Prioritizing Forest Management

March 5, 2021
 
Governor Newsom included a $1 billion suite of forest resilience initiatives in his proposed 2021-22 budget. About half the money would go toward building resilience in California’s wildlands against wildfire, including thinning forests, replanting trees, and using prescribed fire. A third of the funding would go toward strategic fuel breaks, building on the success of the 35 high priority projects the Commission has previously highlighted in this blog.
 

Other pieces of the package include:

  • $38 million for defensible space education, outreach, and home-hardening retrofits for lower-income Californians.

  • $39 million for remote sensing, research, and science-based monitoring to increase wildfire and forest resilience.

  • $76 million for economic development and workforce preparedness by:

    • Expanding the wood products industry through low-interest lending and guaranteed supply chains via the state’s Climate Catalyst Fund.

    • Working with the California Conservation Corps, community colleges, and vocational programs to foster careers in forest management and the wood products industry.

The Governor also proposed funding for 30 fire crews to complete priority fuel reduction projects to reduce wildfire risk.
 
These proposals echo the Little Hoover Commission’s 2018 report, Fire on the Mountain: Rethinking Forest Management in the Sierra Nevada. In that report, the Commission detailed the consequences of a century of forest neglect:
 
  • Hotter, higher-intensity wildfires that threaten homes, lives, and livelihoods;

  • Declining air quality for Californians already struggling to breathe;

  • Erosion and soil degradation that threaten our invaluable headwaters and groundwater recharge ability;

  • Tree density that diminishes snowpack accumulation – California’s greatest water reservoir.

The Commission called on the state to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration, asking the state to push toward its Forest Carbon Plan goal of treating 500,000 acres per year. To facilitate this, the Commission asked the state to provide adequate funding to meet this goal; outline a plan to staff up and fund the additional positions that would be needed to undertake such an ambitious endeavor; and invest in science and technology that would allow it to conduct fuels management activities.
 
The 2018 report was informed by the Commission’s previous work in its 2014 report, Governing California through Climate Change. There, the Commission discussed California’s ever-growing wildfire season in the midst of expanding development in the state’s wildlands, leaving in harm’s way many residents whose homes and businesses are woefully unprepared to withstand falling embers from wildfires a mile away. The Commission urged the state to take steps to ensure residents in fire-prone areas create defensible space, discussed in more detail in a previous blog post.
 
Policymakers should consider the Commission’s other recommendations in both reports, especially our proposal for a long-term public education campaign. Our forest management report noted that Californians are “woefully uneducated” about the benefits of healthy forests. Many coastal Californians in particular do not understand the connection between forest management and their quality of life. We cited the example of the successful Save Our Water campaign, and said the state should:
 

Expand the state’s current public outreach on healthy forests.

  • Catalog existing educational resources on resilient forests as a first step toward encouraging development K-16 curricula to teach California’s youth about the importance of forest management.

  • Better educate Californians about the tangible, everyday benefits of forest management, beginning with the sources of their water.

  • Provide grant funding for an educational organization to bring lawmakers, policymakers and their staff to forests to teach them about the benefits provided by forests and the consequences of neglect.

  • Measure the results and adjust accordingly.

Restoring California’s forests is a project that will be measured in generations, not fiscal years. But the Governor’s proposed investments – especially if they are combined with the Commission’s recommendation for a strong public outreach campaign -- are a promise that the state will undertake that work for our children and grandchildren.
 
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