I just got a call from County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. I had hoped to talk to her before putting together this story we ran today but she and I didn’t connect in time.
Last month, the Board of Supervisors approved a proposal made by Supervisor Bill Horn to study using controlled burns and other vegetation management methods in some parts of the county which have become overgrown in recent years.
As I noted in my story, some local environmentalists aren’t too pleased about the idea of using controlled burns. They dispute whether the burns are necessary and said claims that controlled burns replicate natural wildfires are misleading.
The environmentalists I spoke to also raised objections to comments Jacob made at the Board of Supervisors meeting. After Horn had concluded his presentation, Jacob said she agreed with his plan.
Then Jacob addressed another issue — the legal requirement that fire agencies complete an environmental impact report, a document required under state law for any project that could have a significant effect on the environment, before conducting controlled burns on areas of overgrown vegetation.
Jacob said she thinks the requirement for an EIR for these sorts of fire protection measures has hindered fire agencies in their efforts to protect county residents.
One of the other problems in being aggressive with these actions is the requirement that there has to be an environmental impact report. I think that that’s another part that perhaps you might want to consider — that we ask that that be waived so we can get these areas under control before the next major event.
The environmentalists loved that one.
Richard Halsey, director of the California Chaparral Institute, a nonprofit environmental group, wasn’t happy. He said much of the land the county owns is land that it has been gifted or has acquired through the Multiple Species Conservation Program.
“This is land that people have donated money to buy, public citizens. They have given this land to the county with the promise that they would protect them forever,” he said.
I asked Jacob to elaborate on the comments she made at the meeting.
She said on many occasions, during past wildfires, she’s talked to fire officials who have expressed their frustration at not having been able to cut or burn fire breaks in an area before the land was burned by wildfires.
Time after time, Jacob said, she’s heard from fire officials that they have had to wait as long as two years to get environmental clearance to complete a controlled burn or to cut a fire break in an overgrown area. That’s frustrated her, she said.
“To me, life safety issues take precedence over environmental issues,” she said. “We’re not ruining the environment — fire’s a natural part of our ecology.”
Jacob said probably the best way to try and sidestep the environmental regulations needed to complete fire burns on county-owned land will be to seek legislation that would give the county a waiver on environmental reviews in certain circumstances. She said she’s approached legislators with that idea, but that it’s been tough to drum up support.