In an effort to continue to build wildfire resiliency, state and federal officials met at the burn scar of the August Complex last week.
“California is fortunate to have strong federal partners committed to taking aggressive action to tackle the existential threat of catastrophic wildfires in the West driven by climate change impacts,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “Together, we’re scaling up our vital work to improve the health of forests and landscapes across multiple ownerships and jurisdictions and ensuring we prioritize efforts in communities that face the greatest risks.”
Newsom was joined by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Forest Service Fire Chief Randy Moore in Glenn County to discuss state and federal collaboration on wildfire response, fuels management and other efforts to build wildfire resilience amid extreme climate impacts across the West.
“We recognize that in the face of climate change and the threats facing our communities, that we must drastically increase the scale of forest restoration and fuels reduction activities on all lands,” said Vilsack, who serves as co-chair of the Biden Administration’s Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group and Interagency Drought Relief Working Group.
According to a release issued by the Governor’s Office, Newsom, Vilsack, Moore, Jennifer Eberlien, USFS regional forester for the Pacific Southwest Region, and CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter surveyed damage from the August Complex before joining a briefing at the Alder Springs U.S. Forest Service Station in Elk Creek.
“The briefing underscored the role of fuels management efforts across state and federal jurisdictions in helping to protect the area around Alder Springs during the August Complex last year,” it was stated in the release.
The August Complex, which was ignited by lightning Aug. 16-17, 2020, was the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history and burned more than a million acres in seven counties, including Glenn and Tehama counties.
Just days before the briefing, Moore issued a memo to all regional foresters temporarily halting “managed fire” as a suppression strategy until further notice while prioritizing fires that threaten communities and infrastructure.
This action follows the governor’s requests that federal wildfire suppression strategies be reassessed amid the extreme risk posed by current fire conditions, including in the discussion with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on July 30, according to the release.
“Governor Newsom has also called for federal investments to support additional firefighting personnel, aerial firefighting equipment and long-term access to satellite technology for early fire detection,” it was stated in the release.
Officials from the governor’s office said joint state-federal management is crucial to California’s overall forest health and wildfire resilience, as the federal government owns 57 percent of California’s forestlands while the state owns about three percent.
The Newsom Administration has already taken several steps to address this issue, including a shared stewardship agreement with the U.S. Forest Service last year under which they are working to treat one million acres of forest and wildland annually to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and launching an expanded and refocused Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force earlier this year, with federal, local and tribal leaders, to deliver on key commitments in the Governor’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan. According to the administration, the plan outlines a path to increasing the pace and scale of land management, including through more prescribed burns.
Newsom, in partnership with the Legislature, has also invested $2.2 billion to build wildfire resiliency and advance emergency response as part of the California Comeback Plan – the largest such investment in state history.
“The funding supports additional firefighting crews, new firefighting equipment and expanded land and forest management efforts and builds on the governor’s previous budget investments in emergency management and executive actions to help combat catastrophic wildfires,” it was stated in the release.
Additionally, Newsom authorized the early hire of 1,399 additional CalFire firefighters in March and supplemented the department’s capacities with 23 additional aircrafts this month to fight this year’s wildfires.