California ranchers lobby for fire preventio
As a result of human interven tion and shortsighted environ mental laws, fires in the West continue to get larger and more destructive as their fuel loads grow. The removal of grazing and prescribed burns have left many areas loaded with dry fuel, rather than keeping them clear of dead material. In regions where wild fires have gotten out of control, cheatgrass commonly invades and turns once-productive rangeland into what some have called a “bio logical desert.”
Because a National Environ mental Policy Act (NEPA) assess ment must be carried out before any prescribed burns are done on federal ground, it sometimes ham pers ranchers who lease the ground or graze on private ground nearby.
Should a fire started on private property jump to U.S. Forest Ser vice (USFS) property, for instance, the rancher would be held liable for damages which could reach into the millions of dollars.
Recently, the Ventura County Cattlemen’s Association (VCCA) set out to solve this dilemma. They watched as brush fires threatened lives and property all over southern California and decided that there must be a way to prevent their land from becom ing a tinderbox.
“This is a serious problem here in southern California,” says Rob Frost, co-chair of VCCA’s range land improvement committee. “We want to protect our grass, our rangelands. We also want to pro tect the tree crops that we so often border. It’s in everyone’s best inter est to limit the risk of allowing an uncontrollable fire to start.”
Frost explained that much of Ventura County is a mix of range land and valuable tree crops such as lemons, oranges and avocados.
Preventative measures to control fire are much cheaper than the cost of repair and restoration of damaged rangeland or cropland, something VCCA and other groups
have been stressing. Opening up roads and clearing existing fuel breaks on USFS or county prop erty requires both NEPA and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) assessments, some thing VCCA hopes to circumvent.
“In a nutshell, we’re going to try and get the state of California to
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