‘We got really lucky’: Why California escaped another destructive fire season in 2022
This story was originally published on Feb. 22, 2020, and was updated on June 27, 2019, June 3, 2019, Sept. 6, 2019, and Sept. 8, 2019.
California can escape another destructive wildfire season this year and the state’s forest management efforts should continue to reduce the state risks of fires, according to state and federal foresters.
But even if the fire season is relatively benign for California, it should still be avoided, said Gary Gebhart, executive director of the Center for Boreal Biodiversity at the University of California Berkeley, in a video and interview released today.
Here are the top five reasons why:
1. There’s a lack of long-term funding for forest management programs.
California’s forest management programs have been underfunded for decades — and, in the past five years, the state has been the only major U.S. forest area to see its funding drop, according to Gebhart. Even then, the funding has remained far below the level necessary to carry out the programs, including preventing, mitigating and responding to catastrophic wildfire events as well as natural disasters, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Gebhart says for the most part, the state’s forest management programs have been able to carry out the program’s aims, such as fire management, but they’ve also failed to meet the goal of reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires by half.
“The problem is we’re not on track to get there,” Gebhart said. “For a decade, we used to have a $300 million program, and that number has been reduced to $100 million or so. And if you look at the state’s annual budget for wildfire mitigation, we’re not even at half that number. That means we’re not even making up for the funding shortfalls that have occurred in the past several years.”
The California Air Resources Board has proposed to boost the state’s overall budget for wildfire mitigation by a quarter by 2020. But that doesn’t mean any new funding will be available for California wildfire management programs, Gebhart says.
“The problem is, the board is not even taking action