As a fire season that has included six of the largest fires in California’s recorded history concludes, the urgency of efforts to reduce the risk and severity of catastrophic wildfires in California has never been more apparent. A major objective of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (Board) and CAL FIRE is to create a more fire resilient state and to protect human life and property through home hardening, expanded evacuation capacity, comprehensive emergency planning, improved land use practices, and vegetation treatment.
In May of 2018, California Governor Brown signed Executive Order B-52-18, which bolstered one of these strategies by mandating a substantial increase in the pace and scale of vegetation treatments throughout the state. Under the order, up to approximately 500,000 acres on nonfederal lands are targeted for treatment each year. Another major state objective is to conserve California’s vast biodiversity and sensitive ecosystems and to build climate resilience, and in October of 2020, California Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-82-20, which included a pledge to conserve 30 percent of land and coastal waters in California by 2030 in pursuit of this objective. Balancing the objectives of fire resilience and ecosystem preservation in California is a significant challenge as many potential treatment projects are located within the wildland-urban interface or wildland areas where important ecosystems and wildlife habitat co-occur.
The California Vegetation Treatment Program (CalVTP) was approved by the Board in December of 2019. The CalVTP Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) provides a powerful tool to expedite the implementation of vegetation treatments to reduce wildfire risk while conserving biological resources. The CalVTP Program EIR includes analysis of over 300 special-status wildlife species, over 1,000 special-status plant species, and hundreds of sensitive natural communities. The mitigation framework in the Program EIR includes Standard Project Requirements that are integrated into a vegetation treatment design to avoid and minimize impacts on biological resources, as well as mitigation measures designed to apply to as many species as feasible. This mitigation framework is intended to streamline the implementation of vegetation treatment projects and associated environmental review and to balance vegetation treatment objectives with conservation and protection of California’s wildlife and ecosystems.
A Special Issue of the California Fish and Wildlife Journal was recently published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on the “Effects of Fire on California’s Natural Resources.” This Special Issue incorporates several aspects of fire management in California, including vegetation treatment and policy and the impact of fire on plants, wildlife, and water and demonstrates the wide array of stakeholders focused on these issues in the state. Ascent Environmental contributed an article to this Special Issue titled “The California Vegetation Treatment Program: Integrating Biological Resource Protection into Wildfire Risk Reduction,” which describes the CalVTP mitigation strategy for conserving wildlife and maintaining habitat function within important ecosystems in the state.
Fuller, A., L. Rachowicz, and H. Blair. 2020. The California Vegetation Treatment Program: Integrating Biological Resource Protection into Wildlife Risk Reduction. California Fish and Wildlife. Fire Special Issue:46-51.