Dare to Believe: Meaningful Funding for California’s Wildfire Crisis

Brittany Benesi

Brittany Benesi

Government and Community Affairs Director

Fire has always had a place in California. There was a time when the state had a well-defined wildfire season, when homeowners in California’s wildland urban interface could readily insure their homes, when wildfire smoke wouldn’t blanket the entire state at one time. Unfortunately, due to a century of mismanagement of our fire ecosystem and the growing impacts of climate change, that time has passed. Last year alone more than 4.2 million acres burned, destroying more than 10,000 homes, taking more than 30 lives, and emitting more than 100 million tons of CO2 emissions. The incredible economic disruption, public health impacts, and loss of healthy functioning ecosystems in California forests are accelerating as our climate is changing.

Thankfully, as the California Legislature reconvened for the start of their two year session, as state agencies have laid out their priorities, and as Governor Newsom released his proposed budget, it is clear that funding proactive wildfire mitigation is front of mind for California’s leaders. The reintroduction of SB 45 (Portantino), a climate resilience bond intended for the November 2022 election, places significant emphasis on funding a full suite of forest management and wildfire preparedness activities. The release of California’s Forest Management Task Force’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan identifies nearly 100 direct actions for bringing our forests and wildfire ecosystem back to their natural states. And the January Budget Proposal included a wildfire and forest restoration funding package of $1 billion. 

The challenge of reducing our wildfire risk and restoring our forests is not insurmountable. According to the California Forest Carbon Plan, to control the risk of wildfire and restore our forests, we need to treat 1,000,000 acres per year of California forests with a combination of thinning, prescribed fire, and watershed restoration.

The challenge is that the cost of these treatments is variously estimated at between $3-$4 billion per year, and we have historically spent about $500 million per year on restoration activities.  That is why California Governor Newsom’s proposal to increase wildfire risk mitigation and forest restoration funding in the California state budget to $1 billion is so important and deserves our strong support. The package consists of many of the recommendations SBC and partners like Pacific Forest Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Bill Tripp of the Karuk Tribe, and Sierra Forest Legacy made in our October 21st press briefing. It includes full funding for Cal Fire’s Forest Health Grant programs, prescribed fire, Tribal fire programs, workforce development, and direct funding to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and California Tahoe Conservancy for forest restoration work. 

Governor Newsom’s proposal is a visionary down payment on the action we need to take. We need to follow the progress made this year with permanent funding sources in our state and federal budgets, and by making targeted investments in all of the state’s climate adaptation needs through a multi-billion dollar climate adaptation bond measure in 2022.

Per the National Institute of Building Sciences, every dollar spent on disaster preparedness is six dollars saved over time. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, our tourism based communities and the business that serve them can not risk additional loss. Directing meaningful funding toward wildfire preparedness today is an investment in the resilience of our communities, economy, and environment. To support SBC’s advocacy efforts, consider making a contribution today.c

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