Reduce fire risks by working together

By: Ted Gaines, Guest Columnist
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You don’t need a reminder these days about the threat of wildfires. Unfortunately, the natural beauty that attracts people to Placer County can also be a tremendous threat if we don’t manage it properly. In our county, substantial residential and commercial growth has occurred in and around historic wildlands. In the greater Sierra, nearly 80 percent of housing units in the wildland-urban interface, the point where natural areas and homes and business meet, are at significant risk from wildfire. Wildfires pose health risks for the community, destroy physical structures, and cause great damage to the natural environment. When fires occur, firefighting costs skyrocket, homes and lives can be destroyed and critical watersheds and habitats can be permanently changed. While fires have historically played an important role in preserving the long-term health of our forests, today’s conditions do not afford that opportunity. It is crucial that government, communities, fire safety councils and local organizations work together to provide the funding and solutions necessary to minimize the severity of wildfires. Fortunately, over the course of the past year, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy has been an invaluable partner in addressing the fire needs of Placer County. The Conservancy is a relatively new state agency created to support efforts that improve the environment and economic well-being of the Sierra Nevada Region. It is one of the only state agencies allocating funding for fire and fuel load reduction programs throughout the region. Increased fuel loads in our forests and wildlands means that when fires occur they have the potential to become extremely severe, imperiling not only life, but important natural resources. In fact, high fuel loads are widely considered to be the major factor increasing the danger of wildfires. Accumulation of biomass — dead trees, dense undergrowth and small trees — is a major culprit for the recent increase in wildfires. Given the potential severity of fires in and around our communities, we need solutions like fuels reduction programs provided by the Conservancy to protect our homes, our community and the natural resources that make Placer County so beautiful. Moreover, it is imperative that we look at opportunities through Public Private Partnerships, which provide a way to clean the forest floor without being a burden to taxpayers. So far, over $3 million has been allocated to provide chipping, fuels reduction, fire breaks and critical planning throughout the Sierra Nevada. Recently, the Conservancy has allocated funding for Hidden Falls Regional Park near Auburn as well as Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley Park in the Tahoe area that would reduce fuel loads. These projects will help minimize the impact of wildfires by decreasing the amount of dangerous fuels in and around our communities and watersheds. Throughout Placer County, local fire safe councils and communities are working tirelessly to clear potentially dangerous brush and vegetation. Working with the Conservancy to provide necessary funding for these programs will help ensure the safety of our residents, public buildings, and natural habitat now and for future fire seasons. These steps will both help contain the current wildfires and prevent future ones from occurring and threatening communities. Assemblyman Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) represents the 4th District in the State Assembly, which includes Placer, El Dorado, Sacramento, and Alpine Counties.