Governor Proposes $536 Million To Fight 2021 California Wildfire Season

5 of the Top 20 Fires in California History Were In 2020     Graphic: Cal Fire, Wiki CC

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

As California’s wildfire season approaches, Governor Gavin Newsom is proposing $536 million in emergency and other funding to combat and prevent fires this year. The plan invests in additional firefighters, fuel breaks around vulnerable communities, and wildfire response capacity.  It is part of a $1 billion proposal dedicated to forest management Newsome put forth in his 2021-22 budget in January. Experts hope that these investments will reduce the damages and avoid another record-breaking fire season.  “In California, climate change is making the hots hotter and the dries drier, leaving us with world record-breaking temperatures and devastating wildfires threatening our communities,” said Newsom.

Why This Matters: California’s 2020 fire season burned a record-breaking 4.2 million acres and experts say that severe drought may make this season even more destructive. Forty percent of the west is now in an “extreme” to “exceptional” drought.

There are 74 million Americans and rural and Indigenous communities without reliable access to water or public services who could be especially hard hit by the fires.

Governor on Fire

The Governor is siding with the science. “In California, climate change is making the hots hotter and the dries drier, leaving us with world record-breaking temperatures and devastating wildfires threatening our communities,” said Newsom in a statement. “We aren’t just waiting for the next crisis to hit – this funding will support our heroic firefighters to save lives as they work to prevent and tackle destructive wildfires.” Newsom’s Emergency Fund authorization includes a budget to hire 1,256 seasonal firefighters through June 30, 2021. In addition to increased staffing, the funds will:

  • Augment eight understaffed existing fire crews ahead of summer.
  • Allow early hiring and training of fire crews for fuels management.
  • Provide twelve new California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) crews, as well as six seasonal and six new permanent Conservation Corps crews.
  • Onboard 24 seasonal firefighters for California National Guard hand crews.

The funding will also bolster staffing and training for helicopter crews and data-sharing operations that will increase transparency with the public.

On the Ground

It’s unclear what kind of forest management projects will be prioritized by this new funding. For years, Indigenous groups have been fighting for a seat at the table when it comes to wildfires. Experts say that forest management practices are best carried out by those who know the land best. “I think it’s really important that we don’t think about traditional burning as: what information can we learn from native people and then exclude people and move on with non-natives managing the land,” said Beth Rose Middleton Manning, a professor of Native American studies at UC Davis, “but that native people are at the forefront and leading.” California’s unique situation offers the state and federal governments the opportunity to fulfill some recent promises. President Biden has previously pledged to work with Indigenous communities to restore sovereignty, fight climate change, and protect 30% of public lands and waters by 2030.

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