Yes On Measure V
by Katy Tahja
Before you can have a proposition on the ballot you have to gather a group of proponents. These are the folks who frame the argument’s wording, collect voters signatures to get it on the ballot, arrange discussions and forums all over the county, raise money for publicity and answer questions. It’s the kind of volunteer effort that eats up your free time for months.
So how did I end up a Measure V proponent? Measure V declares intentionally killed and left standing trees are a public nuisance. While the rest of the proponents are professional or volunteer firefighters I’m the woman whose family lost 20 acres of timber in a 2012 fire that burned dangerously close to those trees intentionally killed and left standing, and I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that nerve wracking experience if possible.
Measure V is not about the timber industries use of the management practice of hack & squirt. As practiced locally it involves one timber company employee hacking into the bark of a tree and squirting in poison herbicide to kill it. This is done to undesirable species like oak and madrone so commercially valuable species like fir and redwood can flourish. This practice has been done to trees on 80,000 acres of Mendocino County timber.
I live on Comptche Ukiah Road. Drive eastward in the Comptche valley and once you pass Philbrick Mill Road and start climbing there are standing dead trees visible. They’ve been there for years now and look like tree skeletons. You’d think they might be bug or drought kill if you didn’t know better.
What Measure V is about is what happens when a wildland fire takes off burning those intentionally killed and left standing trees. It’s a public safety issue folks. If a poisoned dead tree burns what is in the smoke the firefighters and local residents inhale? What’s in the ash that falls in our rivers, streams and gardens? What are the vineyard grapes absorbing in that smoke?
In October 2012 a wildfire started up hill directly behind the Comptche Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) Fire Station. It burned through three private landholders property (including mine) and commercial timberlands. We were blessed that day that there were no other fires burning in the county and, most of all, there were no winds. CALFIRE and the CVFD, with mutual aid from other local fire districts, stopped this fire before it could jump Philbrick Mill Road and spread into intentionally killed and left standing trees to the east. CALFIRE later told the CVFD it spent a million dollars in three days containing the blaze.
So that was a happy ending story for me…right? The firefighters came on to my property and saved the day. I only lost 20 acres of trees, instead of my house and barn, and air tankers and helicopters and hand crews defeated the fire.
Wrong! Once those firefighters came up the driveway and got a firebreak around my structures I was still worried. I could look east and see pillars of smoke rising up as sparks started spot fires. I knew what was a mile from me, those intentionally killed and left standing tree carcasses stretching for miles towards Ukiah. In the midst of this chaos I was trying to find the guy in charge saying “Listen! You’ve got a problem waiting for you just over that ridge! I’m safe now but get your firefighters to stop the spread east.”
CALFIRE did indeed stop the fire before it crossed Philbrick Mill Road and reached the dead trees, for which I am eternally grateful. In the aftermath of that fire Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) talked to the CVFD about what they would do to help protect the Comptche Community.
Now I realize a MRC representative has to speak the company “line” about their timber management practices but when the CVFD volunteers asked about inhaling smoke from burned poisoned trees they were told “…we don’t study that…” MRC told the firefighters that according to their research a wildfire would burn the leaves and branches on the ground fallen from hack & squirt trees but the tree trunks would not catch on fire. This was met by looks of disbelief by the firefighters. Not catch on fire? Why not! (Because the research MRC paid for told them so). MRC, in the aftermath of the fire and to their credit, did graciously provide an auxiliary water storage tank east of town for CVFD use.
In the Navarro Lightning Fire in 2008 CVFD volunteers were fighting fires all over MRC and other commercial timberlands at times. You couldn’t save local homeowners without entering lumber company lands to build fire breaks to stop wildfire spread. All of the Rancho Navarro subdivision residents to the east of Flynn Creek held their breath hoping the fires could be stopped by Flynn Creek and the roadway before it jumped into habitated areas. It worked, the fire lines held, and no homes were lost.
So what does this have to do with Measure V? The proposition declares that “The landowner responsible shall be liable for any damage when an intentionally killed trees is within 1000 meters of critical infrastructure. What’s critical infrastructure? Public & private roads, telecommunication and power lines, water sources likes rivers, ponds, creeks and lakes and your home if it’s in a CALFIRE state responsibility area. That state responsibility land area is a huge chunk of the county and if a fire starts on timber company land and spreads NO WAY do the timber companies want to be held liable and responsible.
The proponents of Measure V understand hack & squirt is an economical way to produce timber. It gives the lumber company owners the most bang for their buck. It makes them more money. Great. But if they want to continue this timber management practice they can take the dead trees down. Don’t leave them standing there like firecrackers waiting to light up. Measure V asks they take down trees taller than five meters within 90 days. Intentionally dead trees represent an extreme fire hazard and they impede fire suppression. They are a health risk to firefighters because they do not act like trees killed by bugs or drought. They can react erratically and endanger trained experienced firefighters. And intentionally killed and left standing dead trees endanger public health and safety of rural residents with possibly toxic smoke and ash fall.
Opponents to Measure V say this will cost the county money for hiring enforcement officials. It’s amazing how Mendocino County could establish enforcement procedures for the marijuana eradication because they wanted to. Do it again. At a League of Women’s Voters forum recently a timber company forester asked “What’s in it for us? Why should we want to follow these rules?” Simple. It’s the LAW. Voters said so.
Measure V puts people before corporate profit. Timber companies have no intention of changing their herbicide practices. MRC stated earlier this year “It is expected the general volume of chemical use will remain similar to current levels for the next 20 to 30 years.”
My husband has been with the CVFD for 40 years. I worried when he went on wildfire responses. But Ted Williams, Albion-Little River Fire District fire chief made a memorable comment at a public meeting once. Paraphrasing he said “How would I feel if I sent a volunteer firefighter into a forest full of dead trees and something happened and he died?” Thank You Ted for expressing the public’s fear. VFD firefighters are out to protect the public safety, not fight fires to protect the timber company’s profit.
VOTE YES ON MEASURE V
Donate online or CFFSF 18451 Orr Springs Rd. Ukiah, CA 95482
PS. Parting thoughts on the fire on the fire that almost destroyed my home in 2012. We have replanted the 20 acres and a new forest is growing. Here are some suggestions you may have seen before but PLEASE consider making them part of your future. One…Have a disaster plan for your family. What gets loaded in the car besides kids and pets for a quick escape? Computers, family photos, medications, important papers, address book…(I took a good bottle of single malt Scotch). Two…Is there 100’ of defensible brush free space around your home? Three…Is there a clearly visible street number on your driveway? (Emergency dispatchers at 911 do not want to hear “I’m the third driveway on the right past the Grange Hall”).Four…Can a fire engine drive up your driveway and turn around? (ask your VFD to do this if you’re not sure) and Five…If you have water storage tanks establish a hook up to service a fire engine. Your VFD can tell you the size coupling you need, (it’s amazing that this is news to so many rural landowners. YES, your local VFD would love to be able to access your water system in an emergency.
BE FIRE SAFE.
Vote No On Measure V
by K.C. Meadows
After listening to both sides in a discussion about Measure V this week, we have come to the conclusion that Measure V is just not necessary. It is perhaps well-intentioned but it’s a confused ballot measure that may have unintended consequences.
The proponents say that the standing dead trees created when private forest owners use herbicides to kill invasive species are an especially dangerous fire threat and private landowners should not be allowed to let the trees stand.
The measure is aimed squarely at Mendocino Redwood Company and many of its supporters are among those who have fought timber operations in this county for years. We note that during the discussion this week an audience member shouted out “Stop logging!” to the MRC representative trying to explain the company’s position. We think “stop logging” is the real goal for many of the Measure V supporters.
We also point out that while many supporters talk about the “deadly chemicals” in the forest, the ballot measure itself does not ban the practice of treating trees with chemicals. Its focus is whether the trees that are killed are allowed to stand or must be taken down.
The fire chief from Albion and the retired firefighter joining him, wrote Measure V, we believe, with the sincere belief that standing dead trees are deadlier to firefighters than dead trees on the ground. MRC disputes that, citing, for one thing, their own studies of tree stands after the widespread Lightning Fires of 2008. The company says its own foresters noted no difference in fire strength or heat in stands treated with what has become known as the “hack and squirt” method. In a nutshell, what the company is doing is killing the invasive tanoak species which competes with the redwoods and other conifers they are trying to restore to hundreds of thousands of Mendocino County acres, once devastated by clearcutting. The tanoak is injected with herbicides and left to die standing. After about two to four years it falls and then over the next 10 years or so, decays entirely.
A study of recent scientific research on the subject of standing dead trees and fire safety, done for the Mendocino County Fire Safe Council by the UC Extension Service, concluded that first, how the tree died – whether by disease or herbicides – does not change the severity of the fire if it catches. Second, the study concluded that standing dead trees do not pose a more severe fire risk than fallen dead trees.
The proponents of Measure V simply do not have the science behind them. They do not have all firefighters behind them either. Firefighters are split on the issue and the Chief in Laytonville has publicly opposed Measure V.
And while Measure V would make it harder and more expensive for MRC (or any private timber owner) to transform grown over lands into healthy redwood forests again, it does nothing about the more than 80,000 acres of standing dead trees caused by Sudden Oak Death in Mendocino County since 2011. Compared to the 3,000 acres of MRC treated tanoaks in that time, we have to wonder how fire safety is really improved with Measure V.
K.C. Meadows, Editor, the Ukiah Daily Journal (Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)