In January 2020, CAL FIRE launched an effort known as CalVTP (California Vegetation Treatment Program) to reduce hazardous fuel conditions across California. Although CAL FIRE has primary responsibility for program implementation, the CalVTP Environmental Impact Report establishes processes that may also assist with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance for fuel-reduction projects by other entities. In the Sierra Nevada, local organizations are learning what this new tool might mean for increasing the pace and scale of work to restore resilience to our forested landscapes.
In this article, the Feather River Resource Conservation District, an SNC grantee and one of the first organizations to use CalVTP for CEQA permitting, shares tips and takeaways for other groups planning fuel reduction projects.
Feather River RCD Uses CalVTP
By Brad Graevs and Michael Hall, Feather River Resource Conservation District
As an organization with a vested interest in Sierra Nevada fuels management, the Feather River RCD is constantly looking for ways to effectively plan and implement projects. At face value, CalVTP appears to be an efficient way to meet CEQA requirements and get work done on the ground.
The scope of the CalVTP Environmental Impact Report covers 20.3 million acres of the state of California. This one-size-fits-all approach to California’s diverse ecosystems has received criticism and legal action and is derided by some as being too broad in scope.
Through the development of our project, we learned a few things about CalVTP. It is a relatively new process, one in which CAL FIRE and project proponents are still sifting through the details. While CalVTP does expedite certain parts of CEQA through the project-specific analysis, it is by no means a CEQA cure-all. The greatest benefit that our organization noticed was that standard practices and mitigation measures have already been designed and approved. Following these guidelines ensures the completion of the CEQA compliance process. Resource surveys must still be conducted (think wildlife, botanical, and cultural), but in some cases having qualified personnel on-site during project implementation will suffice. In other cases, CalVTP would prohibit a certain treatment type at a specific time or place, all of which help projects remain environmentally compliant.
CalVTP for Project Development
CalVTP is being explored by forest health practitioners as an alternate means to complete CEQA for projects that fit within the program scope. The future of non-commercial vegetation treatment in California may lean heavily on the guidelines set forth in the CalVTP and, under the right circumstances, can be a worthwhile tool for land managers. Contact your regional CAL FIRE forester for more information.
Current and proposed projects can be accessed on the CalVTP project viewer.
The Feather River RCD is a Sierra Nevada Conservancy Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program (RFFCP) grantee. Through the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (WIP), SNC allocates RFFCP funding to organizations and agencies in the SNC Region, encouraging them to build new partnerships, test new strategies, and fill capacity gaps. Sharing these strategies will help all Regional stakeholders to be more effective in their forest restoration and fire resilience work.
Stay updated on the work of our RFFCP grantees by signing up for WIP capacity news.