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Climate and Environment

Governor, Lawmakers Add $500M to Wildfire Prevention Budget, Following California Newsroom Investigation

In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California, which was devastated by a massive fire in 2018.
Paradise — a town of almost 30,000 — suffered terrible damage and loss of life in a massive 2018 fire. Preventing such megafires has become a major issue in the West.
(Josh Edelson
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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Governor Gavin Newsom is set to approve an extra $500 million for wildfire prevention — a last-minute change that would more than double what’s in the current budget deal.

About The California Newsroom
  • LAist is a member of the California Newsroom, which brings together public media newsrooms around the state to cover major issues. The effort is led by KQED in San Francisco and other members include KPBS in San Diego, CapRadio in Sacramento and our friends across town at KCRW.

The change comes after CapRadio and NPR’s California Newsroom revealed Newsom’s administration had nixed a similar amount from this year’s budget. The investigation also found the state’s wildfire prevention work dropped sharply in 2020, and the governor had pushed back an ambitious fuel reduction goal set by his predecessor.

The state Department of Finance disclosed the extra money in a letter to lawmakers last week, a day after CapRadio and NPR’s California’s Newsroom published their exposé.

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A record 4.3 million acres burned in California last year. This year, record heat and extreme drought conditions could make that even worse. And, going forward, climate change will continue to create conditions that lead to even more devastating fires.


Join the conversation: Wildfires in California: We Would Like To Hear From You


The additinal money will help bolster wildfire resiliency efforts, said H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the Department of Finance.

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“It could be things such as fuel breaks, cleanup on state-owned properties and restoration to make them less susceptible to potential fire conditions,” he said.

Some Republican lawmakers criticized the move as a half step. The additional $500 million will not be readily available. Instead, spending the extra funds would require sign-off from lawmakers and the administration.

“We need continuous appropriation, meaning definite funding in the budget … Not just there at the whim of the governor’s administration,” said Assemblymember James Gallagher (R-Yuba City). His district has suffered some of the worst wildfires in California history, including the 2018 Camp Fire.

The office of Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, said a subcommittee will address oversight concerns during its August hearing on wildfire spending.

Republican lawmakers, led by Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield), the Vice Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, had called for oversight hearings into Newsom’s misleading claims about wildfire prevention. CapRadio and NPR’s California Newsroom found Newsom claimed dozens of “priority projects” treated 90,000 acres, when Cal Fire’s data showed the agency performed work on less than 12,000.

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California has already experienced nearly 4,600 wildfires this year, which have burned more than 70,000 acres and damaged or destroyed 91 structures.

Experts warn peak fire season, which usually occurs in the fall, could start months early this year.

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