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Why Gov Newsom and Cal Fire have Violated the Public Trust

March 24, 2019 by CA Chaparral Institute

Governor Newsom’s Executive Order to waive environmental protection laws for a large number of Cal Fire’s habitat clearance and logging operations ignores science, dismisses the lessons of the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, and is following the pattern President Trump has established – if facts get in the way of ideology, circumvent the facts.

The back story on this is that Cal Fire has consistently failed to produce a legitimate Vegetation Treatment Plan for more than 15 years. Draft after draft repeated the same mistakes, misrepresented scientific research, contradicted itself numerous times, and relied on logical fallacies to support its misguided conclusions.

As reported in the LA Times, Cal Fire “has been struggling for the last 15 years to certify a sweeping statewide environmental impact report.”

What that actually means is that the agency has been incapable of producing a competent plan based on science and has been called on it every time. We, along with many others like the Sierra Club and CNPS, have been at the forefront of the effort to expose the agency’s failure to develop a plan that would actually protect lives and property. At every turn, Cal Fire and the California Board of Forestry have continually turned back to their outdated clearance paradigm that serves little more than supporting the biomass and timber industries and Cal Fire’s entrenched bureaucracy.

Here’s our latest comment letter on Cal Fire’s misguided approach to our wildfire crisis.

So instead of following the law and completing a competent plan as required, Cal Fire does an end run to get what it wants. This is little different than the recent case that exposed parents cheating to get their kids into the best universities. If you can’t get what you want by merit, cheat or ignore laws designed to facilitate rational outcomes.

The LA Times further reported that Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said, “the state will continue to encourage home hardening, but his agency does not have jurisdiction over local governments to require work on existing homes. He agreed that fuel breaks won’t have an impact on every fire, but said they have stopped the spread of blazes under certain wind conditions.”

This defines that real problem Californian’s face. The state agency responsible for protecting them from fire dismisses the very thing that will save the most lives and property in deference to the thing they prefer to do, clear more habitatpaul.

While it is commendable that Cal Fire acknowledges that “fuel breaks won’t have an impact on every fire,” the admission reflects the agency’s confirmation bias and blind bureaucratic inertia.

The wind-driven wildfires that kill the most people and burn the most homes are the fires where fuel breaks are irrelevant.

So why is the governor and Cal Fire ignoring the fires that cause the most devastation and failing to address the one thing that can save lives and property now (reducing community flammability)? Why has Governor Newsom ignored a comprehensive list of recommendations assembled by fire scientists, former fire officials, and environmental organizations? One explanation is that Cal Fire and the governor do not have the ability to think out of the box and listen to what the fire science community has been trying help all of us understand for decades –we have a home ignition problem, not a wildfire control problem.

Write the governor:

What the science says: