Moonlight Fire, a Federal Fire Precedent

Summertime is a season abundant with lightning storms, campfires, fireworks and in California, wildfires. There is great impact on our legal and environmental landscape that is shaped by these fires.

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The Moonlight Fire of 2007 was a large forest fire that burned approximately 45,000 acres of National Forest Service land in Plumas County. The government claimed damages of nearly 40 times the diminution in value of its land, nearly 8 times the pre-fire market value of its land.

It is important to provide adequate funds to repair the damage caused on the land but there should be balanced and consistent approach to this law much like the proposed changes described in Governor Brown’s May Revision to the state budget.

ImageA precedent-setting decision was made by the federal judge last week with the ruling that the defendants of the Moonlight Fire could be liable for any fire that started on their land regardless how it was ignited. This forced the private landowners and businesses to settle.

Like the Moonlight Fire, the actual  cause of many forest fires is unknown. Forest management can reduce the risk of wildfire damage and increase the positive benefits of fire. Many private landowners produce healthier forests with management tools, like thinning, to reduce their fire risk. Thinning removes a few trees leaving the remaining trees with more space to grow. Our public lands often do not get this beneficial treatment because they face public opposition when implementing fire reducing measures.

The moonlight fire litigation is an example of why California’s forests need the Timber Harvest Reform Package to pass. We still have time share with the legislature that we want to pass the package because there was not time to vote before they began summer recess. The vote will come in August. I will keep you posted on what you can do to help better manage our forests.

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