“Manage the Land or it Will Manage you”
Combating wildfires with good forest management and policy
July 17, 2019: “Manage the land or it will manage you.” El Dorado County Supervisor Brian Veerkamp shared his grandfather’s wise words with the House Committee on Natural Resources in May 2019 while speaking on the importance of wildfire resilient communities.
The last several years have brought California many devastating wildfires that have destroyed acres upon acres of land, people’s homes, and taken many lives. To an extent, there are certain factors that we can not control, such as climate conditions. But as Veerkamp shared, there are many things that we can take control of to reduce the chance of such catastrophic events, which include land and forest management, supported by policy.
In his testimony to the Natural Resources Committee, Veerkamp described his career experience in the Fire and Emergency Services field and how he’s taken his current role as a county supervisor to enact policy for “preventative management.” This means putting in work early on so fires can be prevented, such as the Mandatory Vegetation Management Ordinance that was enacted in the western parts of El Dorado County during his time in the Fire Service and has now been adopted in all El Dorado County.
Veerkamps’s testimony was a natural extension of the work he has done to continue to influence policy change at the local and state level. On June 28, he supported SACOG staff to coordinate a Rural-Urban Connections Strategy forest management tour that brought together local elected officials from the Sacramento region, legislative staff, and partner agencies to learn and share best practices in forest management and policy, while showcasing El Dorado County. The tour aimed to bring together decision makers, so they could witness firsthand the current strategies and need to do more at all levels.
The tour began at Rainbow Orchards at Apple Hill with delicious freshly-baked blueberry scones and coffee, showcasing the thriving agricultural economy of the region. The tour made its first stop at the Blodgett Forest Research Station to look at different techniques for forest management and highlight the importance of understanding the environment at a scientific level. At Blodgett, participants also heard from the Sierra Nevada Nature Conservancy and the importance of understanding the connection between forest health and watersheds, and how partnerships across various agencies and groups are critical for forest protection.
The tour continued to the King Fire burn scar for a somber view of the devastation and to discuss how fires don’t just mean burned trees, they also lead to contaminated water supplies and soil erosion. An important lesson there was also how management after a fire is also crucial to lending nature a helping hand — that area of the King Fire burn scar will not see trees grow for hundreds of years. The final stop of the tour was at Big Hill Lookout to discuss SMUD’s reservoir operations, their energy supply, and power line clearing strategies.
Forest management comes at many levels, from local jurisdictions to the state enacting policy, funding for best practices and research, and many agencies coming together and owning their critical roles and responsibilities. It takes a lot of work, as Veerkamp told the House Committee, but putting the work in early on and going back to some tried and true practices can be the answer. Smokey the Bear has long told us “only you can prevent forest fires,” and this still stands true. But a slight modification to that can’t hurt: “only good land and forest management, strong policy at local and state levels, and partnerships can prevent forest fires.”
The full tour featured speakers from the El Dorado and Georgetown Divide Resource Conservation Districts, Placer Co Water Agency, Blodgett Forest Research Station, and the U.S. Forest Services. The tour was generously supported by the Sierra Nevada Nature Conservancy, SMUD, the El Dorado Irrigation District, and Sierra Pacific Industries.