Governor Gavin Newsom outlined his $2 billion proposal on greater wildfire fighting and preparedness on Monday, splitting the amount by giving roughly $1.2 billion to wildfire management and $800 million to emergency preparedness.
A small part of his controversial $100 billion budget proposal for next year, the high amount of funding is expected to combat a projected increase in wildfires, partially fueled by drought conditions in most of the state.
Speaking from McClellan Park in Sacramento County shortly after being dropped off by a helicopter, Newsom detailed some specifics on how the $2 billion would be spent if passed along with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) officials. Wildfire preparations, such as fire break creation, forest management such as brush clearing, and prescribed burns would be under the $1.2 billion section of the budget, while emergency preparedness endeavors, such as additional funding for earthquake preparation, comprised the other $800 million.
Several new helicopters and planes, including C-130s, would be purchased for firefighting efforts with the new funds, with $80 million alone going to the hiring of an additional 1,400 seasonal firefighters and hand crews.
“Today we’re announcing that that $1 billion budget is now $2 billion. We are doubling our historic wildfire budget from the $1 billion we proposed in January to now $2 billion dollar proposal I submitted to the legislature last week,” said Newsom on Monday.
“That $2 billion will allow us to build on the $536 million of early action with an addition $738 million for our fuels management in this state. It’s a little over $1.2 billion to be exact just for our fire break/forest management/forest health budget. In addition to that, (there will be) roughly $800 million more in our all hazards emergency preparedness in the state of California. Again, a $2 billion record breaking investment in preparing for wildfire season and then looking medium and long term in addressing the deficit in terms of our health on fuels management, forest management as well as firebreaks all up and down the state of California.
“It shows the urgency of the moment, the urgency of our efforts as we once again prepare for wildfire season in California. None of us are naive about the challenges this state faces. For that matter, the entire western United States.”
CAL FIRE officials also noted the need for more funding after Newsom spoke on Monday.
“Not every piece of California is not ready for prescribed fire yet. There are a lot of areas that are over-grown, a lot of areas where it’s not safe to put fire on the ground under any circumstances. That’s why firefighting will continue to be a very important mechanism in our landscape,” explained CAL FIRE Chief Thom Porter. “Right now, we cannot just make decisions to allow fires to burn because we don’t know if that fits into their land management strategy and their rights.”
A $2 billion proposal
The $2 billion proposal was largely seen as positive on Monday, but with many still having questions and concerns over such a large amount of money being spent.
“We had 4.4 million acres scorched in California alone last year,” explained firefighting consultant Roland Brown to the Globe. “We had only 260,000 scorched in 2019, around 2 million in 2018, and 1.5 million in 2017. It’s getting worse, and we need that extra funding to help deal with the increased risk. We have a drought, climate change, buildup of dry brush, and more risk now more than ever.”
“But it needs to be 100% transparent too. An extra $1 billion is a lot, so let’s break it down by area and what it is that spending is going to, whether it be new planes or what firebreaks are being created in Yuba County or how many more firefighters are being hired in Riverside County.”
“A lot of preparedness will help stop wildfires. Residents, businesses, insurance companies, pretty much everyone benefits from stopping these fires early. But, if this proposal is passed, we need to make sure that the money is all going to making that happen, or at least to help recover if the worst should happen.”
Governor Newsom is expected to continue traveling around the state highlighting different parts of his budget proposal over the next month in preparation for legislature approval or alterations.