Yosemite National Park
Sierra Sun Times file photo
June 26, 2020 - SAN FRANCISCO – The National Park Service (NPS) has issued permits to Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE) to perform wildfire prevention activities in 12 California national park units through a new public-private partnership that focuses on protecting park resources and streamlining communication between the NPS and utilities.
“The unprecedented wildfire danger we face in California called for a new way of thinking,” said Acting Regional Director Woody Smeck, who oversees the park service regions that include California. “We have eliminated cumbersome and redundant processes and replaced them with a single efficient and standardized process that came about through our collaborative public-private partnership. We understood the urgency and I believe we have delivered in a way that facilitates utility wildfire mitigation work and fulfills our mandate to protect public safety and national park resources.”
As part of new wildfire prevention efforts approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the utilities are performing additional inspections of their power lines, vegetation management around equipment, maintenance, and repair and replacement of facilities within national park units. Under the new streamlined process, utilities will no longer need to submit separate permit applications to individual park units, nor face the prospect of working under different permit conditions for the same work performed at different parks. The permits will now use pre-negotiated standard terms and conditions, including resource protection measures jointly developed by NPS and the utilities.
“Safety is our first priority and we remain focused on continuing efforts to strengthen the grid and manage vegetation, particularly in high fire risk areas,” said Mike Backstrom, SCE’s managing director of Energy and Environmental Policy. “We applaud the commitment of the National Park Service to this innovative approach that ensures we can conduct this urgently needed wildfire mitigation work in national parklands within SCE’s service territory, and at the same time work together to protect these important lands and resources.”
“Preventing wildfires and making our communities safer involves many different players. The National Park Service is a true partner to California energy companies and this collaboration helps streamline the permitting process and allows us to do our jobs more efficiently. At the end of the day, the real winners of this new approach are California’s national parks and their visitors who will benefit from enhanced wildfire protection measures for years to come,” said Andy Williams, Vice President of Shared Services for PG&E.
The permits are valid for one year. Participating parks include: Death Valley National Park, Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, Joshua Tree National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Pinnacles National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, Redwood National and State Parks, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, and Yosemite National Park. Fire mitigation work at Golden Gate National Recreation Area is conducted under a preexisting special use permit.
The effort is part of a larger national wildfire reduction strategy guided by Executive Order (E.O.) 13855 – Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk, as well as Secretary’s Order (S.O.) 3372 – Reducing Wildfire Risks on Department of the Interior Land through Active Management. The two orders direct Interior agencies to implement policies to improve forest and rangeland management practices by reducing hazardous fuel loads, mitigating fire risk and ensuring the safety and stability of local communities through active management on forests and rangelands.
The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service continue to implement aggressive, wildland fire strategies to more effectively manage, treat, and prevent wildfires. Last year alone, the Department reduced wildfire risks on more than 1.4 million acres of Federal lands in 2019, which was the largest fuel load reduction in a decade. In implementing these strategies this year, the Department has taken active mitigation steps to safeguard wildland firefighters from COVID-19 transmission, while still fulfilling its duties to protect communities from wildfires throughout the country.