State makes progress on policy on wildfires and forest health – YubaNet
Californians are bracing for what could be another dangerous wildfire season, especially in light of severe drought conditions. Grasses, shrubs and forests dry out early due to lack of precipitation, which is a potential fuel for forest fires. Red flag warnings – when strong winds and low humidity increase the risk of fire – have already been issued this year across large swathes of the state. Small spring forest fires put firefighters and communities in difficulty.
Is the state ready for another bad wildfire season? And what progress has been made in improving the resilience of vulnerable communities and upstream forests?
California’s wildfire problem is complex and multifaceted and is expected to accelerate in a warming climate. The governor and the legislature have pushed for reforms to improve the state’s resilience to forest fires. High priority reforms include:
- Continued state funding to address the challenges of state forest fires: Last month, Governor Newsom signed off on a $ 536 million wildland fire spending package to be spread across a portfolio of programs. Funding is intended for upstream forest stewardship projects (and infrastructure to use the wood removed), forest fire cuts in the interface areas between wildlands and urban areas, house hardening techniques to reduce the risk of fires (such as non-flammable roofs) and forest monitoring. Especially the finance bill amends the 2020-2021 finance law, allowing funds to be spent immediately before the peak forest fire season. Governor Newsom recently proposed additional funding of $ 708 million for forest fires in the state budget. Stable and consistent public funding is essential for improving the resilience of fire-prone communities and California’s headland forests.
- New national strategy on forest fires and forest health: In January, the Forest Management Working Group – the State’s Interagency Partnership on Forest Fires and Forest Health Issues – released the Action plan against forest fires and forest resilience. The plan provides a roadmap for the priority actions needed to restore upstream forests to health and reduce the risk of extreme forest fires. It also serves as the first joint venture between the state and the US Forest Service, building on a recent collaboration agreement to speed up the pace and scale of vegetation thinning work. This plan will help guide decision makers on priorities and funding needs over the next decade.
- Progress on forest fire insurance issues: The recent massive forest fires have shaken the fire insurance landscape, causing huge losses for the insurance industry and landowners. Many people living in areas affected by forest fires have lost their coverage or have seen their premiums increase dramatically. Last fall, State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara extended restrictions on dropping policies in areas affected by wildfires. The commissioner has since launched a collaborative partnership state agencies seeking longer term solutions, including developing statewide standards for strengthening homes and communities. This is an important step in increasing access to affordable insurance.
In recent years, wildfires have caused enormous damage to communities and infrastructure, from mountainous headland forests to coastal metropolitan areas. State leaders strive to meet these challenges with both short and long term solutions. Actions taken now can help the state adjust to living with fire.