CalFire Vegetation Treatment Program challenged in court
EHL and the California Chaparral Institute filed litigation against a giant yet misguided program that will not stop wind-driven firestorms.
Since 2013, EHL has devoted time and resources to fighting the Vegetation Treatment Program, or VTP. The VTP seeks to “treat” native vegetation with fire, herbicides, mowing, mastication, clearing, and grazing – ostensibly to reduce fire hazard to California communities.
Over successive iterations of an environmental impact report, we have brought scientific expertise to bear contradicting CalFire’s approach, and fashioned legal comments. Yet CalFire and its parent agency, the California Board of Forestry have not listened. Also, presumably acting upon bad information, the last two Governors have pushed this program forward, with Governor Newsom escalating the target for habitat destruction and degradation from 60,000 to 250,000 acres per year. Initially, CalFire’s science was so bad that the state Legislature commissioned a scathing peer review.
The scientifically sound approach is to curtail new home development in fire-prone locations, make existing homes more fire resistant, reduce ignitions along roadways, clear immediately around structures, provide access routes for fire-fighters, and improve community evacuation. This approach accounts for the fact that structure loss is mainly due to wind-borne embers traveling long distances. CalFire, however, wants to clear vast landscapes distant from communities, not recognizing that young vegetation also burns and that treatments will eventually lead to “type conversion” of chaparral and coastal sage scrub to flammable weeds.
CalFire even admits that the entire VTP effort will not help stop the wind-driven fires that cause the tragic loss of life and the overwhelming majority of property loss. Feeding what has become a multi-hundred million dollar “disaster-industrial” complex, CalFire has repurposed the program as providing marginal benefit to non-wind-driven fires, which come under control anyway. The VTP is a taxpayer boondoggle that wildlife will pay for even more dearly.
EHL seeks to reform this program in pragmatic ways. Even though CalFire and the Board of Forestry refused to meet with us prior to releasing the final VTP, we nevertheless hope that litigation under CEQA and other laws will catalyze constructive, fact-based dialogue. For a press release, please click here
The two lead plaintiffs are EHL and California Chaparral Institute; other groups may join. We are represented by the law firm of DeLano and DeLano.