Fired Up over forest flames
Enviros throw cold water on new wildfire prevention proposal.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Following the 2008 Basin Complex and Indians fires, locals agreed there’s a need to form a comprehensive plan to prepare for the next inevitable wildfire in Big Sur and the Los Padres National Forest.
But a new Monterey County Community Wildfire Protection Plan put forth by the volunteer Monterey Fire Safe Council is heating up local environmental groups, including the Ventana Wilderness Alliance and the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Kelly O’Brien, president of MFSC’s board of directors, says her group developed the 90-plus-page plan to streamline regulatory processes for fuel reduction and ensure that local fire agencies will have to listen to the views of local residents.
“They would have to consider community input if and only if the community had a CWPP in place,” she says. “That was just the vehicle for the community having a say, and the Forest Service listening.”
O’Brien contends that if the county supervisors sign off on the plan, which would be necessary to secure funding for the document’s proposals, it would be a win-win for local residents. CAL FIRE, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have already approved the plan.
“If you have this in place and the Forest Service and BLM can use it to get money, then they will hire local people to do this kind of work, so it brings money into the community and makes it safer,” O’Brien says.
While the Ventana Wilderness Alliance and the local chapter of the Sierra Club agree a community wildfire protection plan should be in place, they each wrote letters to the Board of Supervisors opposing the MFSC’s proposal.
The Sierra Club doesn’t understand why the plan calls for fuel reduction on such a large scale.
“They are proposing fuel modification on 60 percent of the land of Monterey County,” says Julie Engell, a member of the conservation committee of the Sierra Club’s Ventana Chapter.
She believes the plan intends to undermine environmental regulation in its pursuit to reduce local fuels for wildfires.
“They are proposing to do this with no environmental review,” she says. “They don’t want to be constrained by permitting processes.’’
In an e-mail, Ventana Wilderness Alliance President Tom Hopkins outlines one reason why his organization is against the plan in its current form.
“The Monterey County plan calls for 60 miles of bare-earth fire breaks up to 30 feet wide on National Forest lands,” he writes. “Permanent bare-soil firebreaks cause soil erosion that contributes increased sediment load to steelhead and other aquatic habitats. They also become pathways for invasive non-native plant species, which are often a greater fire hazard than native vegetation.”
The supervisors were originally scheduled to hold an hour-long meeting about the plan in August, but due to the disagreements, an up-to-two-hour workshop is now set for Sept. 21. The workshop will include presentations by county staff, the Monterey Fire Safe Council and those opposing the document.
Kathleen Lee, chief of staff for Supervisor Dave Potter, sums up a growing consensus on the plan.
“There is a strong interest in the concept,” she says, “but the devil is in the details.”