Lamenting “the worst epidemic of tree mortality” in the state’s modern history, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday sought federal aid to remove dead trees from California forests and called for more controlled burns to reduce the risk of wildfire.
The declaration, including a controversial exemption from environmental reviews, comes amid California’s ongoing drought and a bark beetle infestation that has killed millions of trees weakened by lack of water.
Brown said the die-off exacerbates the risk of wildfires and the threat of erosion. He ordered state agencies to remove dead or dying trees from high-hazard areas and said his administration will work with federal authorities to expand controlled burns.
Brown is also seeking to increase the number of days tree waste can be burned, while ordering the California Public Utilities Commission to expedite contracts for bioenergy facilities that use forest products from high-hazard zones.
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The order includes an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act for efforts to remove dead or dying trees, alarming some environmentalists.
“CEQA requires agencies to tell the public what they’re doing, and to try to lessen the environmental damage of their projects,” said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Bundy said Brown should be using his executive authority in a “more restrained fashion than this seems to represent.”
In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting assistance, Brown said California “is facing the worst epidemic of tree mortality in modern history.”
“Tree mortality across California’s forests is putting lives and critical infrastructure at risk,” he wrote, “greatly increasing already dangerous wildfire conditions and exacerbating threats posed by falling trees.”
Editor’s note: This post was updated at 2:45 p.m. to include information about the California Environmental Quality Act.