For Immediate Release, April 11, 2007
||Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 598-1466
Drew Feldmann, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, (909) 881-6081
Steven Farrell, The Sierra Club, (310) 362 8410
Largest County in Lower 48 Challenged to Address Climate Change
Long-term Development Plan Ignores Global Warming
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.— Conservation groups in California’s Inland Empire filed a lawsuit today to require San Bernardino County to address global warming in its recently approved General Plan. San Bernardino County — the largest county in the contiguous United States — approved its long-range plan last month without addressing how to plan for a warming world. The General Plan is the county’s blueprint for growth over the next 25 years.
“Global warming is already affecting San Bernardino, and its impacts are only going to get more severe,” said Jonathan Evans, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Allowing rampant growth alongside increasing wildfires, increasing drought and limited infrastructure is a disaster waiting to happen.”
The lawsuit, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, was filed in San Bernardino Superior Court by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society.
While the state of California has taken steps to address the problem of climate change, San Bernardino County has chosen to ignore it. The county avoided requests from the Attorney General of California and conservation groups to analyze greenhouse gases and climate change in its blueprint for the future.
Global warming is increasing large wildfires and drought across the West. Decreased snow pack and higher temperatures have put pressure on water supplies and created a year-round fire season in southern California. The length of the active wildfire season has increased by 78 days, and the average burn time has increased by 29 days.
Global warming-related fires will cost Californians the most where forests are next to major metropolitan areas like the San Bernardino metropolitan area. At the same time, San Bernardino County continues to experience high population growth in mountain and foothill communities adjacent to national forests. The 2003 Old Fire, which destroyed over 1,100 homes at a cost of over $1.2 billion, is a dire indicator for the future.
“We’re trying to get county leadership to stop thinking in their habitual, fossilized, pro-development manner and to see their role with fresh eyes,” said Drew Feldmann of San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. “In light of global warming, issues such as zoning, housing, and transportation pose new problems that require new solutions.”
The recognized threats posed by wildfire didn’t sway the county to protect communities in fire-prone areas from irresponsible development. The county’s requirement of 30-foot setbacks is fraught with exceptions. Setbacks do not apply to a broad range of flammable structures including fences, decks, awnings, propane tanks, and garages. Distances of 65 to 130 feet are necessary to reduce the threat of wildland fire on residential structures.
There are also grave concerns about the adequacy of roads for evacuation during fires with an increasing population.
“County planners acknowledge they aren't using accurate analysis on our everyday mountain traffic,” says Steven Farrell of the Sierra Club. “But what’s worse to me, they've dismissed calls to evaluate the capacity of our emergency evacuation routes. How can we rely on the excellent people in our public agencies to plan responsibly if county leaders are unwilling to provide them with meaningful data?”
“We’re putting our communities and wildlife at risk while local leaders avoid the burning question of our generation,” said the Center’s Jonathan Evans. “We need to take action now to make sure global warming doesn’t destroy what we all love about San Bernardino County. Keeping new homes out of the path of wildfire, decreasing sprawl, and requiring energy efficiency are all commonsense solutions that the county ignored.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat. www.biologicaldiversity.org
The San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society advocates for protection of wildlife and habitat throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. www.sbvas.org
The Sierra Club is dedicated to the conservation and preservation of the nation's natural resources. www.sierraclub.org