Posts Tagged: policy
First-of-its-kind fund to offset losses if prescribed or cultural burn damages property
The State of California rolled out a first-of-its-kind approach to curbing the state's catastrophic wildfire problem on June 19 by providing new protections for prescribed fire and cultural burning practitioners. The $20 million allocated for the “Prescribed Fire Liability Claims Fund Pilot” will cover losses in the rare instance that a prescribed or cultural burn escapes control.
California Senator Bill Dodd authored the 2022 bill (Senate Bill 926) that made this fund possible, continuing his many years of leadership on wildfire and prescribed fire-related legislation.
“Prescribed fire is a cost-effective way to minimize the scope and severity of wildfires,” said Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa. “It's a tool that has been used for millennia by Native American tribes and one that will continue to play a big role in wildfire prevention. The rollout of this fund is a big step toward keeping California communities safe.”
The use of prescribed fire and cultural burning — sometimes collectively called “good” or “beneficial” fire — is a key component of wildfire risk management in California. These projects reduce hazardous fuels, help restore ecological and cultural values, and make our communities safer and our ecosystems more resilient to wildfire. However, lack of liability insurance for practitioners has been a major barrier to increasing the use of prescribed fire, even as firefighters, fire scientists, at-risk communities and state, federal and tribal leaders call for more.
The Prescribed Fire Claims Fund pilot project removes a significant barrier to obtaining insurance for potential damages from a prescribed fire or cultural burn conducted by a certified prescribed fire burn boss or a cultural fire practitioner,” said CAL FIRE Director/Chief Joe Tyler. “As we continue to focus on increasing the resiliency of the state's forests, creating a pathway for private burn bosses to have the significant protection this claims fund provides is a critical step toward reaching the goals of the Governor's Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan.”
The fund will provide up to $2 million in coverage for prescribed fire projects led by a qualified burn boss or cultural practitioner. The fund is meant to demonstrate that prescribed fire, when carefully planned, resources and implemented, is a low-risk land management tool that mitigates the larger, more damaging risks of high-severity wildfires. The fund is the first of its kind nationally and is the result of several years of collaboration by a diversity of partners working with Senator Dodd's Office, including The Nature Conservancy, CAL FIRE, the University of California Cooperative Extension, the California Department of Insurance, tribal representatives and many others.
“Launching this program is a key step in scaling ecologically based forest management to reduce the risk of megafires. We appreciate Senator Dodd's leadership and the expedient work of CAL FIRE and beneficial fire practitioners to develop this fund as the next fire season quickly approaches,” said Dan Porter, The Nature Conservancy's Forest Program director.
The fund will also advance cultural burning, helping Indigenous Californians restore their connection to fire.
“Cultural burning is an essential practice to meet diverse objectives, including biodiversity stewardship, ecological health and community safety. The availability of this pilot fund provides cultural fire practitioners a safeguard against financial risk in the unlikely event of an escaped burn. This is a significant incentive to support revitalization of burning traditions following the legacy of policies banning such practices,” said Don Hankins, professor of geography and planning at CSU Chico and co-founder of the Indigenous Stewardship Network.
This fund is part of a larger vision for restoring beneficial fire across California's fire-adapted ecosystems. Last year, the state released its Strategic Plan for Expanding the Use of Beneficial Fire, which identified this claims fund as a priority. The state has also rolled out a state-certified burn boss program, changed the liability standard for prescribed fire, and made investments in prescribed burn associations, agency staffing, and other related efforts.
“We are using every tool to protect Californians, including using prescribed fire to fight wildfires,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “The Prescribed Fire Claims fund will be critical to assisting our tribal groups, nonprofits and private landowners who are leading the way. This is an example of government being innovative and leading by example. The data that we get from the claims fund is going to be essential to our on-going education with insurance companies to support insuring this important work.”
Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Fire Network director for the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, says the recent momentum is unparalleled.
“Californians are desperate to have a better relationship with fire, and only with innovative approaches like this claims fund will we be able to unleash the good work that needs to happen,” said Quinn-Davidson. “It's a challenging time to be working on fire in California, but also an incredibly inspiring time.”
More information about the Pilot Prescribed Fire Claims Fund can be found on the CAL FIRE Website at https://www.fire.ca.gov/what-we-do/natural-resource-management/prescribed-fire, including frequently asked questions and an enrollment form for practitioners./h4>
Study: Climate impacts widespread across California, fueling worries over water supply
As water system managers across California devise strategies to help secure their water supply, they often face a major obstacle to implementing those measures: a lack of interest or will to act among community members.
“One of the things that the literature has found is that even if water system managers and local decisionmakers are really worried about climate change and water security, a lot of the adaptation strategies that they have in their toolbox actually require support from residents,” said Kristin Dobbin, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist focused on water justice planning and policy.
Because popular support is essential for realizing many water-related adaptations – from changing the rate structure to approving bonds for new infrastructure – Dobbin and her colleagues recently published a paper looking deeper at residents' experiences of, and concern about, climate impacts to household water supply.
Through a drinking water-focused portion of a long-term panel survey administered by California State University, Sacramento, scholars in the Household Water Insecurity Experiences research network had the opportunity to query Californians on how they are experiencing the climate crisis at their taps. Specifically, the researchers sought to analyze respondents' perceptions of future climate risks to water security.
“As a group that studies drinking water access in California, we're often looking at the system level and community level,” said Dobbin, based at the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. “So it was exciting to dive into the household level and understand what's happening at a more individual level.”
Climate impacts seen ‘up and down the state'
The statewide survey, conducted in spring 2021, elicited 704 responses from the panelists, representing every census region in the state and nearly every county. More than one-third (34%) of respondents said that their water supply had been affected by an extreme weather event in the past five years. Given the timing of the survey, drought was unsurprisingly the most frequently mentioned impact. Importantly, these climate impacts were felt across California.
“There is an inclination to assume that drought and other impacts are a geographically bounded issue, but what we really see is that is not the case,” Dobbin said. “These impacts are happening up and down the state, all the way to the Oregon border.”
Overall, 85% of respondents reported that they were concerned about the long-term reliability of their water supply. Crucially, the study also indicated that residents were making the connection between climate impacts and risks to their future water security.
“The more impacts they reported, the more concerned they were about future supply and reliability,” said study co-author Amanda Fencl, a senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Droughts and heat waves, in particular, seem to increase residents' concerns over water supply the most. Dobbin suggests that framing the need for water-security adaptation strategies around those specific weather events could be particularly useful in marshaling community support.
Knowing the level of concern within the community – and understanding the best way to convey the urgency of climate adaptation measures – could be a boon for local managers seeking to gain public backing for more expensive water projects. Such projects might include self-sufficiency measures that reduce reliance on imported water from other parts of the state.
“That could bolster some water managers to have more confidence in using climate change and extreme events as a way to motivate ratepayers to get on board with these bigger investment decisions,” Fencl said.
Study highlights avenues for more research
While flooding barely registered as a climate impact in the 2021 survey results, Dobbin said that the responses would likely be very different today, after atmospheric rivers inundated the state this past winter. Floodwaters can damage water treatment plants – and storms can knock out power to private wells and larger water system treatment and distribution facilities.
In fact, from the 2021 survey, power outages due to utilities' wildfire prevention policies were the climate impact most frequently mentioned in the “other” category, highlighting for researchers the need to consider and plan for the interconnectedness of water and power systems.
“People forget about the interplay between a reliable electric grid and the ability to run water in your house and the ability for water systems to pump and treat water,” Fencl explained. “When we think about disaster response and disaster preparedness, we need to be a bit more holistic.”
The researchers also pointed to significant differences in experiences of climate impacts across gender and racial demographics, with Latino, Asian American Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ respondents reporting higher rates of impacts. Given the relatively small sample sizes, however, Fencl said there needs to be larger – and more inclusive – surveys to get a clearer picture of those disproportionate impacts.
Even still, Dobbin added that their study serves as a reminder for scholars, water managers and policymakers to re-center community members, in all their diversity, as key players in the push for more effective and sustainable climate adaptation strategies.
“One of the takeaways from the paper is that we can't forget about the role of the public in this conversation – and we can't bypass the public,” Dobbin said. “The bottom line is that most of the adaptations that we have available to us require some level of residential involvement.”
In addition to Dobbin and Fencl, authors of the study, published in the journal Climatic Change, include Gregory Pierce, UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Melissa Beresford, San Jose State University; Silvia Gonzalez, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute; and Wendy Jepson, Texas A&M University./h3>/h3>/h3>
When the Detwiler Fire broke out near his family's ranch in 2017, Tony Toso was home to take defensive action to protect his family and animals. The Mariposa County rancher feels fortunate that he was on site.
“We were on the front end of the fire damage and it started on a Sunday,” recalled Toso. “Had I not been home that day, it would have been very difficult for me to access my property and help keep our livestock safe. Within a matter of hours of the fire starting, the CHP had our county road closed and would not let anyone in.”
Emergency personnel close roads around wildfires for the safety of people and to prevent them from impeding fire suppression efforts. When fire threatens large ranching operations, ranchers need to move their livestock out of harm's way and make sure they have feed and water. While volunteer groups can assist in rescuing dogs, cats, and a few sheep or horses, they don't have a rancher's knowledge, expertise and experience that are essential for managing hundreds of cattle at large-scale ranching operations.
To help rural communities prepare for wildfire, it would be helpful for farmers and ranchers to have a plan in place to coordinate with first responders, according to Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist. Ag Pass is a program developed in Ventura County to identify farmers and ranchers to firefighters, law enforcement and other emergency personnel so they can allow them onto their property to rescue animals and identify access roads and water sources.
“Because fires are increasingly impacting people and are not going away anytime soon, we need to figure out approaches to sustainably live on fire-prone landscapes. In a broader sense, the Ag Pass is another way that we can adapt to, and coexist with, wildfire,” Moritz said.
Matthew Shapero, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and range advisor, and Moritz have written a publication to guide people who would like to create an Ag Pass Program for wildfire preparedness in their own locale.
“Our neighbors had cattle just north of us and they tried to get in and could not,” said Toso. “An Ag Pass in that situation, would have been a huge benefit had I not been at home and then wanted to access my property.”
In Ventura County, agricultural workers can apply for identification cards from the Central Ventura County Fire Safe Council, which verifies farm information through the county's pesticide applicator permit database. Ag Pass members provide detailed maps of their farms that show access roads – including many that don't show up on other maps.
Shapero, who works in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, has been working with ranchers and county agencies to create an Ag Pass program in Santa Barbara County.
“The last few fire seasons have made a program like the Ag Pass more urgent than ever, especially as awareness of wildfire's impacts to agriculture has grown,” Shapero said. “We hope that this publication provides localities with a workable blueprint that will expedite the adoption of this or similar programs.”
Shapero has been working with Anthony Stornetta of Santa Barbara County Fire and representatives of other agencies to develop a training for Ag Pass participants in Santa Barbara County.
“After being at the Carr, Sonoma, Creek and Camp fires for months at a time, I started developing the program from the fire side and presented it to California Cattlemen's Association a couple years ago,” Stornetta. “This was a great collaborative effort. After meeting with our fire safe council, we are looking at the program being fully adopted very soon.”
In September, the Bear Fire raged through the Plumas National Forest where 400 of Dave Daley's cattle roamed to graze. The fifth-generation rancher wrote in moving detail of his grueling search for surviving cows in the rugged terrain during the wildfire and posted it to the California Cattlemen's Association website.
“I was unable to get access initially,” Daley said. “After working with our sheriff, I was able to get access through his office. But it required a deputy to take his time every day for 10 days to meet me at the roadblocks and escort me for several miles into our cattle range. I am very thankful for their willingness to do so. However, it was probably not the best use of their time when they were dealing with so many crises simultaneously and the fire was still raging. If there had been an Ag Pass system, that would have simplified the process, freed up law enforcement and given me a chance to save more cattle.”
Toso, the Mariposa County rancher and president of the California Cattlemen's Association, thinks a program as described in the UC Cooperative Extension publication benefits both ranchers and first responders.
“We can not only help protect ranching families, but we can use the opportunity to build working relationships and create trust between landowners and emergency personnel, as well as provide valuable information to those first responders from knowing the lay of the land,” he said. “Helping other counties and our member ranchers get a program on the books with their respective counties will be a priority for our organization.”
“Given each community's unique agency and personnel structure, it is our belief that the Ag Pass is best administered at the local or county level, however we are working with the state to see if policy measures can be developed that would simplify and support the Ag Pass concept,” Shapero said.
The training developed for Santa Barbara County includes an overview of hazards and safety issues, entrapment avoidance, incident organization, fire behavior, working with law and fire liaisons, access to incident, carding and certification. Stornetta anticipates the Santa Barbara County training will be held in spring 2021 and hopes it can be used in other counties as well. Ranchers who are interested in the Ag Pass training should contact Stornetta or Shapero.
“Preparing for Disaster: Establishing an Ag Pass Program in Your Community,” can be downloaded for free at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8685.pdf.
(First published Dec. 21, 2020)
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Despite increasing awareness of the issue of lead in drinking water, UC Nutrition Policy Institute and Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that many students in the U.S. attend public schools in states where not all taps are tested for lead, according to reports in various media outlets including The Guardian, NBC News and The Nation.
“All kids, no matter where they live, should have access to safe drinking water in school,” said Angie Cradock of Harvard's Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity, who led the study team. “Drinking water is important for helping kids grow up healthy, and water should be safe to drink.”
The researchers found that there is no uniformity in states' approaches to create and oversee programs to test for elevated lead in school drinking water. When collected, data are not regularly made available to guide action to reduce potential exposure to lead. About half of the country's students are at public schools in states that don't have programs or requirements to test drinking water in those schools.
Of the 24 states (plus Washington, D.C.) with a statewide program to test school drinking water for lead, only 12 states had data that could be analyzed by the research team. In these 12 states, 44 percent of all schools had at least one tap that tested higher than their state's threshold for action, and 12 percent of all samples had a lead concentration higher than the state's action level. The report also describes the features of statewide initiatives in operation between Jan. 1, 2016, and Feb. 28, 2018, in 24 states and the District of Columbia to conduct testing for lead in school drinking water.
For more information, see the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health website.