California Legislature Guarantees $1 Billion in Additional Wildfire Prevention

Earlier this month the state assembly passed Senate Bill 155 which secures funding for wildfire prevention and forest health programs that was previously promised, but not continuously appropriated, in 2018’s Senate Bill 901 (Dodd). SB 155 also sets aside an additional $1 billion for these programs; funding extends through 2023-2024. The California Legislature furthermore passed Senate Bill 170, the Budget Act of 2021, which contains substantial funding for a number of forest health and wildfire prevention programs.In addition, the legislature enlarged the Sierra Nevada Conservancy boundary with the passage of Senate Bill 208 (Dahle).

Cumulatively, these funds bring the state’s total budget expenditure on wildfire and forest health to more than $1.5 billion this year.

Senate Bill 170 includes:

(source: Rural County Representatives of California)

  • $155.3 million to CAL FIRE from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for the Fire Prevention Grants Program, which provides funding for local community fire prevention projects;
  • $100 million to CAL FIRE for near-term fire resilience activities;
  • $67 million to CAL FIRE for longer-term forest health programs, including assistance to non-industrial landowners and funding for the CAL FIRE nursery program to promote reforestation;
  • $40 million for CAL FIRE’s Fire Prevention Grants program;
  • $50 million to CAL FIRE for urban greening and urban forestry projects;
  • $15 million for the California Conservation Corps Forestry Corps Program;
  • $67.8 million to CAL FIRE for near-term local post-fire recovery and restoration activities, along with forest workforce training and development;
  • $19 million to CAL FIRE for tribal forest health grants;
  • $20 million to CAL FIRE for a prescribed fire liability pilot program; and
  • $61.1 million to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy for local assistance grants, which include wildfire prevention, climate resilience, and natural resource protection projects.

Why it Matters:

Forest health is a complicating issue for land managers and restoration practitioners seeking to prevent unmanageable and life-threatening wildfire in the Sierra Nevada and in the state of California at large. Forest health issues in the Sierra are in large part a legacy of 19th century Gold Rush-era of natural resource exploitation and subsequent land management practices. During the Gold Rush, timber was removed region-wide for mining operations – fueling the stamp mills and supporting the economic development of the growing state and nation. In the decades to follow, forest fires were actively suppressed, altering the region’s natural dependence on frequent low-intensity fires. Climate change has further exacerbated issues around forest resilience, bringing increased drought, tree mortality, and extreme heat events.

The culmination of these problems presents an ongoing threat of severe wildfire, including in WUI areas that have become populated as the state has grown. In the extreme, wildfire causes loss of life, shelter, and livelihood, and damages ecosystems that provide critical green infrastructure supporting the state’s water supply.

The Sierra Fund commends the state in directing resources to projects that protect our communities and ecosystems from the threat of wildfire.

To learn more about The Sierra Fund’s work to address forest health, click the link here.

In addition, Senate Bill 901 (Dahle) was passed and signed by the Governor. This bill expands the Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s (SNC) boundaries to add sections of the Pit watershed and the Trinity, Upper Sacramento, and McCloud watersheds and redefines the North Sierra subregion to include Siskiyou and Trinity Counties. These headwater watersheds are vital in supplying the federal water project but are not currently covered by a state conservancy. SB 901 also directs SNC to recommend legislation to the Legislature in 2022 to change the name of the conservancy and board, and to change the structure of the regions, subregions, and board to align with the expansion. “By having all these headwaters under one local agency, it will give more opportunities to expand important forest management projects as well as meadow restoration projects to ensure that we continue to have healthy forests and a robust headwaters system to ensure all Californian’s have fresh clean water to drink and safe forests to visit,” notes Senator Dahle. The Sierra Fund supported this bill.