Newsom’s Misguided Funding Priorities on Wildfire Prevention
With multiple wildfires raging across Northern California, you would think Gov. Newsom would be in line for good headlines for his handling of the wildfire fighting and prevention efforts. Think again. The Governor is apparently burning bridges with recent news that he misled Californians about wildfire protection.
On June 23, Capital Public Radio broke the news that Newsom had misled the public about the effectiveness of his administration’s more than 30 wildfire prevention projects treating 90,000 acres.
Newsom publicly declared the projects were complete in January 2020, but Capital Public Radio article gives us this sober reality about the Governor’s plan, “The investigation found Newsom overstated, by an astounding 690%, the number of acres treated with fuel breaks and prescribed burns in the very forestry projects he said needed to be prioritized to protect the state’s most vulnerable communities.”
According to the article, 11,399 acres received fire prevention work, not 90,000. But the Newsom fire acreage story is only half the issue.
The Newsom administration cut wildfire prevention funding by half in the final 2021-22 budget bill, according to Capital Public Radio reporting.
“Newsom had called for over $700 million for wildfire prevention and resilience in his revised budget in May,” the report said. “The Legislature increased that amount to $1 billion in its budget bill. But the final budget deal includes less than half of that — $458 million over the next year.”
The Newsom administration also reportedly pushed back the completion date for the state fire reduction fuel plan for 500,000 acres from 2023 to 2025, and administration officials said they had to turn down federal money because there wasn’t enough time to complete the projects. When has state government, especially a progressive one like California, turned down money?
It’s a political risky and potentially reckless move as California will inevitably face another round of destructive wildfires this summer.
Consider that the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California, was the deadliest wildfire in state history with 85 people killed and more than $8 billion in damage.
Last year broke nearly every wildfire record in California; most acres burned (over 4.1 million) and five of the six largest fires in California history. Don’t forget those power shutoffs that left hundreds of thousands without power for days at a time with little notice. Many cities looked like an apocalyptic Hollywood movie due to the massive amount of smoke last year.
Californians do not need an argument about the impact wildfires have been having to the state. The risk to life, property, and well-being have been felt across the state for years.
Newsom’s overlooking and underfunding wildfire prevention projects and lack of investment are a head-scratcher. Add the state drought into the picture and it is almost negligent that the Newsom administration seemingly doesn’t have their stuff together on wildfires.
Hopefully, the state has a quiet fire season. But if the last several years are any indicator, we could be in for a long, hot summer. Let’s hope the state has the resources to keep up with wildfires and let’s pray none of the areas Newsom promised to clear go up in smoke.
Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager for PRI.