2 California Bills Aim To Use Prescribed Burns To Improve Wildland Fire Protection – Times-Standard

As wildfires devour California’s barren landscape, two bills to use prescribed burning to improve wildfire prevention efforts have been passed by the Legislature and await Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature. .

Bill 642, introduced by Assembly Member Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) and co-sponsored by Assembly Member Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa), would require the Director of Forestry and Protection Fire Protection “identifies areas of the state as moderate and areas of high fire severity” and would require the director to appoint a cultural burn liaison who “would sit on the State Fire Services Board and advise the (director) on the development of an increased cultural burning activity, ”among other tasks.

Craig Tucker, natural resource policy consultant for the Karuk Tribe, said AB 642 elevates tribal prescribed burn efforts “to the point where the tribes will be seen as true partners at the state level.”

“For the first time in state law, (AB 642) defines the cultural fire practitioner and the cultural fire that really elevates what tribes have done with prescribed burning since the beginning of time,” Tucker said. . “… Some of these burns are rooted in traditional ecological ceremonies and knowledge and the state is recognizing this for the first time. It’s really important to us.

Senate Bill 332, introduced by State Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and co-sponsored by Wood, would amend state law to ease restrictions on prescribed burning.

“One of the barriers to the broader use of prescribed burning to manage our landscapes is related to California’s liability laws,” Tucker explained. “If you are a burn supervisor and someone hires you to supervise a prescribed burn – the way the law is written right now – you are held to a simple standard of negligence. Even if you follow all of your license conditions to burn, and in the unlikely event that the burn escapes you and damages property, you can be sued for anything you own.

SB 332 would amend the law to require demonstration of a standard of gross negligence “before they can be held liable for the payment of fire extinguishing costs, unlike the current standard of simple negligence,” according to the text of the bill.

“With a gross negligence standard, you really have to show that you were incompetent, that you didn’t follow the rules and if something bad happened, you are held accountable,” Tucker explained. “As is the case in California, it’s almost impossible to get insurance to cover (prescribed burns) if you’re a burn boss. The SB 332 doesn’t completely solve the problem, but it does change the standard when it comes to the cost of removal. Under SB 332, if you are a fire manager and the fire has escaped and caused damage and you need to call Cal Fire or the Forest Service to put it out, until you do proof of gross negligence, these costs are not your responsibility. “

However, the boss of the burn could still be held liable by a private landowner for property damage.

As California’s annual wildfire season grows more severe and destructive with each passing year, Tucker said it was critical to take action and implement controlled burns statewide.

“I think people understand that we have to do something different,” he said. “Our policy of suppressing and extinguishing every fire is not working. You can’t beat forest fires any more than you can beat earthquakes, you just have to prepare for it. … We have to go out there and burn the brush in a controlled environment so that in the event of a lightning or any other ignition, there is no powder keg of fuel waiting to go out.

President of the Karuk Tribe, Russell “Buster” Attebery, applauded the legislation.

“With this legislation, California for the first time legally recognizes and defines cultural burning and the cultural fire practitioner in state law. This is another step towards recognizing the right of California tribes to heal our landscapes with cultural burns, ”Attebery said in a prepared statement. “If we are to spend less money on catastrophic fires like the Slater Fire that burned down many homes here at Happy Camp last year, we need to spend more on prescribed burns and forest health projects.

Wood partially credited Gov. Gavin Newsom with providing unprecedented funding to tackle wildfire prevention and mitigation activities.

“The legislature followed his lead by writing numerous bills to augment and develop new forest fire prevention work and, as the proud co-author of AB 642 and SB 332, we absolutely knew we had to learn. and honor the centuries of tribal knowledge of cultural burning and integrate these practices into our state efforts, ”said Wood. “I have learned so much from our tribes and give them credit for helping us understand how effective these practices are.”

You can find more information on the two invoices at leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.

Isabella Vanderheiden can be reached at 707-441-0504.

Bernard P. Love