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From the March 2014 Battle Mountain News

posted Jul 7, 2014, 11:08 AM by Joe Christy

Federal Wildfire Policy Adapting

Between 2002 and 2011, insurance companies paid $7.9 billion in wildfire related claims, up from $1.7 billion in the prior decade. While 98% of all wildfires are contained at less than 25 acres. the remaining 2%, are large, intense wildfires that have cost the Federal government $3.5 billion to fight, 2002-2011. While we saw firefighters and equipment from CAL FIRE and other fire agencies around California and neighboring states during the Lockheed Fire, Federal tax payers picked up the over $26 million tab. Last summer, the US Departments of Agriculture & Interior, the primary agencies involved with fire, burned through their fire suppression budgets by September, forcing them to shift funds away from fire prevention. Nonetheless, the 5 million acres consumed in wildfires annually, combined with 2.5 million acres of prescribed fire, is about 20% of what ecologists tell us are wildlands need to sustain themselves.

Faced with this grim reality, Federal wildfire policy is being forced to adapt. President Obama is about to propose that wildfire suppression costs be handled by those agencies the way FEMA handles disasters, with special account, outside their regular annual budget, funded to reflect the average of the prior ten years costs. Since development in the WUI is mostly regulated at the county level in the west (with some input here in California from the State), the Federal government is also seeking ways to transfer some of the fire suppression costs of that development back to counties, incentivizing them to adopt stricter standards for development. The new rallying cry for fire & resource managers in the west is “84%”, reflecting the 84% of the WUI which is not yet developed, where risk management principles could and should be applied to mitigate the staggering fire costs should they be developed.

What does this mean for Santa Cruz County, the smallest of only three in the state where the majority of the WUI has already been developed and over 90% of that development is resident's primary homes? Simple: much greater community self-reliance and effort toward wise wildfire risk reduction.

Warrenella Shaded Fuel Break

Despite prevention funding reduced by last year's suppression costs, by dint of hundreds of hours of volunteer grant writing work by our board, we were awarded $115,000, to be matched locally with another $212,000, to construct a sustainable fuel break along the Warrenella Truck Trail, where the Lockheed Fire was finally stopped, just before leaping San Vicente Creek into the Bonny Doon Road and Pine Flat neighborhoods. It's over 10 years since it has seen any vegetation management. We will be working along roughly 10 miles of road, for 100' on either side of the road, to construct a shaded fuel break which will will isolate homes in Bonny Doon from inevitable, ecologically necessary wildfire in the conservation lands beyond and which will be maintained with minimal effort. We expect funding April 1, completing the extensive environmental clearance in summer, and beginning work in the fall.

About Those Matching $'s: Monitoring BLC Crews Working in Bonny Doon

Where will that $212,000 match come from? Volunteers. For every day volunteers spend monitoring Ben Lomond Camp crews, we are credited with roughly $200 in in-kind match by that volunteer and $1,300 by the crew. If you took the “sponsor” training at the camp last year, first of all, we thank you; secondly, you don't need to repeat the training as before. We will be emailing you with details shortly. If you haven't trained, please consider attending the 4 hour training which will be held only once this year, 9am to 1pm on Thursday, March 13. Please contact Dianna Adams, 426-1610, for more information.


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