A sixth-generation Napa Valley winegrape grower who serves as a board member for the California Farm Bureau testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources today, calling for legislative actions to protect California and its farms and ranches from wildfires.
Johnnie White, who also is a beef cattle rancher who provides grazing for wildfire fuel reduction, is a 20-year veteran of the St. Helena Fire Department. He battled the 2017 Tubbs Fire and the 2020 Glass Fire and LNU Lightning Complex wildfires, which devastated wine country communities and agricultural properties.
“Wildfires have caused numerous direct and indirect impacts on California’s $50 billion agriculture industry,” White said in his prepared remarks to the committee. “In addition to being a significant public safety threat, many farms, ranches, wineries, employee housing, equipment, livestock, and commodities have been directly damaged or completely destroyed. For those only partially impacted, they are faced with the reality of rebuilding what remains of their operation. Because many farmers and ranchers live on their farming operation, some have also lost their home simultaneous to losing their farm and income.”
White outlined the additional fallout of numerous farmers and ranchers being denied insurance coverage after the fires. That led California Farm Bureau and Napa County Farm Bureau to lead a successful fight to pass Senate Bill 11. The state legislation allowed farms and ranches to access California’s insurer of last resort, the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan, to protect property and farm infrastructure. California Farm Bureau is now sponsoring Senate Bill 505 to allow farmers and ranchers to move back to the competitive insurance market with affordable commercial policies.
The state’s insurance crisis continues, White warned, with “announcements by individual insurance companies stating that they would stop selling insurance coverage in California due to the rapid growth of catastrophe exposure.”
He urged Congress to consider multiple steps to mitigate fire danger in California, which includes 18 national forests. He recommended:
· Creating an exemption to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations to enable greater use of prescribed fire to reduce risks of high-severity wildfires that also result in dangerous emissions.
· Promoting partnerships that assist the U.S. Forest Service in expanding vegetation removal, including by enabling private industry and trained foresters and ranchers to help in the effort and by recognizing livestock grazing as an effective management tool.
· Incentivizing public-private partnerships through the 2023 Farm Bill to grow new markets for forest products and support rural communities.
· Removing barriers to increase the pace and scale of forest management, including expanding acreage eligible for hazardous fuels reduction and insect and disease treatment.
· Prioritizing reforestation of federal lands ravaged by wildfire and increasing investment in public and private nurseries aiding in reforestation.
“The reality is we are playing catch-up with a situation that has been worsening for decades exacerbated by drought, disease and even climate change,” White testified to the committee. “Collectively and collaboratively, we must remain committed to finding solutions to change fire behavior and achieve fire resilient landscapes for the sake of our natural resources and rural economies.”
To read White’s full prepared remarks to the House Committee on Natural Resources, click here .
The California Farm Bureau works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 29,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of 5.3 million Farm Bureau members.