Sen. Dodd’s prescribed fire fund bill advances

With the threat of a destructive wildfire season looming, legislation advanced today from Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, that would enhance wildfire prevention in California through implementation of a $20 million prescribed fire claims fund.

“Prescribed burning is one of the most effective means of wildfire prevention, which is why I wrote the law last year to encourage greater use of this proven technique,” Sen. Dodd said. “My new bill continues our efforts to encourage greater use of prescribed fire by ensuring those who practice this time-tested technique can have some protection from any unintended costs. I thank committee members for seeing the value in this proposal.”

Prescribed fire, also known as controlled burning, has been used for centuries to clear tinder-dry trees and brush that are known to fuel runaway wildfires.

Rarely do prescribed fires escape their bounds and cause damage to neighboring properties. If they do, Sen. Dodd’s new bill, Senate Bill 926, would establish a fund to help cover costs.

It is a followup to Senate Bill 332, written by Sen. Dodd and signed into law last year, which protects landowners and prescribed fire managers from having to pay fire suppression expenses unless they have acted with gross negligence.

SB 926 is sponsored by The Nature Conservancy. It passed the Senate Natural Resources committee with overwhelming support.

“Returning beneficial fire to the landscape is essential to both forest health as well as reducing the impacts of megafires to our communities,” said Jay Ziegler, director of policy and external affairs at The Nature Conservancy. “SB 926 will establish a prescribed fire claims fund allowing for the implementation of $20 million included in last year’s budget for this purpose. This measure is critical to reducing the risks and impacts of massive and severe wildfires that are only expected to grow with climate change.”

"Reintroduction of ‘good fire’ — prescribed burns — is an important component of strengthening the resilience of our forests and communities to climate changed fueled wildfire and drought,” said Michael Wara, director of the Climate and Energy Policy program at Stanford University. “With SB 926, Sen. Dodd proposes a practical path to overcome one of the major barriers -- lack of available insurance coverage -- that has kept many private prescribed burners on the sidelines and slowed down work that will keep all Californians safer during wildfire season.”