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New laws address forest management, fire insurance

Daniel Schwen

California will be changing the way it manages forests and wild lands near urban areas, after a Central Coast lawmaker’s bills relating to wildfire management and response were signed into law.

Governor Jerry Brown signed three bills authored by Santa Barbara state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. One aspect of SB 1260 calls for fire agency input when developers are planning new construction in high fire hazard areas. It also changes forest management practices.

“This bill is a comprehensive fire prevention deal that promotes fire resilience through a number of avenues,” Jackson told KCBX News Friday. “But the most significant and primary is through the use of responsible controlled burns.”

Jackson says the bills allows the state to triple the amount of federal, state and privately-owned land fire agencies can manage with controlled burns.

“As somebody who is a strong and proud environmentalist, this was not an easy approach to take, to be honest with you,” Jackson said. “But having been evacuated myself, having watched these fires burn, it's very clear that we  just have to shift the way we manage our forest lands.”

Another newly-signed bill—SB 917—relates to the December, 2017 Thomas Fire and January 09, 2018 Montecito debris flow, and require insurance policies to cover mudslides if they can be traced back to a wildfire.

A third Jackson-authored bill signed into law this week, SB 821, aims at bolstering emergency notification programs run by counties. It automatically enrolls all county resident in an alert program, although people can opt-out. 

All three go into effect on January 1, 2019.