Wildfire Protection Plan
Thank you to all who emailed. City council approved the plan on Nov. 6th because the plan deployment ceremony with former Mayor Leffingwell attending was already scheduled. They didn't know that there had not been any public review of the written draft. No one wanted to make a motion since they understood that public input was missing. Finally, a motion was made and the plan was approved. As always, staff tells their version but the public can't until it's too late.
This plan was NOT reviewed by the Environmental or Urban Forestry board. It was only approved by the Public Safety Commission.
The approved plan (http://www.austintexas.gov/wildfireprotectionplan), was written by a consultant and affects trees since fuel load reduction to reduce fire risk includes removing trees.
We asked Justice Jones, AFD Firewise liaison, to postpone the Council hearing for a month so that the plan could go for discussion and approval to the Environmental and Urban Forestry boards, but our request was denied by AFD upper management. Justice explained that the boards didn't ask for a briefing and that he can schedule one after the plan is approved. We explained that these 2 boards should be able to provide recommendations to the plan prior to Council approval.
The Austin Heritage Tree Foundation can't support this plan at this point since the process lacks transparency and public participation on the actual plan.
It is a good plan but we are particularly concerned with the fuel load section scholastically discussing all possibilities for fire risk mitigation from not removing trees to removing all, without specifically warning of the environmental consequences or advocating for a balanced approach. We are concerned that this section may be misused by those who advocate for excessive tree removal to reduce fire risk.
We are also concerned about the lack of mention/concern with wildlife habitat reduction except for endangered species habitat.
No Public Review Of The Plan
We are concerned of Council approving a wildfire protection plan that includes tree removal which affects stormwater runoff, water quality, creeks and wildlife habitat without any review at all from the public other than the Public Safety Commission.
It is true that the public had many opportunities to provide input for the development of the plan, but this is the first time that a copy of the written plan has been made available. A draft plan was not made available for public review.
Justice agreed with our concerns that this plan affects trees and water quality, but explained that AFD already scheduled a Travis County workshop on Nov. 14th with a few Firewise neighborhoods to deploy the approved plan. AFD could deploy the plan and still have the workshop at that date because that is a county event. AFD could delay the Council hearing for a month to allow board review.
Setting up a process that will exclude public input from WUI code regulations
We are very concerned that AFD is setting a process that excludes the public from the product, except to provide ideas at an early stage.
We are concerned that AFD will use this same process when the WUI code regulations are written, and that the boards and public will be excluded and only the Public Safety Commission will be involved.
AHTF is also very concerned that this breaks the commitment made by Chief Evans and Chief Linardos when members of the Urban Forestry Board and AHTF met with AFD two years ago to discuss this process. AFD committed back then to include the public, but now they say that they did by including the public only at an early stage, even though a written copy of the plan (draft or final) was never made available until it was taken to the Public Safety Commission for approval.