Bold move, California

A Democratic Governor in a deep-blue state made headlines in declaring a state of emergency ahead of this year’s wildfire season.  As part of the declaration, California Gov. Gavin Newsom moved to ease state regulations to expedite targeted forest management projects to help protect communities from wildfire.

We’ve long supported similar reforms in Congress to expedite forest management on at-risk lands.  There at least 80 million acres of National Forest System lands that need treatment right now.  Due to the lack of funding, personnel, agency analysis paralysis and the real (and perceived) threat of litigation, the U.S. Forest Service is only treating a fraction of these acres annually. 

In other words, it takes too long, and costs too much money for federal land agencies to do the work that needs to be done.  For our federal forests and many of our communities, this has been disastrous. 

The same groups that have fought us in Congress are predictably criticizing the governor’s declaration. But Newsom is pushing back:

“Some people, you know, want to maintain our processes and they want to maintain our rules and protocols,” Newsom said. “But I’m going to push back on that. Some of these projects quite literally, not figuratively, could take two years to get done, or we could get them done in the next two months. That’s our choice.” 

As we’ve reported in the past, it now takes the Forest Service as long as four years to develop and implement a forest management project, and delays are only getting longer. The agency has initiated administrative efforts to streamline its environmental analysis and decision-making process, but true relief can only come from Congress.

The same groups opposing accelerating forest management were also quick to frame the decision in political terms, recognizing President Trump’s low approval in the state. The forest director of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation called the Governor’s move “Trumpian.” The Center for Biological Diversity urged the governor to “reject the Trump approach of logging and rolling back critical environmental protections.”

Reading the fine print, the governor’s policy decision is quite modest, but he recognizes the status quo is failing to protect our communities. We’ve tried the same approach of “hands-off” forest management for the past three decades, and it’s not working. It’s time for something different.

Bold move, California