Does “Vegetation Management” Equal Clearcuts? Concerns Grow Over TPUD Proposal

by Caroline Griffith

In what they are calling “Proactive right of way expansion and vegetation management” in the name of fire safety, the Trinity Public Utilities District (TPUD) and the Western Area Power Authority (WAPA) have started scoping on a project that could potentially result in miles of clearcuts. The WRAP, or Wildfire Risk Reduction, Reliability, and Asset Protection Project, proposes to expand 230 miles of utility right of way from 20 feet up to 130 feet in high risk areas. The vegetation removal would be followed by herbicide application. Trinity County has numerous resolutions declaring herbicides a public nuisance and Trinity County an herbicide-free zone.

Trinity County resident Amanda Barragar expressed concern saying, “They are measuring the project by “board feet” rather than fire resiliency or fire risk assessment. This is especially concerning to me because it makes clear economics are the driving force, not the community’s safety. They’re determining the width of the clear cut by the amount of money they can make back from the timber.  The numbers they propose are economic, not science.”

“It’s especially concerning how archaic this proposal is,” Barragar added. “These tactics of clearing are old-school. We have learned time and again at this point that clear cutting and spraying does not decrease fire danger, in fact it increases fire danger.  When you spray toxic herbicides, the plants don’t disappear, they just die and become more dry and dangerous as fire hazards.”

In addition to the environmental concerns over this project, there are also concerns about transparency and potential conflicts of interest among the TPUD Board; the current Vice-President, Alex Cousins, works as a sales manager at Trinity River Lumber Company. 

TPUD and WAPA are still in the review process for this project, which isn’t projected to begin until Spring 2022. Local enviro organizations S.A.F.E. and EPIC submitted comments during the  recent scoping period. The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or Environmental Impact Review (EIR) is scheduled to be done by August 2021. Once released, there will be a 45 day review period which will include public meetings in September of 2021. A final report is projected to be done by April 2022, after which WAPA and Trinity PUD will make a decision on the project.

cartoon by Joel Mielke