New California law confirms the right of indigenous people to control burns | Climate News

San Francisco, California – Overgrown forests and more and more Destructive wildfire It is the legacy of California’s fire-fighting policy for more than a century. Historically, if people cause an out-of-control fire, state law requires people to be liable for damages.

But a new California law will eliminate the risk of liability for private citizens and aboriginals Control burns, This is a low-intensity fire that has been proven to prevent catastrophic fires. The law marked a paradigm shift in the United States. In the pre-immigrant era, the aborigines often lit small fires to take care of the landscape.

However, U.S. federal policy considers all fires to be dangerous and puts fighting them out as a priority, making forests denser and providing more fuel for wildfires.Today, climate change is drying these forests and causing Longer wildfire season.

According to a recent report, due to more intense fires and poor forest management, California’s Yosemite National Park is now a net carbon emitter. UN report.

In recent years, states have recognized the benefits of stipulating burns, but this practice must be significantly expanded to restore balance to forests. California’s new law came into effect on January 1, laying the foundation for ordinary citizens and aboriginals across the state to wield the so-called “good fire.”

Due to the extended wildfire season due to climate change, there have been several huge wildfires in California this year [File: Robert Galbraith/Reuters]

Cultural burn

In a 1918 letter, a district ranger in the Klamath National Forest wrote to his supervisor that the most important duty of the U.S. Forest Service was to keep fires to a minimum, but ” Rebellious whites and Indians “are setting fires “purely for curse” rather than caring about whether the fire causes harm to others.

He suggested the solution is to “kill them and shoot him every time you spot a person sneaking in the bushes like a coyote.” He also suggested hiring a female missionary who “gained the trust of the indigenous people” to persuade them to adopt settlers’ theory of fire.

Margo Robbins, a member of the Yulock tribe in northern California and the executive director of the Cultural Fire Management Committee, shared this letter with Al Jazeera to show how much forest policy has changed over the past century.Her community faces a high risk of fire due to the excessive fuel load in her area, but responsibility has always been an obstacle to stipulating burns, because “there is no 100% guarantee [the fire] Will stay where you want,” Robbins said.

California stipulates that burns require the permission of the landowner. Although the new law removes the responsibility of the person who suffered such burns if a set of basic conditions are met, any behavior that constitutes a gross negligence will still be held accountable. The law covers “cultural burns” and “cultural firefighters” and recognizes the right of indigenous people to use fire.

“[The law] Recognizing the value of this indigenous knowledge and the value of this indigenous people’s experience with fire, so much that they say we are equivalent to a California-certified burn boss,” Robbins said. “This is huge because it opens up for us. The gate, let us start taking care of our land with fire again without worrying about going to jail. “

Broad support

This winter, Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a firefighting consultant at the University of California Cooperative Promotion Department and director of the Northern California Regulations Firefighting Committee, stated that she plans to set up a “good fire” near Eureka and take the same precautions as before. Follow.

“[The law] It will not change the way we operate; it just makes us more comfortable,” she told Al Jazeera.

Quinn-Davidson is part of the Coalition of Burn Advocates to advance the provisions of the new California law. She said a politically diverse group of supporters supported the legislation, including conservative ranchers, indigenous groups and scientists.

Robbins said that the author of the law not only solicited “symbolic” opinions from her group, but also “returned to the drawing board” after listening to the guidance of the indigenous people.

The State of California also allocated $20 million to the pilot fund to cover losses when the prescribed burns are out of control. Quinn-Davidson said that the next step is for California and other states to increase the number of people who have received mandatory burn training, noting that “the workforce we currently have is only a small part of what we need.”

‘Key turning point’

California is not the first state to change its fire liability law. In 1990, Florida took the lead in implementing the “serious negligence” standard, which is less stringent than the most commonly used “simple negligence” standard. Some other states, including Nevada, Georgia and Michigan, have followed suit.

Oregon is also reconsidering its fire liability law, because ordinary citizens who want to provide for burns are facing the same risk of liability. “Many organizations and private landowners have found that they are unable to obtain the required fire insurance,” Amelia Portfield, a senior policy adviser at The Nature Conservancy of Oregon, told Al Jazeera.

This year, the state passed two laws. One is to order state agencies to complete a study on liability and insurance barriers to prevent the expansion of prescribed burns by July 2022, and the other is to assist in the training of more prescribed burns. .

Robbins hopes that one day, in various parts of the United States, the aboriginal people will maintain their sovereignty to use fire without anyone’s permission. Her vision is “We can burn at the right time, at the right place, and for the right reason.”

“As tribal people, we know what is best for our land,” she said. “We can decide on our own to use fire as a land management tool and ritual rules and regulations.”

Robbins added that all private landowners should be able to ignite their own “good fire” and at the same time get better training opportunities: “We are at a critical turning point and we are moving in a good direction.”

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