I can now say with confidence that all three FEMA-funded grants—Oakland’s, the Park District’s and UC’s—are set to move forward. Thanks to excellent media coverage, the public is now better informed about the need for wildfire prevention projects and better understands the responsibility that comes with providing a safer environment for all. Recent news stories, including those appearing in the East Bay Express and broadcast on KPFA, have been more objective and less influenced by emotionally charged claims from fringe groups that oppose the work. An informal poll on the North Hills Community Association’s online forum suggests that as much as 90 percent of hill residents support the FEMA projects. We believe that most fire professionals and wildland workers do as well.
Fieldwork on FEMA-funded projects could begin in early 2016, although it remains to be seen whether litigation will slow or prevent implementation. Two lawsuits have been filed to challenge the projects. The Hills Conservation Network filed suit against FEMA, Oakland, and UC on the grounds that the projects go too far; they leave too few eucalyptus, pine and acacias standing in the East Bay hills. The Sierra Club then filed suit, claiming that the projects don’t go far enough. In their view, the original designs submitted by Oakland and UC were science-based and should have been approved and included in FEMA’s final Environmental Impact Statement.
The Conservancy strongly opposes the HCN suit and supports the Sierra Club position, hoping to see less thinning and more complete removal of fire-prone, non-native trees. We realize that FEMA’s final EIS was a compromise. We accept it, nevertheless, in the interest of moving the projects forward and without further delay.