Pete’s Comments: Fire and politics

Earthmoving equipment is one of the best firefighting tools out there. Here, equipment is prepped to move around the Camp Fire in Butte County, CA.

California Assembly Bill (AB) 1103, which establishes a statewide livestock pass program for producers to access their property to check on livestock during a disaster, was passed unanimously by the state Senate and Assembly. The bill is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) signature.

The bill, introduced by assembly member Megan Dahle (R-Bieber), would authorize the county agricultural commissioner, or other designated agency, to establish an Agricultural Pass (Ag Pass) program. The program grants any qualifying agricultural producer or employee access to their property during a natural disaster, including wildfire. The bill would require the state fire marshal to develop a curriculum for agricultural producers eligible for the Ag Pass program.

CA’s Dixie Fire puts Ag Pass program to test

Dahle stated in support of the bill, “Many ranchers have ignored evacuation orders, knowing that once they leave, they may not be able to gain return access to care for their animals. Others have been evacuated only to eventually make the difficult choice to bypass roadblocks to access their farm or ranch, risking their safety and a misdemeanor charge to ensure the welfare of their animals. 

“AB 1103 creates a standardized training and framework for an agricultural pass program, allowing ranchers to access their property in an emergency to save their livestock and lands.”

CA ranch’s allotments burn from Dixie Fire

According to an analysis by the state Assembly, the bill would supersede and sunset programs already established in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura and other counties and “sidestep local control by providing that if any county approves such a program, it must be only under the parameters defining within of this bill.” These counties were looking for the bill to allow already-established Ag Pass programs not to be superseded by the bill. 

Wildfire bills introduced in CA

At the time of the bill’s introduction, California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) sponsored the bill. Kirk Wilbur, vice president of government affairs for CCA, told WLJ in March that currently, there is no one agency in charge of granting access for ranchers.

“In recent years, ranchers have reported challenges accessing their livestock during wildfires in order to provide feed or water, doctor the animals or evacuate them,” Wilbur said. “Unfortunately, in recent years we’ve seen numerous animals needlessly and painfully perish during wildfire incidents.”

Newsom has until Oct. 10 to act on the bill. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor


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