Fire Panel Says California Must Make Tough Choices

Californians must choose which to protect: the developments rapidly advancing into its once-wild hinterlands, or the hinterlands themselves. So said a report released yesterday by a commission formed to develop policy recommendations in the wake of last year’s devastating wildfires in the state. While the report recommended more money to train and deploy firefighters and help various firefighting agencies communicate better, it was frank that policy changes and clear public mandates must precede those measures. Once fires start, the weather has a greater influence on their ultimate spread than firefighters, the report concluded, and thus the primary focus must be on reducing fuel — underbrush, aging chaparral, and beetle-infested trees. The implication was that environmental regulations and organizations are preventing measures to clear the fuel. But Jay Watson of the Wilderness Society said the panel had overlooked the need for controlled burns: “I think it’s critically important we prioritize protecting homes and communities, but at the same time, we need to restore fire to wild lands in a safe way through prescribed burns.”