By a 4-1 vote, with Heidi Hall voting No, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors (BOS) agreed today to send a letter of support for H.R. 6903, a bill introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA4) with a single co-sponsor, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA1).
The bill would require the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Chief of the Forest Service, to “use all available resources to carry out wildfire suppression with the purpose of extinguishing wildfires detected on National Forest System lands not later than 24 hours after such a wildfire is detected” (to the maximum extent practicable), and suppress any prescribed fire that exceeds prescription. The bill also requires the Forest Service to:
not inhibit the suppression efforts of State or local firefighting agencies that are authorized to respond to wildfire on National Forest System lands;
(2) may only use fire as a resource management tool if the fire is a prescribed fire that complies with applicable law and regulations;
(3) may only initiate a backfire or burnout during a wildfire by order of the responsible incident commander; and
(4) shall control any such initiated backfire or burnout until extinguished.
The bill would allow “Any person aggrieved by a violation of paragraph (3) or (4) of subsection (a) may bring a civil action against the United States in the appropriate Federal district court for actual damages.”
Nevada County joined Placer, Amador as well as Roseville, Rocklin and Placer Water Agency as supporters of the proposed bill.
Neither CAL FIRE, nor local fire departments have taken a position on the bill. State organizations like the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) also abstain from taking a position.
Dan Miller, who brought the item to the full BOS, explained the fire agencies’ reluctance, saying they had to work with the Forest Service on large incidents and it was customary not to criticize or pile on a collaborating agency. “We have to have a policy that protects our forests, that protects our citizens and our property.”
Hardy Bullock wanted clarification on the penalty part of the bill, saying that even now, anyone can sue. He added that while the text of the bill is rather vague, anything to further fire preparedness and suppression was a net positive. He hopes the bill would trigger a budget amendment for further fire resources.
Ed Scofield said Nevada County’s voice would be heard by sending the letter of support.
Heidi Hall said the bill was overly vague and pointed to the beneficial uses of prescribed fires and the new USFS 10-year plan. She called the bill an unfunded mandate and said she would love to vote for a bill that has bipartisan support and support from the fire agencies. She said she’d be happy to support the bill if it comes back with more detail and clarity, “at this point, I think it’s premature.”
A letter sent by the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) urged the BOS not to sign on to the bill. The letter reads, in part:
It is too vague and too broad. It has the serious risk of limiting management tools by singling out the Forest Service and holding them responsible for management for fire suppression in a system that clearly requires highly collaborative on-the-ground expert decision-making. Broad, wide-reaching and vague legislation can harm the ability of our land managers to effectively do their job and prevents the adaptive management and cross-agency coordination necessary to actually address the issues.
Since its introduction on March 2, 2022, the bill has not been updated or garnered any additional sponsors.
McClintock said last July “Wildfire firefighting is hot, miserable work, but it is not skilled labor.” The Congressman did not request any funding for projects in his district, including wildfire suppression, calling earmarks a monumentally bad idea. Co-sponsor LaMalfa filed earmark requests, including funding for the Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone, a Nevada County and CAL FIRE project.
In January, the Forest Service presented their 10-year plan to more effectively protect communities and improve the resiliency of the National Forest system. On Monday, April 4th, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a five-year plan to address wildfire risk on DOI protected land. The plan makes investments in forest restoration, hazardous fuels management, and post-wildfire restoration mostly funded by the $1.5 billion provided to the DOI through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Both McClintock and LaMalfa voted No on the bill.
Neither McClintock nor LaMalfa will represent Nevada County after the mid-term elections in November.