Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county
The Los Padres National Forest and the Ventana Wilderness
Supervisors direct staff to consider environment in Wildfire Protection Plan
On September 21, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to continue work on the controversial Monterey County Community Wildfire Prevention Plan (MCCWPP). Following 2 hours of testimony, Supervisor Dave Potter made the motion to direct county staff to review questions regarding CEQA and the Community Wildfire Prevention Plan process, and to work to bring all parties together to form a collaborative Plan. The issue will return to the Board of Supervisors in November.
Recent fires have spurred local activity in producing fuel reduction plans with the goal of receiving federal funding for effective protection of life and property from wildfire. These plans are referred to as California Wildfire Prevention Plans or CWPPs. For the past year, Sierra Club had participated in development of other CWPPs in California, yet the Ventana Chapter and other conservation groups’ efforts towards collaboration were rebuffed by the Monterey County Wildfire Working Group.
The resulting Plan, released this year, included language to invalidate environmental law including CEQA, NEPA, the Coastal Act, and the Endangered Species Act. The Plan had no scientific basis for most of its claims for fuel reduction, and best available peer-reviewed science appears not to have been considered. The Plan essentially declared all rural lands in Monterey County as being in a “state of emergency” and implied that all vegetation is potentially hazardous fuel.
The intention of the September 21 hearing was to allow both sides to discuss their views for a collaborative MCCWPP. All parties agreed from the outset to support a fire plan to help firefighters, homeowners, and public agencies attract federal funding for the purpose of providing more protection from wildfire.
At the hearing, firefighters explained the difficulties and risk they experience fighting wildfires in rough terrain. They gave examples of their priorities for fuel reduction projects and expressed support for environmental law. Residents who experienced the 2008 Basin Complex Fire described the fear and loss brought about by the fire and requested approval for the current MCCWPP.
The Chapter was represented by attorney Tom Lippe, who retained legal and scientific expertise to assist in his testimony. He described ways in which the Plan could be amended to reflect the best scientific methodology and legal compliance. Forest and fire consultant Jodi Frediani described the basics of the CWPP process and listed missing components in the current plan. She recommended including specific steps that property owners could take to minimize structure ignitability, adding information about fire safe building materials, and explaining how to create defensible space and shaded fuel breaks along access routes, to make accessibility safer for fire fighters.
Tom Hopkins of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, who had reviewed other CWPPs, made suggestions on how this Plan could be brought in line with certified plans throughout the state. These other plans recognize the application of environmental law, adhere to guidelines in the CWPP handbook and provide clearly-defined criteria for priority projects. He asked the Supervisors to facilitate a more professional approach to work on developing a future Wildfire Protection Plan.
Rick Halsey of the Chaparral Institute discussed his experiences with fire management and firefighting activities in chaparral communities such as those which occur here on the Central Coast. Rich Fairbanks, fire consultant for the Wilderness Society, described methods which effectively address fire suppression and prevention specific to wilderness areas.