The Venado Declaration: A Plan to Save California Forestlands for the Future

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On a day in September 2021, a diverse group of experts from different backgrounds came together to discuss and form an action plan, called the Venado Declaration, to save California forestlands from future wildfire devastation.

The former governor of California, Jerry Brown, and former CAL FIRE Director, Ken Pimlott, were the leaders in organizing the meeting after the former governor expressed major concern over the alarming rate of forest loss.

What followed was a gathering of a group of 20 experts in their field, consisting of scientists, academics, forestry and industry professionals, tribal and other community leaders. Among the group was Timber Products’ General Manager of California Operations, Chris Chase.

“I was honored to participate and help craft the declaration,” said Chase. “We have a great challenge before us and this was an opportunity for multiple perspectives, not just from the industry, to come together and pinpoint real, united solutions to the problems we’re facing.”

The declaration is a consensus action plan intended to confront the crisis California has with wildfire destruction and forest loss. Within the last two years, California has lost 6 million of its 33 million acres of forestland to wildfire – approximately 20%. It is possible that over the next 10 to 20 years, the majority of California forestland will burn due to overstocking and drought conditions exacerbated by climate change.

“If we continue to lose forestland at this rate, we will lose the many benefits that forests provide such as clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, community stability, and sustainable building products,” said Chase.

Part of the issue stems from the intensity of recent fires. Compared to previous years, recent fires have burned at high intensity, consuming all standing vegetation, not just brush and dead wood.

“Some of the areas are re-burns of the same area that burned 4 to 5 years ago. This re-burning leads to a type conversion where forests revert to brush or grasslands,” said Chase. “It has a huge impact of wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, wood product production and more.”

The declaration serves as a consensus document to provide multiple recommendations on things that need to be done to avoid future forest loss. The document breaks down into three sections: Facts, Principles and Urgent Actions.

The facts section lays the groundwork for why urgent action needs to occur to save California forests. Some of the facts include wildfire’s impact on lives and property loss, permanently transformed landscapes, economic repercussions and damage to human and animal health.

It also indicates how dynamic and proactive land management improves forest health while protecting surrounding communities.

“Recognition of the importance of active forest management is a key element in the action plan,” said Chase. “It’s the recognition of the need for sawmills, particleboard plants and more jobs for truckers, foresters and loggers to actively manage the forest. Prescribed fire is part of the solution too, but not the whole solution.”

Responding to the facts and with the guidance of some set principles, the group agreed on seven urgent actions to implement. The actions are:
• Spend $5 billion annually on proactive management
• Build infrastructure to support this work
• Leverage R&D and new technology
• Increase the state’s capacity to conduct prescribed burns
• Create jobs and train workers
• Support initiatives to protect communities and property
• Amend and adapt state and federal law so it’s consistent with the current crisis

“In an attempt to protect them, we love our forests to death,” said Chase. “We have attempted to maintain a dynamic system in a static state and it doesn’t work. These problems are not confined to California. Fire adapted forests in western North America and throughout the world are facing these same issues. California has an opportunity to lead the world out of this forest health and fire crisis but it will take bold action.”

The next step for the Venado Declaration is to bring it to state and federal agencies and legislative bodies who have the ability to enact the recommendations. This includes continuing conversations with California’s current Governor Newsom on how best to save the forestlands.

“Change needs to happen now because if we do nothing, the forests will burn and that is an unacceptable outcome,” said Chase.

To read the full Venado Declaration, visit https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21100767-venado-declaration

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