Photo: Noah Berger/AP

Last Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a “statewide emergency on wildfires” as a means to expedite prevention projects before the next fire season in the state. As Capital Public Radio explained, “the governor’s office says the executive order will expedite forest management projects intended to protect 200 communities prone to fire risk.” In addition to this Gov. Newson is also pulling troops away from President Trump’s border security force and instead redirecting their efforts to fire prevention. The LA Times noted, this is yet “another area where Trump has been critical of California’s Democratic officials — even repeatedly threatening to cut off federal disaster funding.”

Gov. Newsom said in a statement that “The increasing wildfire risks we face as a state mean we simply can’t wait until a fire starts in order to start deploying emergency resources. California need(s) sustained focus and immediate action in order to better protect our communities.

The plan follows a CalFire recommendation for 35 forest-health projects that will help protect people and land from wildfires. The goal is to get as many of these projects finished before fire season but in order to achieve this, Newsom’s order waives some environmental review, allows California to set up contracts without competitive bidding and makes it easier to cut down trees in those areas.

The LA Times explained more about the National Guard fire training:

  • 110 California National Guard troops will receive 11 days of training in using shovels, rakes and chain saws to help thin trees and brush
  • They will be divided into five teams that will travel around the state working on forest management projects, mainly clearing or reducing trees and vegetation in an effort to deprive flames of fuel.
  • Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first in recent decades to deploy California National Guard troops as firefighters. That occurred on July 4, 2008, after lightning storms sparked hundreds of fires
  • CalFire this month listed 35 fuel-reduction projects it wants to start immediately, covering more than 140 square miles — double the acreage in previous years.

Why This Matters: The past several fire seasons in California have been completely unsustainable and have exhausted the state’s firefighting budget. Previous fire management policies weren’t enough to spare lives and prevent the destruction of millions of acres and many have called for more stringent prevention measures. On the other hand, environmental groups like the Sierra Club are wary of Gov. Newsom’s expedited timeline: Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California said that “We have a real concern about any of the suspension of the normal regulations you would have to go through if you’re substantially changing the landscape. It could have negative consequences for the long term.” However, the fact that National Guard troops will be tasked with the responsibility of fighting fires shows that climate change is a threat on par with other foreign enemies and we’re going to have to devote an increasing amount of resources to climate abatement and adaptation–this is our new reality. 

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