California

Report: Newsom’s claimed success on wildfire prevention missed the mark – by 690%

As California’s wildfire season heats up, claims by Gov. Gavin Newsom that his administration has taken an active, hands-on efforts to prevent wildfires have been found to be overblown, an analysis of state forestry work found.

An investigation, initiated by Capitol Public Radio, found that Newsom overstated the state’s work to treat California’s forest with fuel breaks by an eye-popping 690 percent.

Through an executive order, the radio station noted, Newsom claimed 35 priority projects that were meant to clear through 90,000 acres of forest.

State data, on the other hand, shows the prioritized work only accounted for 11,399 acres.

The investigation found that, despite an initial jolt in wildfire prevention efforts when Newsom took office in late 2018, active forest management efforts to prevent deadly, devastating fires flatlined in 2020 – leading to the state’s largest wildfire in its history: the Creek Fire.

Last year also saw the most acreage burned in the state’s history, 4.3 million acres burned.

A key source of issues leading up to an historic wildfire season was that fuel reduction work dropped to below the figures during Gov. Jerry Brown’s final year in office, Capitol Radio said.

The precipitous drop came as Newsom cut Cal Fire’s budget for wildfire prevention by approximately $150 million.

In comparing the work conducted by Cal Fire officials across all 35 priority projects with the far-short figures discovered through agency data, Cal Fire officials said that 90,000 acreage total was the “total project area” rather than the treated area.

Newsom’s administration, however, portrayed the 90,000 acre figure as the treated area, writing in a 2019 fact sheet: “the priority fuel reduction projects would treat approximately 90,000 acres.”

The same fact sheet claimed that the operations to treat the 35 priority projects would get Californians to 20 percent of a joint state-Federal goal to treat 500,000 acres of California forest.

Given the percentage actually treated, the priority projects only accounted for less than 3 percent.

Years of divestment from wildfire prevention, despite pressure from Federal officials – including President Donald Trump – to double-down on active forest management were apparently reversed this year, as Newsom is proposing $1.2 billion in spending for wildfire resiliency efforts.

But for victims of recent wildfires, the effort – particularly in light of bloviated claims from the Governor – rings hollow.

“It’s a deception,” said Mitch Mackenzie, co-owner of Carol Shelton Wines in Santa Rosa, who lost his home in the 2017 Tubbs Fire told the radio station.

Following release of the report, one of Newsom’s top recall rivals, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said that Newsom’s posture during his term has left the state “woefully unprepared.”

“With new reports showing Newsom has misled the public about his efforts and even divested in fire prevention, it’s even more clear that he is in over his head and unable to lead California,” Faulconer said.

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.