The Nevada County Board of Supervisors will revise a letter addressed to high-ranking federal officials that urges the U.S. Forest Service to make fuels reduction on public lands a priority.
In a draft letter addressed to three federal officials that includes Tom Tidwell, chief of the forest service, Chairman Hank Weston urged the public land management agency to accept fuels reduction projects as the primary means of reducing the threat.
“These public lands belong to all of us; they are the heart of our national pride and identity,” the letter reads.
“Our citizens expect both federal and state governments to reasonably maintain these cherished public lands. Yet, federal lands are choked with unmanaged vegetation and constitute the largest fire threat to public safety. The general public perception is that both federal and state lands are not meeting public expectation in being leaders in managing these lands.”
The board has hosted several presentations in 2013 regarding forest fuel accumulation on federally owned and maintained lands that could present an immediate danger to communities in western Nevada County.
In February, Doyel Shamley, a resident of Apache County, Ariz., suggested the board of supervisors pass a resolution that asserted authority over the forest service and appropriate the ability to manage forest fire fuels. Shamley said federal agencies such as the forest service derive their constitutional authority to manage lands from states, who may withdraw such authority at will.
County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green disagreed with the interpretation of constitutional law put forward by Shamley and his supporters.
“The Shamley theories are interesting, but there is simply no legal support for the position that a county, acting on its own, could unilaterally exercise control over Tahoe National Forest lands,” Barratt-Green wrote in a June 27 memorandum.
“Even if one could find legal support for these arguments, at best, they only speak to the potential right of the state, not the county, to control federal lands. Therefore, if the County of Nevada were to act on any of these theories, we would likely end up in litigation with the federal government.”
In lieu of becoming embroiled in a jurisdictional fight, the supervisors elected to send the letter to federal officials.
“We’ve got to do something, we’ve got to get somebody’s attention,” Weston said during the meeting. “We’ve got to let them know what we think.”
While Weston said public lands present a potential wildland fire danger, he said private lands are “in worse shape or just as bad.”
Supervisor Richard Anderson said county staff should explore ways it could help address fuels reduction programs throughout the county.
“We should get our own house in order,” he said.
Anderson also brought up Placer County’s Hazardous Vegetation Abatement Ordinance, which authorizes the county to enforce fire management of properties without a habitable structure where extra-hazardous fire conditions persist.
Property owners may be ordered to abate hazardous vegetation and undergo a citation process if they continue to flout the ordinance’s provision.
“It would be nice to get (a similar ordinance) under way here,” Anderson said.
County Executive Officer Rick Haffey said the political climate relating to private property issues is different in Nevada County than Placer County.
“We face those issues with code enforcement and code compliance in the past, and private property rights issues in the county of Nevada are substantially different than private property rights issues in the county of Placer,” he said.
However, Haffey did acknowledge there is a persistent issue with fuels management on private property in Nevada County.
Supervisor Nate Beason said the various fire districts responsible for fire protection in Nevada County need to “get out in front of” the issue.
The Nevada County Consolidated Fire District has begun a program of managing hazardous fuels at selected unimproved parcels in the South County neighborhood of Alta Sierra.
The board will revise the letter and bring it back for approval next week.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4239.
“(F)ederal lands are choked with unmanaged vegetation and constitute the largest fire threat to public safety.”
— Nevada County board of supervisors, in a letter to federal officials