Saturday, January 10. 2009
I attended a San Diego County Planning Commission meeting yesterday and it was a real eye-opener. It seems that the county Board of Supervisors asked to have a plan drawn up for destroying chaparral in some lame attempt to reduce wildfires. A committee of bureaucrats was assigned to the task and it was to be supervised by the planning commission. At yesterday's meeting the committee presented their plan to the commission.
I was at one of the committee meetings while the plan was being worked on and was rather distressed that they seemed to be ignoring the input of knowledgeable scientist and land managers. Sure enough, the plan that they presented to the planning commission was wrong headed, is likely to endanger more lives than it saves, and will destroy forever some of the most amazingly diverse and surprisingly pristine landscape in the United States.
Nearly all of the testimony was by experts in either wildfires, ecology, or both. And nearly all of the testimony was in opposition to the destructive reduction of wild vegetation. Only two people did not oppose it. One was neutral and one didn't exactly endorse the plan, but rather seemed to endorse a return to the past where grazing animals roamed the land. All of the testimony was articulate, well thought-out and backed by personal knowledge and study. The testimony was overwhelming and I was very relieved that all of those PhDs were on the same side as I was. I could not imagine how the county could go forward with this moronic plan.
But five of the six planning commissioners present rubber stamped it and sent it on to the Board of Supervisors! I overheard comments about wanting to get to lunch. If you are unable to evacuate before the next fire and survive it, please remember that your planning commission considered their lunch to be more important than your safety.
My hat is off to Commissioner Michael Beck, who behaved with honor and intelligence to try and stop this dangerous and destructive plan from moving forward.
The plan put forward by the committee paid lip service to some very important issues such as power lines, the wildland/urban interface, and fire hardening of homes. But the primary reason the committee was formed and the primary focus of their plan (and of the opposition to it) was "brush" clearing in the wildlands. For some inexplicable reason, Supervisor Horn seems to have a beef against a bunch of plants. Maybe he resents that the plants are smarter than he is; I don't know. But he decided we need to clear hundreds of thousands of acres of "brush" and tacitly instructed this committee to mold the plan so that it looks scientific and yet does the maximum amount of damage that can be done.
I think Supervisor Horn does not understand wildfires. And not understanding them, he fears them. And his reaction to fear is to "Burn it all!" That is backward and completely inappropriate in a society which sends intelligent people to school so that they can understand it. For him to ignore those people is foolish. It's hubris. And government by hubris is bad government.
The chaparral is an amazingly complex ecosystem. It has evolved to survive in a very inhospitable environment. Blazing heat; long, dry summers; very poor soils; etc. It takes a very intricate and finely tuned system to survive here in the long term. To try and "treat" it with third world slash-and-burn techniques is barbaric. The "gossamer web of life" (as described by Greg Rubin) will be destroyed and replaced by faster burning weeds. Ick.
But in addition to the damage it will do to this fragile ecosystem, this plan will not do a single thing to make us safer and will probably increase the danger for many of us. One committee member, Tom Oberbauer, said that “young fuels burn slower than older fuels.” This is a blatant fabrication calculated to head off one of my chief concerns which I expressed in a previous meeting. What should grow up after a fire are returning chaparral species, but what actually grows up after a fire are invasive weeds and grasses which grow fast, dry out and burn like, well, like wildfire. And I think the absolute worst case would be areas which are degraded but not totally type-converted, where all that grass and weeds moves the fire quickly through broken chaparral, actually adding to the fuel load. So the "treated" areas (burned or masticated) will not stop the fires. I expect that fires which re-burn these "treated" areas will burn much faster than fires in pure stands of chaparral and could reduce the available evacuation times in our cities from hours (which we currently have) to minutes.
Mr. Oberbauer and Supervisor Horn, how are we going to evacuate in minutes? Where is your plan for that?
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