FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail

California’s current approach to wildfires is pouring more and more money into subsidizing logging and fire suppression, often in remote areas. This strategy isn’t working. In recent years we have experienced skyrocketing state expenditures for this policy, paired with unprecedented loss of lives and homes.

California is filled with forests and other ecosystems where wildfire is a natural and necessary occurrence. Many California communities are built next to these habitats. Rather than trying to alter wildfire behavior across millions of acres of fire-dependent ecosystems, wouldn’t it be more sensible to focus on keeping fire from coming into our homes where it doesn’t belong?

This can readily be achieved by retrofitting homes to have fire-resistant features such as non-flammable roofs and vent screens that keep burning embers out, while trimming vegetation within a 100-foot radius. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has described this approach as “working from the home outward.”

This approach has proven to be highly effective, such as during the 2017 La Tuna Fire in Los Angeles, where community preparation saved more than 99% of the houses in the path of a large wildfire. However, many communities are not properly prepared, and currently California is not putting enough resources into ensuring that the necessary retrofits are made.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has an opportunity to guide California’s wildfire policies toward a new strategy that prioritizes working from the home outward.  Upon taking office, Newsom ordered CalFire to produce new recommendations for state wildfire policy. Unfortunately, CalFire is a state agency long entrenched in a logging-and-suppression approach, and its recommendations doubled down on business as usual, with more than $100 million per year directed to tree-cutting and related activities.

Interestingly, the CalFire report briefly acknowledged the effectiveness of fire-safe homes, but then didn’t recommend directing any funding for that purpose. What was perhaps most striking about the report was that it made no attempt to ask the crucial question: Which actions would produce the biggest public safety benefits per dollar spent? That analysis would show home retrofits offer the most effective and cost-efficient way to protect our communities from inevitable wildfires.

There are some positive signs of greater attention on working from the home outward. Another recent fire policy report ordered by the governor included some discussion of home retrofits (but again did not compare which actions produce the greatest safety benefits). And during a recent speech in the East Bay, Newsom touted a new app with information about home safety steps. However, his revised state budget allocates nothing for a proposed fund to help homeowners take these steps.

To quote the famous movie line, “Show me the money.” When will California allocate significant resources to help communities implement these needed home fire-safety retrofits? The money is available, but it is instead currently being steered mainly toward old-strategy actions such as more tree cutting.

For example, California received $70 million of federal housing funds for community wildfire safety, and the state is now directing that money to cut down ecologically important habitat created by the 2013 Rim Fire in remote national forest lands far from any communities. Wouldn’t those funds be better spent helping fire-affected communities such as Paradise rebuild in fire-safe ways?

By focusing state resources on directly preparing communities to safely coexist with fire-dependent ecosystems, Newsom can save lives and homes, save taxpayers’ money, and generate home-retrofitting jobs in a new strategy that is also more ecologically appropriate. To achieve this change, he should look for guidance beyond the people who have championed the old approach.

Douglas Bevington is forest director for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s California Program. He compiled the DiCaprio Foundation report “A New Direction for California Wildlife Policy: Working from the Home Outward.

This essay originally appeared in the East Bay Times.

More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 25, 2019
Rannie Amiri
Instigators of a Persian Gulf Crisis
Patrick Cockburn
Trump May Already be in Too Deep to Avoid War With Iran
Paul Tritschler
Hopeful Things
John Feffer
Deep Fakes: Will AI Swing the 2020 Election?
Binoy Kampmark
Bill Clinton in Kosovo
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Japanese Conjuncture
Edward Hunt
Is Mexico Winding Down or Winding up the Drug War?
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump’s Return to Full-Spectrum Dominance
Steve Kelly
Greed and Politics Should Not Drive Forest Policy
Stephen Carpa
Protecting the Great Burn
Colin Todhunter
‘Modified’: A Film About GMOs and the Corruption of the Food Supply for Profit
Martin Billheimer
The Gothic and the Idea of a ‘Real Elite’
Elliot Sperber
Send ICE to Hanford
June 24, 2019
Jim Kavanagh
Eve of Destruction: Iran Strikes Back
Nino Pagliccia
Sorting Out Reality From Fiction About Venezuela
Jeff Sher
Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change
Howard Lisnoff
“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran”
Robert Fisk
The West’s Disgraceful Silence on the Death of Morsi
Dean Baker
The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story
David Mattson
The Gallatin Forest Partnership and the Tyranny of Ego
George Wuerthner
How Mountain Bikes Threaten Wilderness
Christopher Ketcham
The Journalist as Hemorrhoid
Manuel E. Yepe
Yankee Worship of Bombings and Endless Wars
Mel Gurtov
Iran—Who and Where is The Threat?
Wim Laven
Revisiting Morality in the Age of Dishonesty
Thomas Knapp
Facebook’s Libra Isn’t a “Cryptocurrency”
Weekend Edition
June 21, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Brett Wilkins
A Brief History of US Concentration Camps
Rob Urie
Race, Identity and the Political Economy of Hate
Rev. William Alberts
America’s Respectable War Criminals
Paul Street
“So Happy”: The Trump “Boom,” the Nation’s Despair, and the Decline of Joe Biden
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ask Your Local Death Squad
Dr. Vandana Shiva
Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food
Eric Draitser
The Art of Trade War: Is Trump Winning His Trade War against China?
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s Russian Problem
Jonathan Cook
Forget Trump’s Deal of the Century: Israel Was Always on Course to Annexation
Andrew Levine
The Biden Question
Stanley L. Cohen
From Tel Aviv to Tallahassee
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Collapses 70 Years Early
Kenn Orphan
Normalizing Atrocity
Ajamu Baraka
No Dare Call It Austerity
Ron Jacobs
The Redemptive Essence of History
David Rosen
Is Socialism Possible in America?
Dave Lindorff
The US as Rogue Nation Number 1
Joseph Natoli
The Mad King in His Time
David Thorstad
Why I’m Skipping Stonewall 50
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail