Wildfires are an ever-present threat in California. Last year was the worst on record with over 4.2 million acres burned. As we can all remember, local fires such as the Cedar, Witch, Cocos, Guejito, and Lilac fires have devastated this region as well. We’ve been spending billions trying to prevent and fight wildfires, but the situation has worsened. What we’ve been doing simply hasn’t worked.
We need a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to preventing wildfires, which is why I am joining Assemblyman James Gallagher of Yuba City to co-author Assembly Bill 297, the Wildfire Prevention and Forest Resiliency Act of 2021. The bill allocates $500 million annually from the existing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to provide sustained resources for forest health, forest management and fire prevention programs, and has gained support from legislators throughout California.
We need to remove dead and dying trees from our forests, along with bureaucratic hurdles that prevent good forest management and vegetation clearance. In the Governor’s state of emergency declaration last year, 35 forest management projects were exempted from CEQA requirements, eliminating years of bureaucratic delays. AB 297 expands on those exemptions so that 500,000 acres can be treated annually. We have millions of dead or dying trees, a major wildfire fuel source, but nowhere to put them once they’re removed. By supporting biomass, biofuels and other wood products industries, removal will be encouraged. In addition, homeowners will be allowed exemptions to expand defensive space around their homes.
Wildfires pour billions of metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, easily wiping out progress we’ve made elsewhere to reduce carbon pollution. And the cost to fight them is enormous -- $1.3 billion just last year. Once enacted, AB 297 will save money and property, protect the environment, and most importantly, it will save lives.