Preparedness

California Giving Out $170 Million in Cap-and-Trade Revenue to Help Prevent Wildfires

The money will go toward fire prevention education programs and projects such as cutting back flammable vegetation — activities that might stop, or at least dull the intensity of, future fires.

by Kimberly Veklerov, San Francisco Chronicle / August 8, 2018



(TNS) - California officials said Tuesday that they will grant more than $170 million in cap-and-trade funds to local governments and organizations to prevent fires and improve the health of forests.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced the grants as the Mendocino Complex fire near Clear Lake, now the largest in state history, continued to spread across three counties.

The money will go toward fire prevention education programs and projects such as cutting back flammable vegetation — activities that might stop, or at least dull the intensity of, future fires.

“It allows Cal Fire to help bolster the work on the ground that needs to be done,” said Cal Fire spokeswoman Heather Williams. “A lot of time a fuel break or firebreak or thinning the forest can help slow down fire growth.”

Groups in six Bay Area counties will get a combined $7.4 million. The biggest portion of that, $3.6 million, will go to UC Berkeley. The Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2016 withdrew what would have been an award of roughly the same amount to thin and remove eucalyptus trees in the East Bay hills after a lawsuit by conservation activists.

The trees were blamed in part for the deadly 1991 firestorm because of their flammable oils and the ample dead leaves and branches they shed. Low eucalyptus branches allow flames to climb to tall tree crowns and carry embers to neighboring vegetation and buildings, fire experts say.

It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday what UC Berkeley will use the funds for. The campus also operates five research forests outside the city.

The cap-and-trade program that began in 2012 sets a limit, which shrinks each year, on the amount of greenhouse gas that can be emitted in the state. Businesses must have permits to release carbon, and the biggest polluters can buy extra allowances from other companies or during auctions held by the state Air Resources Board. The regulatory initiative has brought in billions of dollars of revenue for the state.

Despite California meeting its first greenhouse gas reduction target four years early, one huge wildfire can wipe out months of carbon-slashing progress.

Keith Gilless, chairman of Cal Fire, said the state needs to do much more vegetation management — activities like reducing hazardous plant fuels — to address wildfire risk.

“One of the things we need in California moving forward is striking a better balance between carbon sequestration in forests and the risk associated with that densely stocked carbon sequestration,” said Gilless, also a UC Berkeley professor of forest economics. “We need to figure out ways to do vegetation management that are socially acceptable with the smallest public subsidy possible.”

Kimberly Veklerov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: kveklerov@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kveklerov

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