Congressman Doug LaMalfa issued the following statement after the Butte Safe Fire Council reported that the California Environmental Quality Act had delayed fire mitigation projects in Berry Creek for 18 months prior to the North Complex West Zone fire. In August 2018, the council secured a $836,365 grant to create fuel breaks, reduce vegetation in the area and clear fuels along evacuation routes but was never able to begin the process due to the lengthy CEQA delay.
Berry Creek was destroyed by the North Complex West Zone on Sept. 8 and 9. The fire is currently 77,749 acres and is 30 percent contained and 865 structures have been destroyed and 15 people have been killed.
“There is an immediate need for better forest and vegetation management in California,” LaMalfa said. “The state’s inability to simplify environmental review processes to get these projects started in a reasonable time was catastrophic for Berry Creek. The CEQA process has been weaponized to hold up all manner of projects affecting public safety, whether it be highway safety corridor upgrades, levee projects to prevent floods, or forestry projects that help prevent or manage fire, CEQA has been abused. We need to find a way to accelerate these processes in high-risk fire areas, so that we can timely reduce the fuel load and make our area less likely to burn.
“In just the past two years, we have seen two completed vegetation management projects used to successfully decrease fire intensity and save parts of California’s First District from wildfires. In Susanville, a recently created firebreak significantly slowed the Sheep Fire and saved the area from further destruction. In 2018, trees near Paradise Lake were successfully thinned, saving the entire region’s cornerstone water supply from being destroyed in the Camp Fire. Contrary to the misguided environmental policies California has been pushing for 40 years, forest management actually works. Sacramento needs to get out of the way from getting these projects done, because the risk of more destructive fire is too high to ignore.”
LaMalfa has introduced H.R. 7978, the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act, legislation that would streamline vegetation management projects on federal lands in the West, incentivize the collection of biomass, and create forestry jobs to improve our forest health and rural economy.