Protecting Big Sur from Wildfire, Part 5

The VWA recently published a post on their forum on the position of the Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter. The position paper can be read here:

However, much of this particular position statement is designed to inflame emotions, not deal with the facts of the plan and its creation itself. If you can read it objectively, not from any particular point of view, one can see that it is not objective, and is written in inflammatory prose. I provide just two examples below, but there are many.

For example, I would note that there are statements which are inaccurate, based on information provided to me, specifically that this process was not inclusive. My understanding, obtained from those who attended the meetings, is that the Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter WAS invited to attend any and all meetings, and had one person attend two meetings. The Plan was also open to anyone requesting access via a collaborative web site. The Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter had access to this site and made no comments to the Plan.

The fire council meetings, the basis for the creation of the MCCWPP, have always been open to any member of the public that wished to attend. So to say this plan “was completed out of public view by a handful of rural residents” is misleading, at best, and designed to create an emotional response in the reader.

Another statement is: “This degradation could result in their conversion to non-native, flammable weedlands.” The operative word is “could.” Just fighting a fire, even without firebreaks, “could” bring in non-native plant communities. (Note the difference in the language between “non-native, flammable weedlands” and “non-native plant communities.” One creates an inflammatory emotional tone, the other does not.) Of course, the destruction of native species by wildfires opens up the introduction of non-native plant communities just from the blowing of the wind. And there are many miles of open, bare earth hiking trails, some 4 feet wide, thoughout the forest and wilderness that are just as exposed to non-natives, as well.

These are just two simple examples of the concerns I have over this position paper, and offered so that you might look at the paper in a more objective fashion, without being mislead.

Below is my personal opinion, representing only 2 years of studying wildland fire behavior, reading about 2 dozen books on the subject, and living through the Wild Fire of 1996; the Kirk-Hare Complex Fire of 1999; the Plaskett II Fire of 2000; The Basin Complex Fire of 2008; The Indians Fire of 2008; and lastly (for now) the Chalk Fire of 2008. This is only my own personal opinion, after my own investigation, reading of the plan, reading the letters in favor and in opposition, and everything I could find on the subject. It does NOT represent the opinion of any other individual or group.

I posted this on the VWA forum today (with some minor editorial changes for clarity):

Re: Monterey County Deserves a professional fire prevention
by bigsurkate on Fri Sep 17, 2010 11:36 am

I love the title “Monterey County Deserves a professional fire prevention plan.” The current version of the MCCWPP was prepared by professionals – many professionals from many fields of fire prevention and forest management. It has been studied and contributed to by many others.

Reasonable people and minds can disagree. Fire science experts and legal land use experts often disagree with each other, and do over this issue, as well. There are experts on both sides in both fields. Lawyers are trained to disagree. It is how we make our living.

Most fire science experts now agree that the policies of the last 100 years of fire suppression have gotten us into a pickle. We now have more large and catastrophic fires than ever before, which burn hotter and destroy more flora and fauna. Many fires, including the Basin Fire of 2008, have burned so hot in areas that the soil has been destroyed for generations. With a CWPP in place, we can obtain federal grants to start restoring the health of our forests through careful management. It will never go back to what it was before man started meddling with Mother Nature, no matter what steps we take, but we must try to learn from our mistakes and make better choices.

As long as there is Wildland-Urban Interface, firefighters will be fighting fires in an effort to save lives, property, and the environment. Their lives are important. Let’s give them the tools they need to be safe when they are protecting us, our property, and our environment. All the local firefighting agencies are behind this plan througout Monterey County, CA State Parks, USFS among others and have indicated their support by signing the Plan. Are they not professional? Do the voices of the people who risk their lives to protect our wilderness mean nothing?

How much of the wilderness did the Basin Fire destroy? 161, 800 acres, not counting the Indians and the Chalk Fires. Some of it will come back, but some of it will not. Will the MCCWPP lessen the impact of these catastrophic fires? No one can know for sure until we try it. We know what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked. Isn’t it time to try something else?

I would add to the above VWA post this question to the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club: while you say you have “been actively involved in this process” I would like to know how many meetings did you attend? How many recommendations did you submit on the plan during its development stages?

It would appear from your own statement that your “involvement” with the plan was conducted outside the meeting process itself, by contacting legal representatives and a fire expert from Santa Cruz. “For the past year, we have retained and consulted with attorneys, fire ecologists, other scientists, and fire consultants to review and assess several fire plans.”

Approaches to forest health and fire management vary in significant ways even among those who have studied it for decades. We do not understand all the factors and influences and may never understand them. There is no “one solution” fits all. Each forest is different, each topography is different, winds react differently, and weather changes moment to moment. What we “know” now to be true, will be proven false tomorrow, when we have more information. For the vast majority of human endeavors throughout history, particularly those dealing with our planet, Mother Nature, and her environment, this has been true. It is no different for forest and fire management. Any one or group who thinks they have “the” answer is deluding themselves and misleading others.

5 thoughts on “Protecting Big Sur from Wildfire, Part 5

  1. VWA and SC wants us to believe that we are either for the environment (and their perspective) or we are for the MCCWPP. Nothing could be further from the truth. The MCCWPP is a well reasoned and balanced recommendation that embraces the environment, safety and the community. It is the result of countless hours of a public process of Monterey County residents, homeowners and fire fighting professionals with fresh experiential insight from the Basin Complex Fire of 2008. That our neighbors to the north, who were not on the frontlines, would want to misrepresent the content of this document is troubling. We know the status quo does not work and this document is an important step in enabling our county to effectively fight wildfire in the future. Anything less is going to tie the hands of our fire fighters and our homeowners.

  2. Kate,
    What you’re doing here is invaluable to professional and volunteer firefighters, residents in Big Sur and surrounding communities. Our fires can become their flash floods. Without more thoughtful planning California, its flora and fauna, could come to resemble the Southwest and northern parts of Mexico. However beautiful those areas may be, so is California. Thanks for doing more than your part to keep it the place visitors and residents cherish–and Scouts and Sierra Club folk like to hike. They deserve safe trails, not ones washed out and undermined by what’s now dubbed a fire “season.” The back country carries risks enough. We needn’t add to those with poor, failed, or lack of planning. Interview elders about Salmon Creek, Molera, and Rat Creek fires as well as those mentioned. Heads up. Firefighting nationwide became Big Business in the last decade. We need to emphasize forestry and soil conservation over planning with fire. NO fire administrator should be paid more for a larger fire. That is the ultimate disincentive for getting the job done. We don’t need an annual media circus of microphones and phonies looking pathetic and interviewing people who are coming down the highway for the first time.  Please keep using your considerable caring and knowledge in your continual effort to protect the Big Sur we (and worldwide travelers) love.
    Paula Walling

  3. Kate:
    I have read your blog for several years now and I deeply appreciate the info you provide. During the Chalk Fire especially you helped to keep us informed of the fire’s progress and the effort to contain it.

    I am reluctant to jump in here with comments, as it appears the heat extends well beyond the actual fires being discussed. I understand little of the political and social issues at play. However, while you aspire to refrain from passions and inflammatory words, I feel you instead exacerbate it. Note your words, “…have burned so hot in areas that the soil has been destroyed for generations…” or “How much of the wilderness did the Basin Fire destroy? 161, 800 acres, not counting the Indians and the Chalk Fires. Some of it will come back, but some of it will not.”

    This is the same short-sighted and sensationalistic trap all too many TV anchors fall in when reporting on the evening news. Housing developments destroy wild lands, not fires. I have been through Marble Cone, Rat and Hare fires. On and around Highland’s Peak at Big Creek, the Rat and Hare fires burned hot; so hot, it was a barren moonscape in the aftermath. Even to this day there remain vast hollows in the ground where tree root systems incinerated. But destroyed it is not. Wild flowers, shrubs, tress all abound. There is a marvelous and resilient surge of Nature to regenerate and flourish.

    For you to dramatically declare woe serves to perpetuate exactly what you decry in the position paper you seek to rebut.

    Again, I seek not to cast a broad indictment of your work, but rather point out that you undercut your own position by your words. This is a narrow comment, focused only on the effects of fire on Nature. Fire does destroy the things we build and possess, and therein lies the catastrophe you describe.

  4. Who was it that said , ” The More we Burn, the More We Earn ” ? Over heard at a fire camp !

    Why is it that city dwellers know better than the folks who actually live on the land ?

    Why is it that Park managers in Washington DC , know better than locals ?

    Where was the Sierra Club on the Diablo Cyn Nuclear plant , in favor of course !

    Stand Your Ground ,,, So sorry that the city is still crowding you ,,,,

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