California

Newsom pitches $536mil wildfire plan, focused forest burns

As he parachuted into Shaver Lake to see first-hand the progress in California’s wildfire preparation efforts, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Democratic leaders gutted two pending bills in the legislature to clear the path for a half-billion-dollar plan to supplement wildfire response in 2021.

The plan, which emphasizes forest management and wildfire mitigation ahead of the annual wildfire season, is projected to double the spending on those efforts compared to 2020.

“With California facing another extremely dry year, it is critical that we get a head start on reducing our fire risk,” Newsom and his fellow Democrats who lead the Assembly and Senate said in a joint statement.

Newsom returned to Shaver Lake after a fall visit to the area with now-Vice President Kamala Harris to inspect the damage and firefighting operations of the Creek Fire.

The fire burned 379,895 acres in the Sierra foothills.

The move by Newsom to emphasize preemptive and preventative action toward wildfire risk comes as a sign of relief to the state’s Republicans, who have consistently cited poor wildfire management as chief cause to the state’s increasingly destructive blazes.

“The issue in California is not the money,” Asm. Devon Mathis told the Visalia Times-Delta, citing the state’s current surplus. “The issue in California is the process [of forest management], and thank God it’s no longer a partisan issue.”

Newsom noted that the shift to prescribed burns and active forest management is serving as a critical pivot for the Golden State.

However, he didn’t hesitate to note that the shift “can’t make up for 50 years” of overgrown forests with significant fuel for wildfires.

During his briefing, Newsom pointed to the regularly tense relationship between the state and Federal forest officials, saying he didn’t want the U.S. Forest Service to serve as his “sparring partner,” noting that during the Trump era it “kind of felt like that. A lot of finger pointing.”

Newsom then blamed the Federal government for cutting the Forest Service’s budget.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.