contributing elements of these wildfires are drought, fire meteorology, accumulation of fuel and homogenous or fire prone landscapes, which are often caused by lack of appropriate land management. 

Preventive landscape management is therefore needed and should include policy, cultural, technical, social, financial, organizational, economical and market aspects. 

For instance, large homogeneous forests and housing areas shouldn’t be established in regions with fire-prone vegetation, but different land uses should be combined to maintain mosaic features in the landscape with natural firebreaks.

Special attention should be paid to timing of certain agricultural activities e.g agricultural burning should take place before the dry season and before the surrounding landscapes turn fire-prone. Burning should also be avoided during the high winds and hottest time of the day. At the same time alternatives for agriculture fires might be developed.

Local populations should be involved through participatory and/or community based approaches because they are often main actors in landscape management activities, they suffer directly from the fires which threaten their livelihoods and might also be involved in some of the fire causes.”

Bottom line – Land Management within towns, cities and communities should include drought control and landscape features including natural firebreaks.

Is improper land management the fault of firefighters?  NO. But Trump never attributed such claims.  So why would Unions associated with Firefighters even enter the dialogue? Politics.

California is host to roughly 4,000 to 9,000 fires every year!  In 2007 and 2008 over 1.5million acres were scorched.

In 2017, California’s wildfires cost $180 billion.  California’s fire budget is $442million.  The remainder of the cost, $179,558,000,000, is paid for by taxpayers outside of California through Federal funds and increased insurance premiums.  California’s budget covered .2% of the cost.

California has been in the midst of one of the longest droughts in history lasting since December 2011 and continuing according to the US Bureau despite Gov Brown declaring it had ended in 2016.

Over 95% of fires are human caused, including intentional and negligence.

 

  • January 2017, Governor Jerry Brown released his state Budget which included: Emergency drought spending. While recent rains have drenched California, the governor’s emergency drought declaration is still in effect, and the new budget appropriates an additional $188 million in one-time resources for drought relief. Roughly half ($91 million) is allocated to CAL FIRE—the agency dedicated to fire protection and stewardship of the state’s forests—to enhance its firefighting capacities and support the removal of dead trees. The drought has contributed to widespread tree mortality, which has raised concerns that the dead trees might fuel future destructive wildfires.

And what happened to the torrential rains that drenched California?  The water evaporated unable to saturate the dry soil, there were no reservoir projects to capture the rain, and runoff spilled into the Pacific Ocean.

 

          Governor’s Budget Summary:   Based on aerial surveys, it is estimated over 102 million trees have died as a result of the drought and the effects of bark beetle infestation. In 2016 alone, it is estimated 62 million trees died and millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years. These dead and dying trees make forests more susceptible to destructive wild res and pose public safety risks from falling trees for residents and infrastructure in rural, forested communities. The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has identified high hazard zones within counties suffering tree mortality.

In October 2015, the Governor issued an emergency declaration directing state and local entities, as well as utilities, to remove dead and dying trees that threaten power lines, roads, structures, and critical community infrastructure.

The Tree Mortality Task Force continues to evaluate the most effective ways to
utilize existing resources to maximize the state and local response to the effects of tree mortality. These efforts include utilizing CAL FIRE equipment and personnel including foresters, hand crews, engine companies, and heavy equipment operators for hazardous tree removal and fuels reduction efforts.

In December 2016, CAL FIRE awarded $15.8 million in grants for a total of 107 projects across 34 counties to support local efforts to remove dead and dying trees that pose
a threat to public health and safety and projects that reduce the threat of wild res
to homes.  Butte County, where Paradise, is located received roughly $600,000, and Ventura County about $200,000.

In other words, Trump is correct.  California has done little to mitigate what the UN, CAL FIRE, and Governor Brown have declared to be the causal factor of these massive fires – land management.  The proof – to date there have been 7,579 Wildfires throughout California and two months left to go.

California Wildfires! Governor Brown Blames Trump

Trump Derangement Syndrome: a disease that medical experts claim is associated with paranoia, acute hysteria, and the inability to tolerate policy differences.  I wonder if Obamacare will pay for it?  Apparently, Governor Jerry Brown has jumped on the bandwagon claiming that his non-action in preventing California wildfires is really all Trump’s fault because Trump changed the climate. 

In 2017, over 9,000 fires burned 2.1 million acres, 43 people were killed, the cost was $13 billion, and 11,000 homes were destroyed.  So what did Governor Brown Do?

If Governor Brown was truly of the mind that climate change is causing extensive fires in California, knowing that California experiences thousands of fires each and every year, what exactly has he done to mitigate those occurrences?   Because it would seem that his methodology is to:   a.  blame Trump, and b.  ask for money.

“Forest thinning and prescribed burns — both of which aim to eliminate fire fuel before the fire occurs”  are the best method for prevention according to Mark Cochrane, a senior scientist at the Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence at South Dakota State University.

Colorado and Oregon both have in place very specific and comprehensive strategies for mitigating against fires occurring as well as response efforts.  The vast majority of fires are ‘human caused’, either accidentally or arson.   Rapid response in these instances is essential.  That requires boots on the ground.  California has 885 fire stations.  Only 25% of California firefighters are ‘career’, nearly 60% are volunteer or mostly volunteer.   Despite the rabid extent of fires in California each year, they rely predominantly on volunteers and out of state assistance!  When all is said and done, the cost is not picked up by the state, but by Federal taxpayers.

Droughts in California have occurred throughout history, they are a continuum that dates back centuries, and despite a doubling of population since 1979, not one new large-scale water project has been built!  Hollywood?  Where is you outrage?  Where are your concerts to raise money?  Where are your donations?

“Because much of California’s water network relies on a system of pumps to move water from north to south, large volumes of water are often lost to the Pacific Ocean during winter storms when river flow exceeds the capacity of the pumps. This is further complicated by environmental rules which restrict pumping during certain months of the year, to protect migrating fish. In water year 2015, 9,400,000 acre feet (11.6 km3) of water flowed through the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, but only 1,900,000 acre feet (2.3 km3) were recovered into water distribution systems.

The state’s reservoirs have insufficient capacity to balance the water supply between wet and dry years.”

It would appear that neither Governor Brown or the states spokesperson for Fire Protection are aware of the above facts which is rather frightening given they are in charge of mitigation as a result of fires.

The latest spat between Brown and Trump was over the available water to fight the fires. Oddly, despite California’s ongoing battle with droughts, water rationing, and lacking capacity reservoirs, both Governor Brown and Briana Sacks, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, claim there is ‘plenty of water’ citing Clear Lake.

Clear Lake rights are owned by Yolo County and are used for agriculture, local water companies and recreational use.  In 2014, it recorded one of its lowest levels of water after severe droughts at -.31 Ramsey.  It is heavily contaminated with high levels of Mercury and thus warnings are issued with respect to eating some of the fish.

But water rights have become the core issue for multiple lawsuits as the state of California began to declare a sort of eminent domain over county rights in 2015.  The state was attempting to curtail rights that had been on the books for a hundred years due to mounting drought problems so as to divert for state purposes rather than county or agriculture purposes.  Odd that Brown and Briana were not aware of this…

Therefore, when Brown and Briana Sacks cited Clear Lake as proof positive that California has plenty of water, their lack of knowledge was rather astounding.   The last drought period in California lasted from 2012 through 2017.

The ultimate point that both Brown and Briana seem to be missing is the fact that California wildfires are NOT mitigated, nothing has been done to prevent them, and nothing has been done to ramp up fighting the fires before they get out of control.  Nothing has been done to secure more career firefighters.  Nothing.  By continuing to do nothing, California will continue to burn.  By not providing adequate reservoirs for the population and it’s needs, California will continue to be plagued by substantial periods of severe drought resulting in depleted water sources to extinguish fires.  Pretending that the entire problem is Trump – is truly a deranged mentality. Ultimately it shows gross negligence and mismanagement… on the part of Governor Brown and his Departments.

The current Mendocino fire is the largest in history approaching 300,000 acres and just 30% contained.