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California Cattlemen’s Association and Others Request $1.5 Billion in Funding, Regulatory Changes to Battle Increasing Blazes

Broad coalition of agriculture, business, environmental, forestry leaders call on Governor Newsom, legislature for "Urgent Action" on wildfires

Published on December 17, 2020

A new coalition of forestry, agricultural, business and environmental groups today called on Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature to provide stable and sustainable financial resources of more than $1.5 billion in the Governor’s upcoming budget designed to thwart wildfires that will provide multiple benefits to wildlife, water quality and security, as well as climate mitigation and resilience.

The renewed push for action comes after California experienced more than 9,600 fires in 2020, with more than 4.1 million total acres burned, 31 fatalities, and over 10,400 structures damaged or destroyed.

“Our forests and watersheds are important to all Californians: they are the main source of our water supply, provide wildlife habitat and recreation, and support many good jobs in the forest industry. But past logging and a century of fire suppression has left our forests unnaturally dense and fire prone, and it will take a sustained effort by the state to restore more natural conditions,” Paul Mason, Vice President, Policy & Incentives Pacific Forestry Trust. “We must act boldly to reduce impacts from fires and help us safeguard our most critical water sources.”

“I’m old enough to remember when controlled burns were an active tool we could use under the right conditions to reduce fuel loads,” noted cattleman David Daley, Chairman, California Cattle Council & CSU Chico Professor Emeritus. “We stopped doing prescribed fire to any significant degree beginning probably 30 years ago, and a big part of that is regulatory obstacles. It’s not just ranchers and other rural residents that suffer the consequences, though: it is the wildlife and the environment, whole communities, and the entire state. We need experts on the ground empowered to say ‘we can burn.’ We’ve simply got to reduce these fuel loads.”

“California needs to fund solutions to the wildfire crisis that reduce the risk to human communities while restoring balance to ecosystems,” said Nick Jensen, Lead Conservation Scientist, California Native Plant Society. “To be effective, these solutions need to be tailored to our state’s diverse habitats, thus ensuring the long-term conservation of California’s irreplaceable biodiversity.”

These groups, joined by nearly a dozen others including Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Business Council, The Wine Institute, The Fire Restoration Group, and the California Wilderness Coalition, wrote a letter to the Governor requesting what they called “urgent action.”

The group’s funding request includes:

  • $600 million for landscape-scale strategies for returning to a more natural, fire-resilient condition with investments in established programs for fuel reduction, forest thinning, and protection against loss of intact forests. This would include funding to CAL FIRE for the Forest Health grant program, Forest Legacy Program, Fire and Resource Assessment Program, and California Forest Improvement Program. It is important that a portion of this funding include work in oak woodlands to prevent the devastating fires California has seen in agricultural areas in recent years and to support vital biodiversity values. Additionally, we urge a sizable investment in the expansion of the use of prescribed fire to support partners and increase capacity, including funding for a collaborative tribal burning program that respects tribal sovereignty. After generations of suppressing cultural burning, it is long past time to partner with and learn from the tribes’ life experience and knowledge.
  • $900 million for fire prevention efforts to reduce the risk of wildfire to homes, commercial structures, and communities, increase workforce capacity for risk reduction activities in both the built environment and the forest, planning and actions to make communities in fire-prone regions more resilient, and mitigations to safeguard vulnerable populations. This would include investments in CAL FIRE’s Fire Prevention grant program. California and Local Conservation Corps, California Community Colleges, and Department of Conservation for the Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program, as well as funding for hardening of structures, defensible spaces, emergency shelters and alert systems. It would also include funding for community resilience including community infrastructure, risk reduction buffers, and protections for human health such as air filters and power backup. These measures are especially important for non-forested, high risk areas, where prescribed fire and other landscape intervention may not be viable options.

In addition, the letter noted “we believe that there should be a discussion with the Legislature about how to improve coordination of the many fire prevention programs created or expanded in recent years, which span across multiple agencies and departments, to improve efficiencies and avoid redundancies. Finally, we continue to urge you to support a statewide bond proposal to finance vital climate preparedness efforts, including fire preparedness and landscape conservation and restoration activities, to help ensure a more resilient California.”

Associate Writer