These two new California bills will help tribes carry out prescribed burning projects

The Karuk Tribe hopes two pieces of legislation recently passed at the state level will help support prescribed fire projects and be an asset in the fight to contain and manage wildfires. This includes the Slater Fire in the Happy Camp area which destroyed hundreds of homes in 2020.

Both pieces of legislation now sit on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, awaiting his signature. Craig Tucker, a natural resources policy consultant for the Karuk Tribe, said he expects the legislation to be signed by the governor later this month.

Karuk Tribe Chairman Buster Attebery speaks about the Slater Fire and the controlled burn during a community meeting at Happy Camp High School.

What does the SB 332 do?

Senate Bill 332 was introduced by Sen. Bill Dodd (D, Napa). This bill amends the law to require proof of gross negligence from controlled burn leaders and cultural fire practitioners before they can be held liable for payment of fire suppression costs, contrary to the current standard of mere negligence.

Currently, private burns can be held personally liable for any damage caused by a prescribed burn, no matter how rare. This bill further exempts cultural fire practitioners from the specific requirements necessary to meet basic liability standards when they have written permission from a landowner or approval from a Native American tribe to burn.

What is AB 642?

Assembly Bill 642 was introduced by Assemblyman Laura Friedman (D, Glendale) and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D, Santa Rosa). This bill makes multiple changes to state law to improve wildfire prevention efforts, including, among other things, incorporating and facilitating cultural burning practices. This bill covers a wide variety of topics, including prescribed burning, tribal relations, and sovereignty.

Cultural burns

Tucker thinks these methods, which Native American tribes have practiced for thousands of years, will help reduce the wildfires that rage as they have in recent times.

“It could make a big difference,” Tucker said.

“With this legislation, California legally recognizes and defines cultural burning and cultural burning practitioner in state law,” Karuk President Russell “Buster” Attebery said in a statement. “This is another step toward recognizing the right of California tribes to heal our landscapes with cultural burns.”

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“In the past, getting insurance for burn bosses was nearly impossible, which means fewer prescribed fires and more catastrophic wildfires,” Attebery said. “If we want to spend less money fighting catastrophic fires like the Slater Fire that burned down many homes here at Happy Camp last year, we need to spend more on prescribed fire and resident health projects. forests…We look forward to seeing these bills and the budget enacted…by Governor Newsom, who has been a great supporter of our efforts.

Fire statistics

In 2020, more than 4% of California burned in a wildfire, according to a report written for the Karuk Tribe that explored why native tribes’ fire practices could be beneficial, called “Good Fire: Current Barriers to the Expansion of Cultural Burning and Prescription Fire in California and Recommended Solutions.

More than 30 people lost their lives in the fires; experts estimate that an additional 3,000 premature deaths may have resulted from wildfire smoke, the report said. Property damage is expected to reach $10 billion and associated greenhouse gas emissions have erased California’s progress on climate change.

The report concluded that cultural burning and prescribed fire are essential tools for managing these impacts, restoring California’s fire-adapted ecosystems, and repairing the “strained” relationship between California, its indigenous peoples, and landscape management. He stated that “cultural fire practitioners look to the laws of nature to understand when, where, and how to burn.”

“If we are to reduce the frequency and destructiveness of wildfires, we must remove fuels from our forests and dry forests,” Senator Dodd said in a press release. “Prescribed burning is a proven solution to this growing problem. I am delighted to see this come to fruition and I thank my fellow parliamentarians for supporting this worthwhile investment.

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Tucker said the Karuk tribe has done a prescribed burn in the Orleans area every October for the past few years, which has been quite successful. He said people from all over the country came to Siskiyou County to learn prescribed burning methods, and it became the largest controlled burn in the country and proved to be an effective method.

There have also been significant gains in funding for fire programs, Tucker said. In particular, the Karuk Tribe successfully advocated for the addition of $20 million to the California budget for tribal engagement in forest health activities and an additional $20 million for the Fire Liability Pilot Program. prescribed.

Bernard P. Love