The California Wildfire Warning and the Actions We Need to Take

In summary

With a huge investment to deal with wildfires and create healthy forests in California, we must prioritize these four actions:

By Ashley Conrad-Saydah

Ashley Conrad-Saydah is Head of Partnerships at vibrating planet, a public benefit corporation. She was assistant secretary for climate and energy policy at CalEPA. She now sits on the board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Hugh Safford, special for CalMatters

Hugh Safford is chief scientist at Vibrant Planet. He was a regional ecologist for the Pacific Southwest Region of the USDA-Forest Service. He leads the Safford’s Laboratory at UC Davis.

When weather patterns and conditions develop that fuel extreme fire behavior, the National Weather Service issues what it calls a “red flag warning.” In response, firefighters are quickly moving resources, increasing numbers and alerting nearby communities. It’s a time when everyone is on deck preparing for the worst, a time we’ve become increasingly familiar with, even in the winter months.

After another record year of wildfires and what he calls a “climate emergency,” Governor Gavin Newsom issued the equivalent of a red flag warning for California in 2022 this month, proposing 1, An additional $2 billion in forest health and fire protection initiatives.

This record investment covers everything from forest thinning and prescribed burns to new technologies, reforestation and firefighting equipment. It comes as the federal government last week announced a plan to spend $50 billion on complementary efforts across the West.

We welcome this injection of funds. Having collectively spent more than three decades tackling some of government’s most intractable climate and forest management challenges, we know that opportunities – and money – like this don’t often arise. .

Now comes the hardest part. What unfolds in the months ahead will shape the health of our forests and communities for decades. We must act with the urgency that this crisis demands. It starts with prioritizing the following four actions:

First, strengthen coordination.

Newsom took a critical step last year when it released the California Wildfire & Forest Resilience Action Plan, written by a federal, state, local, nongovernmental and tribal task force. This plan details cross-sector actions to reduce wildfire risk, improve forest health, and accelerate climate action.

We now need to rapidly implement these solutions with strong, reliable and enduring partnerships and agile, responsive task force leadership. This will ensure, for example, that investments in fuel and resource management and climate change adaptation are complementary, not contradictory or redundant, and that project results are widely accessible.

Second, harness technology.

When Newsom unveiled its draft budget, he pointed to California’s new Office of Wildfire Technology, noting that we are “moving away from an old Byzantine bureaucratic framework that marked the past.” This commitment is a giant leap forward.

California is a state of innovators and it is time to fund and deploy modern, accessible, science-based space tools that facilitate better planning and decision-making to restore forests and reduce wildfire destruction. With these actionable tools and insights, decision makers can monitor and measure progress and adapt and scale solutions. As we make these investments, we also need to measure success by work completed rather than planned.

Third, expand public-private and community partnerships.

While increasing government capacity, we need more private sector, community, tribal and academic partners. The California Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program, which supports a number of existing partnerships, is well positioned to expand these initiatives.

Let’s also deploy members of the Climate Action Corps, GrizzlyCorps and CivicSpark and reinvigorate forestry programs at community colleges and universities to jump-start these efforts – with a focus on integrating missing perspectives, especially in underserved areas. financed. This work will also help ensure that we meet the needs of forest communities, including job training and job placement, emergency planning resources, and access to social programs.

Finally, be proactive.

It is time to prioritize proactive investments that meet our forest and fire management needs and capacity. We know that certain forest management measures – such as prescribed burns and fuel reduction – produce well-understood benefits, and particular geographic regions require much more fire prevention or restoration efforts.

Let’s leverage this knowledge to secure funding for partners who can rapidly develop and deploy projects, including through recently proposed post-fire reforestation grants. This means focusing on innovative solutions that link multiple programs and meet acute community needs, not just “ready-to-go” projects, which are often older and unrelated to climate adaptation or climate change. strategic planning. Let’s also move on to visually tracking progress on the ground with metrics tied to desired ecosystem outcomes and resilience, rather than “hectares treated.”

We often hear that government policies need time to work. Yet time is our most scarce resource. In the past two years, six of California’s 10 largest fires on record have burned, resulting in billions in economic losses.

This is our red flag warning, but with quick and smart action we can ensure we are prepared for what is to come.

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