Smart Environment Plan: Snuffing Out California’s Wildfire Crisis

California experiences the same number of wildfires today as it did 40 years ago. The difference? They are bigger. 

The primary cause isn’t climate change, which is Gavin Newsom’s favorite scapegoat. Our wildfires are getting more destructive because we haven’t managed our forests properly – there is more fuel to burn.

Newsom has failed to protect our state from destructive wildfires – and then he lied about it. He said he treated 90,000 acres with prescribed burns. Instead, the state treated 11,399. He said he would devote $1B to active forest management over 5 years. Then, he cut CalFire’s prevention budget by $150M. He said he would increase year-round fire crews. Instead, he released 600 incarcerated firefighters and is closing 8 of the inmate firefighting camps (20% of all camps) by 2022.

We know what we need to do to stop our wildfire problems. A report published by CAL Fire in 2018 – before Newsom took office – made it clear that California needs 20 million acres of its forests to undergo “fuel reduction treatment.” On Newsom’s first day of office in 2019, he said “Everybody has had enough” of the wildfires. He then signed an executive order to devote $1B to wildfire prevention – but he hasn’t gotten it done. Instead of 20,000,000 acres, he managed 11,000 acres last year.

I will get this done for California. Here’s how:

Step 1: Manage 1M Acres/Year with the Federal Government

In August 2020, Newsom signed an agreement with President Trump to manage together 1M acres per year of California forests by 2025 – each managing 500,000 acres. 

I will ensure we fulfill this goal of managing 500,000 acres. Private landowners can manage 250,000 to 300,000 acres toward this goal. The state of CA can increase our prescribed burn acreage to 50,000 acres. And expedited biomass permits can account for the remaining 200,000 of CA acres.

Step 2: De-Regulate Sustainable Timber Harvesting

Private companies that harvest timber own nearly 14% of California’s forest (4.6M acres), but as recently as 2018, the president and CEO of the California Forestry Association said it is currently “cost-prohibitive” to remove any timber in California due to regulations. 

As a result, timber harvesting has dropped almost 25% since 2002 and 70% since 1975, and California is forced to import most of its lumber from Oregon and Washington while our forests contain hundreds of trees per acre vs. the recommended 40 trees per acre. 

I will reduce regulation on timber harvesting without enabling widespread clear-cutting that environmental groups fear.

Step 3: De-Regulate Forest Road Construction

Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 901 into law in 2018, allowing the construction of up to 600 feet of temporary roads for the purpose of treating and thinning forests. 

While this was a step in the right direction, it hasn’t led to the construction of many roads because the permit and mapping requirements are too onerous. I will streamline permit and mapping requirements to ensure these roads get built.

Step 4: Bury Power Lines in High Risk Areas

Over the last 5 years, electrical power has caused an average of 10% of all wildfires in California, but, more significantly, led to 40-60% of the total acres burned on average. Power lines are causing many of our biggest fires. This needs to stop. 

Fortunately, PG&E has just agreed to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in high-risk areas. Unfortunately, this could have started several years earlier. SB 584 would have required utility companies to reallocate a portion of the credits they receive from the state to burying power lines in high fire-threat districts and would have made $400M of state dollars available for the cause – but the legislature didn’t pass the bill. 

While burying power lines is expensive, rampant wildfires are much more costly. I would expand this effort.