By Kirk Kimmilshue
SACRAMENTO — A bill by Assemblymembers Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, and Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, would reduce the fuel available for devastating wildfires in California by improving forest thinning projects. From 2005-2011 more than 832,000 acres of forest land burned in wildfires, costing the state over $1.2 billion in fire suppression costs.
“This bill will assist and encourage landowners to engage in forest thinning projects that reduce the threat and intensity of wildfires throughout California,” Bigelow said. “Our legislation is a responsible solution for California’s forestry industry and the environment.”
Fires that have burned out of control have been a detriment to all of California. Bigelow and Wieckowski’s Forest Fire Prevent Act is a proactive solution to reduce the risk of future forest fires.
“We have all seen the coverage of these huge fires that rage out of control, destroying wildlife habitat, polluting the air and costing a fortune to control and extinguish,” Wieckowski said. “This bill is a common sense approach that will strengthen forest thinning projects and help us cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions across the state.”
Assembly Bill 350 would increase the diameter of trees that qualify to be cleared under the state’s Forest Fire Prevention Exemption law to 28 inches and 34 inches in special circumstances, up from the current 18 and 24 inches.
The Legislature created the Forest Fire Prevention Exemption in response to devastating wildfires that swept across Southern California in 2003. This exemption to the Timber Harvest Plan is designed to get landowners to engage in forest thinning projects to reduce the threat and intensity of wildfires. However, over the last 10 years the program has not achieved its goal of adequate forest thinning.
Since its passage, thinning on private forest lands has dropped to fewer than a thousand acres annually. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that 550,000 acres of private timberland is over-stocked and in need of thinning.
“This is a bipartisan issue,” Bigelow said. “We’re working to reduce the risks of forest fires throughout California and we’re putting people back to work.”
Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, represents the 5th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes all or parts of Placer County, El Dorado County, Alpine County, Amador County, Calaveras County, Tuolumne County, Mariposa County, Madera County and Mono County.