With wildfire season looming, early budget action is a welcome start

150 150 Deb Kollars

State legislators took swift action on Monday to pass a $536 million early budget action plan for wildfire prevention, aimed at getting ahead of the next wildfire season. Both the Senate and Assembly approved the funding package on unanimous votes.

The early action legislation, which would amend the existing 2020 state budget, was developed jointly by Governor Newsom and legislators. Newsom announced the planned investments last week and signed the legislative package today. The funds will support an array of forest health projects, home hardening and defensible space programs, fire prevention grants, and workforce training to help create more resilient forests, wildlands and communities.

“From prevention and the protection of natural resources to economic stimulus, the plan is a welcome and necessary step in the right direction,” said Micah Weinberg, CEO of California Forward (CA FWD) through a statement released in response to the announcement.

California’s 2021 wildfire season will be here soon. Emerging drought conditions have communities and officials worried it will be as intense as last year, when nearly 10,000 fires and 4.2 million acres burned throughout the state, setting a new record for California.

“The hots are getting hotter. The dries are getting drier,” Newsom said during a press conference in Fresno County last week to announce the funding. The proposed investments support California’s new Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan, which calls for bolder action to address the drivers of catastrophic fires and increase the pace and scale of forest management.

“Investing in forest management is a win-win-win-win,” said Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and co-lead of the California Economic Summit’s Empowering Resilient and Productive Landscapes work group. “Not only do we help reduce fire risk, but we can also protect air and water quality, manage gas emissions, and infuse our economy with innovative wood products, while also training a workforce that will be vital in helping us manage our forests well into the future.”

CA FWD and the California Economic Summit have been strong advocates of urgent action to manage the increasing risk of wildfires. In 2019, CA FWD released “California’s Wildfire Crisis: A Call to Action.” The report identified key prioritizing principles, which have helped spur action, including:

  • Ramping up efforts to protect our landscapes and rural communities.
  • Ensuring that ecological and economic solutions match, in size and scale, the landscapes and watersheds in peril, including millions of acres of forests and wildlands requiring attention.
  • Promoting forest-based economic activities that strengthen and sustain the environment and rural regions. This includes building the infrastructure, markets and skilled workforce needed for forest-based industries that can contribute to resilient ecosystems and healthy communities.
  • Developing private capital and enterprise that will be essential to the solution, along with state leadership and partnerships across local, state and federal government.

The early action funding was widely welcomed by a broad coalition of environmental, conservation, and tribal leaders throughout the state who were at the forefront of urging immediate budget action on this issue, including Pacific Forest Trust, Sierra Business Council, Sierra Forest Legacy, The Nature Conservancy, and CA FWD, among others.

“This funding is essential to address the high-risk conditions across the landscape and around our communities,” noted a statement released by the coalition in response to the announcement last week.

The early action funding is an important starting point for what will be a long-haul investment priority for California. As the Summit’s Call to Action pointed out, it will be critical to invest at least $1 billion per year on an ongoing basis – at a minimum – to gain a foothold in preventing the far higher costs of unchecked megafires and creating a truly sustainable future for our state.

In the end, long-term solutions and investment commitments will be the game-changers. As the coalition noted: “The state will ultimately need to establish long-term stable and sustainable funding for these forest and wildfire resilience activities to build momentum over the coming decades.”


Deb Kollars

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