Preparedness

California Assemblyman Demands Major Funding for Wildfire Prevention

'We’ve lost 58 people to wildfires in the past two years. What more of a wake-up call do we need?'

by Guy Kovner, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif. / August 21, 2018
Firefighters drive through the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa, Calif., looking for hot spots on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. AP/Ben Margot

(TNS) — Assemblyman Jim Wood, a member of the special legislative committee working on a major wildfire response bill, said he won’t support anything that falls short on funding for prevention and preparedness.

“We’ve lost 58 people to wildfires in the past two years,” Wood, a Santa Rosa Democrat, said in a statement. “What more of a wake-up call do we need?”

Specifically, Wood said the committee’s proposed law — due for release no later than next week — should include $300 million every year in guaranteed funding for vegetation management and fuel reduction.

Going a step further, Wood said the money could come from the existing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which has historically spent “a measly 2 percent” on fire prevention.

“One major fire alone can release more carbon dioxide than all of California’s climate change programs can save in a year,” Wood said, asserting that Gov. Jerry Brown must see that any progress made on reducing greenhouse gas emissions “has totally been canceled out” by wildfires.

The greenhouse gas fund has spent more than $4 billion through 2017, with the largest share going to the high-speed train project, Wood said. Expenditures include “good things,” such as reducing factory and tailpipe emissions, he said, but fires remain the biggest contributor of the emissions that — according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — cause global warming.

Wood is one of 10 members appointed in July to the bipartisan Legislative Conference Committee on Wildfire Prevention and Preparedness. It’s charged with formulating a comprehensive measure that must be released by Aug. 28 and adopted three days later.

Wood said in his statement California spent $250 million on fire prevention last year and one-time funding of $256 million this year, “but I shouldn’t have to fight this fight every single year.”

Asked why he was making his statement now, Wood said Monday he was “getting push-back on trying to find funding” for fire prevention, including fuel management.

“I’m frustrated by that,” he said. “If we just pass this without the funding source it doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Wood said he met Friday with Sonoma Land Trust representatives who described plans for prescribed burns in the Valley of the Moon to help protect lives and property.

“Nobody I’ve talked to disagrees that we’ve got to do more fuel management,” he said.

At a committee hearing last week, lawmakers discussed the need to deal with 129 million dead and dying trees on state wildlands, largely in the Sierra, and the proposal to transport that fuel to biomass plants that burn wood to generate electricity.

Assemblyman Brian Dahle, a Republican from Lassen County whose district was ravaged by the Carr fire, said fire prevention should be the Legislature’s goal.

“The No. 1 factor, if we reduce the fuel, period, the fires won’t be as intense,” he said.

In his statement, Wood said the committee’s bill also needs to fund early fire detection technology to assist state firefighters and enable them to move resources into place in anticipation of a blaze.

He also advocated an early warning system, with the state Office of Emergency Services collaborating with telecommunications carriers, counties and others to develop guidelines for emergency alerts and requiring added training for local emergency office personnel.

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©2018 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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