Ostensibly to reduce fire hazard, a statewide plan for large-scale removal of native habitat was released. EHL took the lead in responding.

The Vegetation Treatment Program (VTP) was first released in 2013 by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) and the Board of Forestry. The intent is to change the behavior, and reduce the scope of, massive wildfires by clearing and applying herbicides, machining, and burning large swaths of native habitat. EHL and a group of fire scientists brought to light the VTP’s basic misconception: There is actually no evidence that clearing scrub and chaparral vegetation distant from structures – as proposed – would reduce the extent of wind-driven fires. Instead, a “house out” approach for reducing structure flammability and creating defensible space immediately around structures is what works.

Misunderstandings of fire ecology in the original VTP were identified by EHL and were so great that the State Legislature mandated a scientific peer review, which delivered scathing criticism of the underlying science. Despite trying to work with CalFire, the 2016 version of the plan, while correcting some of the underlying science, continued to propose the same misguided vegetation removal, to the tune of 60,000 acres per year. 

EHL organized scientific and legal comments on the draft environmental impact report (EIR) for the 2016 plan. We also offered an alternative approach of limited treatments near communities including well-placed fuel breaks for firefighting access. 

When a second revised version was released in late 2017, we found that our input had been ignored. And CalFire forced the public to review and comment all over again. EHL once again organized other conservation groups, scientists, and the law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger. New comments were filed in January 2018. 

The many tragic deaths in the recent Santa Rosa and Ventura fires and mudslides show that practices of the past have failed. If CalFire is to effectively address the fires to come, it must change outmoded strategies. We note the leadership of the California Chaparral Institute in making this case over the years.

Also, EHL condemns the continuing land use debacle across California in which local governments recklessly expand the “urban wildland interface” with dispersed development, putting ever more life at risk. Local governments cause the problem, yet pass along to the taxpayer-at-large the enormous financial cost of firefighting.