Combating Wildfires in California

Combating the Wildfire Issue in California needs to be more than just rhetoric. Californians need these efforts to be effective. Our lives and our future depend on it. 

As a retired Fire Battalion Chief and firefighter serving in the State of California for 35 years, I have experienced firsthand the dangerous, devastating, and life-altering effects a fire can have on families and businesses in our communities.

The addition of more firefighters to the frontlines is important, as is the addition of valuable aerial firefighting equipment to help with quickly extinguishing fires at their inception. However, having the resources to fight these fires after they start is only part of the solution. 

Important prevention efforts are essential but all too often hampered by overbearing State and Federal environmental regulations that have affected our ability to control and reduce the abundance of fuels in a responsible and effective way for decades. Efforts to clear dead brush, thin out overgrown forests, or cut back to provide defensible space around homes and other structures have been slowed or greatly hampered by bureaucratic red tape.

Managing unhealthy forests, overgrown State Resource areas, poorly maintained open space areas around neighborhoods and our urban/wildland interface areas must be a top priority in addressing the continuing and growing threat of wildfire.

Many politicians want to focus on invoking drastic and expensive climate-change related regulations as a means to address wildfire concerns, but it will take years to actually produce any results, if at all.  What we have control of now is fuel management.

While the State Legislature did just approve a $536 million spending package to address some of these issues, it is too premature to claim victory, as it does little to remove the environmental roadblocks these projects will face once identified. We need to keep working on addressing the real barriers. We can do better.

This session, I have introduced AB 380, which further implements the Governor's State of Emergency Order to provide the CA Department of Forestry and Fire Protection with the tools and means necessary to efficiently identify, approve, and complete priority fuel reduction projects around communities that are at the greatest risk to wildfires.

I have also joined with Assemblyman Gallagher to co-author AB 297, which addresses some of the immediate obstacles preventing critical progress by providing funding for fire prevention, eliminating regulatory hurdles to completing important fire prevention projects, and providing incentives for industries to utilize wood products.

As we add more on-the-ground resources to the Federal and State firefighting effort, those resources can be put to immediate use in accomplishing a comprehensive fuel management effort for all types of fuel hazards found in California.  We need to change our thought process in terms of environmental permitting to allow these projects to be identified and carried out as expeditiously as possible. 

Wildfires are among the largest and most costly environmental disasters in our history.  Ironically, many of our environmental regulations have made the situation worse.  We need common-sense relief from regulations that slow down or stop fire mitigation projects so they can be successfully accomplished in a timely manner. 

For too long, California has only reacted to our wildfire disasters. It is time we take a PROACTIVE approach, have the difficult conversations, and take the necessary actions for real change.