More Conservation Things to Do

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

I have a list of items that will be occupying my time this spring, and here I will simply go through them in order.

Fire Recovery and Preparedness Guide

There have been three updates. One is that, as the state office is writing a statewide manual separate from my effort, it seems that some of our thoughts about how to update the original manual are converging, and this is probably a good thing. I’ll be happy if they solve some of the issues I’ve encountered so that I can copy more than I create.

The second issue is that FEMA recently published an interesting report about all the ways it has failed to create a civilian culture of emergency preparedness in the U.S. (reported in: http://www.govtech.com/em/preparedness/Report-Weve-Failed-Miserably-at-Preparedness.html).  This is the same issue I commented on last month with my critique of the Ready Set Go booklet that San Diego County uses.  Some of FEMA’s recommendations are to realize that there’s a lot of diversity in people’s circumstances, that many of them actually already know something about preparing for emergencies, and that there’s a need to listen to these people, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all program from the top down. That’s one reason I’m still working on a local fire recovery book, even if there’s a statewide version. We need things that fit us. Feel free to pitch in if you’ve got some good homebrewed strategies for fire recovery or evacuation.

Speaking of which, I’ve received a lot of good pictures from the request last month (and thanks to a certain individual who persuaded a lot of folk to donate pictures. You know who you are!) Thank you to those who have already sent pictures to me!

That said, I’m still looking for pictures for specific topics.  If you have any you want to share, please send them to conservation@cnpssd.org.  If you want to Dropbox or mail CDs, contact me at conservation@cnpssd.org and we’ll work it out. 

Pictures I still need: 

•       Fire resistant home features

•       Fire resistant landscaping

•       Roots stabilizing burned hillsides

•       Erosion control structures, wattles, straw, etc.

•       Time sequences of areas right after a fire, one year, two years, three years, or longer

•       Pictures of leaves and acorns for our local oak species.

•       Pictures illustrating the following vegetation types: grassland, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodland, montane conifer, woody riparian

•       Wildlife tracks in ash

•       Landscapes showing the differences in plant composition of areas that burned at different times

•       Weeds invading a burned area

•       Fire followers (individual plants blooming in a burned landscape, fire-follower species, landscapes of wildflowers with burned stumps poking up)

•       Regrowth of woody plants following a fire

•       Burned neighborhoods

•       Pictures of wildfires, including embers falling, trees burning, and the like (pictures of burning palms, eucalypts, and nonnative pines are welcome).

The Vegetation Treatment Program Swarm

This is a lot less pleasant than writing about fire. Last month, the Vegetation Treatment Program came back, as a Notice of Preparation for the fifth version since 2013. Every two years, like clockwork, a new version comes out. Since this is a statewide issue, Greg Suba (the conservation director) took the lead in writing a response, and I helped him, as did a number of other chapter conservation chairs, while other environmentalists and groups like the Chaparral Institute also submitted comments. That EIR may well come out to ruin my holidays this year, as it has every other Thanksgiving or Christmas for a while.  

Unfortunately, it got worse. There’s simultaneous action in the State Senate and at our County Supervisors. You probably don’t know, but our state legislature runs on a two-year cycle; bills are proposed at the beginning of odd-numbered years, and if they don’t make it into law a few months before election in the even numbered year, they’re dead. Since our 50 assembly members can each introduce 40 bills, while our 40 state senators can each introduce 50 bills, there’s potentially a *lot* of bills to go through each February.  Fortunately, CNPS hires a part time lobbyist to help us screen them. That’s the background. 

Here’s one of the bigger problems that popped up: SB 632, introduced by Senators Cathleen Galgiani and Bill Dodd (both democrats). You can read it at https://legiscan.com/CA/text/SB632/2019, and its title is “California Environmental Quality Act: exemption: Vegetation Treatment Program.”  The key part of this 304-word bill is the following: “Section 21080.48 is added to the Public Resources Code, to read:21080.48. (a) This division [Of CEQA] does not apply to any activity or approval necessary for, or incidental to, actions that are consistent with the draft Program Environmental Impact Report for the Vegetation Treatment Program issued by the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection in November of 2017.”

You’ve read my complaints about the VTP for years, and this bill would not just make it law, it would totally exempt it from even reduced CEQA requirements. Considering the massive flaws in the VTP, I think it’s safe to say that if this became law, the Board of Forestry, through purely accidental loss of control on some small proportion of controlled burns, would become the biggest source of conflagrations in California. And that’s just the start of the bad news.

CNPS is organizing a meeting with the bill’s authors to explain how bad it is. In this case, it’s important to organize a response, so that we make sure this doesn’t pass into law. If you want to be part of that process, contact me at conservation@cnpssd.org.

The third part of the fire trifecta is that on March 12, the County Supervisors had an agenda item on “Fire Safety Improvements” at their regular meeting. I don’t know how this will have turned out, because I wrote this a day before the hearing, but a key part of the motion they are considering is to “pursue legislative changes to reduce or eliminate burdensome environmental regulations for controlled burns, and fire breaks to protect life and property.”  Sounds a lot like supporting SB 632, doesn’t it? I’m planning on being at that meeting and speaking in favor of striking that particular clause from something that I otherwise largely agree with.

What’s going on here? There’s the general perception that 2018 was one of the worst fire years on record in California. One of the rules in politics is to never let a good emergency go to waste, and it appears that the fire people have created a well-coordinated plan to push through the VTP this year, possibly because it will be a stable moneymaker for their contractors and probably for many other reasons. It looks like they’re proposing a War on Fire, and if it comes to pass, like the War on Drugs, it’s probably going to be hideously expensive, it’s probably going to have serious unintended consequences, and probably fire will be the ultimate winner.  

There are a number of things we can do to reduce fire risk, some of which have scientific evidence backing them and some of which are fairly cheap. I’d rather we spent the money doing those, rather than uselessly bulldozing the backcountry (there is good evidence this doesn’t work). If you want to support us in this effort, email me at conservation@cnpssd.org.

Otay Ranch Village 14

It’s back and heading for the County Supervisors. I talked about this last August. It was one of the flock of big developments that were to be “bundled” and heard by the Supervisors in batches. That bundling never finished, but it appears that this General Plan Amendment (GPA) development will be heading to the County Supervisors in April. This project is the worst of the flock of GPAs from last year, so far as we’re concerned. Like Newland Sierra, it would sever a wildlife corridor, put homes in a known fire area (which has burned multiple times in the last century) and harm a number of sensitive plants. We’re going to fight this one. If you want to help in the effort, especially if you’re game to write or testify, email me at conservation@cnpssd.org. You can also donate to the CNPSSD legal fund, if you feel so inclined.