It was Natural Resources Day at the Board of Supervisors on March 5, as the Board received reports about wolves, fire and rural roads in the National Forest. Each of these issues has some controversy, of course.
Karen Kovacs from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (recently renamed from Fish and Game) provided a report on gray wolves in Northern California. Actually, that would be gray wolf in Northern California.
In December 2011 a gray wolf, called OR 7, entered northeastern California from Oregon. The migration was the result of the successful reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone area – a reintroduction that has resulted in the migration of wolves throughout areas of the West and the formation of packs in Oregon. Until December 2011 the last confirmed wolf sighting in California was in 1924. OR 7 is collared, and has traversed hundreds of miles around the north state. No livestock depredations have been traced to his activities. State Fish and Wildlife has received a petition to list the gray wolf as endangered under the state’s Endangered Species Act; the wolf is already listed as endangered under federal law. The federal Fish and Wildlife Agency is also reviewing gray wolf status to determine which sub-populations need continued protection.
Board members asked questions, centered around whether the state has plan to “establish a wolf pack in California” and whether wolves constitute a threat. Kovacs said that the state has not introduced this wolf or any other to California and has no plans to do so. Moreover, wolves have not historically constituted a significant threat to humans. However, California can expect to see more wolves as the wolf population in the West grows. The State Department of Fish and Wildlife will continue to work on developing a wolf plan. This process can be tracked through the Department’s web site, www.dfg.ca.gov. The web site also has regular updates on OR 7’s whereabouts (currently in northwestern Lassen County).
The Board also received an update on the Reading Fire from Lassen Volcanic National Park Superintendent Darlene Koontz. This discussion was considerably more contentious. The Park has just released the Reading Fire Review, a report by the Wildfire Lessons Learned Center, an interagency collaborative formed to provide such reviews. The full report can be found at http://wildfirelessons.net. The Reading Fire began with a lightning strike on July 23, 2012 and was contained on August 22, 2012. It burned 28,079 acres and cost $17 million. 60% of the area burned was within the National Park (roughly 16,000 acres). The remainder was U.S. Forest Service land (11,000 acres) and a small amount of private land (75 acres).
The report details how complex fire behavior can be, and how complex an assessment of decision-making can be as well. The general findings are that the Park management and staff made decisions within existing federal wildland fire management policies.
However, there are lessons to be learned.
First: planning for the worst case scenario instead of the typical scenario must take place.
Second: management decisions must change as the fire behavior changes. In this case, environmental conditions changed to much drier, hotter weather and the fire moved to areas with a heavier fuel load after two weeks.
Third: public information to the media and affected communities must be better.
Fourth: coordination with other entities and agencies should be better, pre-fire season and post-fire season.
Supervisor Giacomini, whose home and district are in the area of the Park, indicated the significant impact of the fire on businesses in the area and expressed frustration that there is no process for them to recover losses from the federal government. The Park committed to improved information in the future, and to town hall meetings soon to hear directly from communities about fire management.
Other Supervisors expressed support for extensive thinning of fuel loads and quicker fire suppression when appropriate. The Park responded that federal fund cutbacks will make activities such as thinning hard to expand. Supervisor Kehoe expressed concern that the value of merchantable trees was lost, and that post-fire actions have not taken full advantage of the resource value. The Board would like to take full advantage of the Park’s offer to hold them accountable for their decisions, and to perhaps form a working group to accomplish that transparency.
Kristy Cottini, District Ranger from the Shasta-Trinity Forest Service, provided similar information about the 46,000-acre Bagley Fire, although questions about the Forest Service management were much less contentious, in part because their policies are more focused on resource salvage than those of the National Park and Wilderness Area. Ranger Cottini also reported that the Forest Service maps of new roadless areas would be released this week, and that continued public review of access to the forest would be solicited. The takeaway from both these discussions is that fire will recur in our area, and that the forest still suffers from 100 years of fire suppression.
Catherine Camp is currently retired. She served as a Consultant to the California Senate Budget Committee in 2001-02, reviewing Social Services, Employment Development, Aging, Community Services, Alcohol and Drug Programs, Rehabilitation and Child Support budgets. From 1989-2000, Catherine was Executive Director for the California Mental Health Directors Association. During that period, Catherine staffed the county mental health system’s restructuring of public mental health through Realignment of community and long term care programs from the state to the county, transfer of the management of specialty mental health Medi-Cal services to those counties that agreed to provide them, development of risk mechanisms for consortia of small counties, and advocacy and policy analysis for the operation of public mental health programs throughout the state. Her prior experience includes Executive Director to the California-Nevada Community Action Association, Principal Consultant to the Assembly Human Services Policy Committee, and Director of Community Action and Head Start programs in Shasta County.