SACRAMENTO, CA (AP). California regulators said Tuesday that they have simplified the state permit process to expedite the approval of tree depletion projects designed to slow down the massive forest fires that devastated communities in recent years.
The State Council for Forestry and Fire Protection has approved a vegetation management program based on more than a decade of analysis of potential environmental damage from the removal of various fuels, from alpine trees to chaparral.
This will allow new projects to use pre-approved environmental analysis rather than starting over again to meet California’s stringent environmental laws.
Governor Gavin Newsome identified him with emergency orders that he issued almost a year ago to expedite the approval of 35 forest management projects designed to help protect more than 200 communities in high-risk areas.
The orders suspended some requirements and rules, which, according to his department, reduced the usual three to five year term to less than one year, while preserving the protection of the environment.
Projects typically involve thinning or clearing trees or combing along wide paths close to vulnerable communities, so forest fires slow down and can be suppressed when they move through areas with less fuel. Other projects aim to restore a more natural balance between fire and forests.
Critics say fuel-thinning projects would not slow down the wind-induced inferno that devastated communities in recent years and largely destroyed a city of paradise more than a year ago. They also will not help with forest fires that move slower if fuel breaks are not maintained for several generations, they note, including by sifting out more flammable brushes and grass, which will naturally grow when trees are removed.
State regulators say they expect a streamlined process to create efficiency that will help California ultimately achieve its goal of cultivating 500,000 acres of non-federal land annually. The state is responsible for more than 20 million acres of wild land, but the new program will not be used when considering plans for commercial logging or housing.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized democratic state leaders for not doing enough to manage forests to prevent fires.
The Newsom office emphasized that the federal government owns nearly 58% of California’s forest land, while the state owns 3% and 40% is privately owned. The federal government is trying to achieve the state’s goal of cultivating 500,000 acres of land per year.
“The magnitude of the California fires crisis is unprecedented, and we need an answer to match the scale and severity of the problem,” the Newsom statement said.