Cal Fire, Forest Service, have different missions

Cal Fire, Forest Service, have different missions

3 May 2009

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USA — The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is so focused on fire that in 2007, the agency switched its identifier, or official nickname, from CDF to Cal Fire. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service sticks to its persona as land managers who happen to fight fire.

“The Forest Service is not a fire department, it is a land management agency,” said Arlen Cravens, fire management officer for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

So, to the public, it seems that Cal Fire is quick to squelch any flames while the Forest Service seems more likely to let a fire burn. During intense fire seasons like last year, those differing perceptions can become amplified and the source of criticism.

Last year, almost 110,000 acres of the near-3 million acres protected by Cal Fire in Shasta, Tehama and Trinity counties burned, and 190,000 acres burned on the 2.1 million-acre Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

The agencies’ different approaches stem from the land they protect. While Cal Fire is primarily tasked with guarding private land, the Forest Service watches over public land it also manages.

“We are not a land management agency,” said Andy McMurry, Cal Fire’s assistant deputy director for fire protection.

Given this difference, Cal Fire usually fights fire closer to cities, suburbs and other developments than the Forest Service does.

“(The Forest Service) has responsibilities on that land other than protecting it from wildfire,” McMurry said.

Heywood said the north state has a fire-dependent ecosystem, and fire can be beneficial to the woods she oversees.

“We always will fight a fire with the land in mind,” Heywood said.

But she said the agency will fight fire aggressively if flames are threatening life or property.

Fire protection in the state is divided into thirds. Generally speaking, McMurry said, Cal Fire protects a third of the land in the state, the Forest Service another third and cities and other local governments the final third.

When Cal Fire and the Forest Service join forces in one of their jurisdictions, they’ll use the strategies of the agency in charge, McMurry said.

“We do have different missions,” he said. “We are both very understanding of that.”

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