Forest fuels reduction discussion draws crowd
Almost every seat was filled in the Nevada County Board of Supervisors chambers Tuesday afternoon for what seemed like an unlikely topic of interest: a presentation on fuels reduction efforts in Apache County, Arizona.
But the presentation by Doyel Shamley, whose trip to California was paid for by the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners, was as much about the political subtext as it was about solving a very real problem in the Tahoe National Forest.
Shamley, who is a natural resources coordinator for Apache County, was invited by Supervisor Ed Scofield to make the informational presentation.
Shamley has given a series of talks throughout the nation, including one in 2012 to CABPRO, to discuss local jurisdictions’ rights to assert their authority in conducting emergency thinning of national forests.
Shamley said counties have the authority because the U.S. Forest Service only has custodial powers over forests and because the agency has failed to coordinate with local governments and tribes as required by law.
Following the 2011 Wallow Fire, the largest in Arizona history, Shamley said the U.S. Forest Service had mismanaged the forest for decades, thereby failing to protect the local communities affected by the natural disaster.
Shamley called upon Apache County to conduct the management and bill the federal government, resulting in a forest management partnership between the forest service and Apache County.
“California’s national forests, including those within the boundary of Nevada County, have the same high fuel issues as those described in Apache County,” Scofield wrote in his staff report.
“I feel it is appropriate for Nevada County to review the program established in Apache County to determine if a similar program would be beneficial to address the fire risk of Nevada County.”
Shamley noted that according to Forest Service data, there are 45 tons of bone-dry fuel per acre in the Tahoe National Forest, attributing the overgrowth to management practices that are driven by litigation.
He warned that catastrophic fuel loads will lead to large-scale forest fires, saying, “It’s not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when.’”
He advised the county to avoid what he called the “c-words” — cooperation, coordination and collaboration — when working with government entities and instead to stand on the county’s legal ability to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.
Several supervisors noted there was no question fuels reduction needed to be a high priority but said the issue was one of funding.
Shamley advocated free enterprise as the solution, getting the encumbrances out of the way so private industry can come in and harvest timber.
But Tahoe National Forest spokeswoman Ann Westling noted that “one of the biggest hindrances to removing more fuel and selling more wood products is the timber market itself, which is not as healthy as it has been in past years.”
Westling added that the U.S. Forest Service has provided about $800,000 in the last six years to groups like the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County, Yuba Watershed Institute and other organizations for reducing the fuels on private property or BLM land in Nevada County.
Several members of the public spoke with some of the biggest applause of the afternoon coming after comments by Grass Valley resident Boots Rusk, who took the supervisors to task for not taking a stand against federal regulations.
“We need to reverse our thinking,” she said. “The county (should be) the big dog in the fight … Stand up, be in charge and then invite them to help you, or you’ll do it. You’ve got a job to do here.”
CABPRO Executive Director Chuck Shea urged the board to consider passing an emergency resolution that would allow the county to establish jurisdictional authority and open up national forest land to private industry, a possibility that Supervisor Hank Weston said was being discussed with county counsel.
Weston added that additional presentations on the issue were being scheduled for the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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