Brian Dahle: Wildfires 2013: A government-sponsored disaster

Brian Dahle: Wildfires 2013: A government-sponsored disaster

10 May 2013

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USA — When severe wildfires blazed through Southern California a decade ago some people started rethinking our forest management practices. So far there has been too much thinking and not enough action. Every year since 2003 we have seen millions of dollars wasted as Cal Fire responds to the annual ritual of trying to save people and property from out-of-control catastrophic wildfires. In the next 60 to 90 days we will again see millions of dollars spent on California wildfires. Unlike earthquakes and tsunamis, wildfires are a disaster that we can see coming well before they happen.

Government’s approach to managing forests actually disrupts natural fire cycles, resulting in overloaded forests and wildfires of greater intensity and severity. Overgrown forests have an abundance of woody fuels, allowing flames to burn into the crowns of the tallest trees. When the forests were managed properly, this did not occur.

I am working with a broad and bipartisan coalition to improve forest management policy with three specific goals: reduce fuel buildup, manage forests to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, and put people back to work in our rural communities. Assembly Bill 350, authored by Assemblymen Bob Wieckowski and Frank Bigelow, is a good step in the right direction.

If we do not achieve these goals, we will again waste millions of dollars fighting fires and losing property while polluting the air we all breathe. The only employment generated will be fighting fires and cleaning up the destroyed properties.

There is a better way. Prior to joining the Brown Administration as the director of the Department of Conservation, Dr. Mark Nechodom conducted research that shows the benefits of better forest management. He wrote, “Forest thinning reduces wildfire size and severity, therefore reducing fire-generated greenhouse gas emissions, while producing renewable energy.”

Forests that are managed to thwart wildfires produce more water in our rivers and streams and clean our air. Managing forests responsibly can also create new jobs and economic activity in rural California.

The Legislature needs to consider the merits of biomass energy as a sustainable resource on a larger scale. We can use bark, sawdust, wood chips and ladder fuels to generate energy that is clean and sustainable. Dr. Nechodom estimates that biomass power can generate $1.58 billion annually in electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in those areas by 65 percent. At a time when businesses in California are paying millions of dollars to retrofit their vehicle fleets to meet new low carbon standards, it is wise to remind the California Air Resources Board that one severe forest fire in my district wipes out all of the “carbon savings” that they plan to get through increased regulation and the implementation of AB 32, the “Global Warming Solutions Act.”

Let me sum it up. If the state continues with the status quo we are walking away from renewable energy, jobs, cleaner air, carbon reduction, animal habitat, and more (and cleaner) water in our rivers and lakes.

The Air Resources Board should consider a series of regulations that hold the Forest Service to the same standards for pollution control as they do everyone else.

If they did we would see a massive change in how the forests are managed. Since they won’t, we can plan on a summer of fire and smoke.

Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, represents California’s 1st Assembly District.

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