California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide wildfire emergency Friday, citing “extreme peril” to life and property, in an effort to speed up forest clearing measures. There have only been two other statewide emergencies in California this century: during the drought in 2014 and the subsequent tree die-off in 2015. The executive order piggybacks on the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s recommendations earlier this month to complete 35 fuel-reduction priority projects.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom declares state wildfire emergency… But it might be not enough.SAC Media

The increasing wildfire risks we face as a state mean we simply can’t wait until a fire starts in order to start deploying emergency resources,” Newsom said in a statement, the Sacramento Bee reported. “California needs sustained focus and immediate action in order to better protect our communities.

The order enables the state to contract for help to clear forests without the typical bidding requirements and suspends environmental rules.

Through the declaration, the governor hopes to complete the 35 fuel-reduction priority projects recommended by Cal Fire before the peak of the wildfire season in the fall.

The priority projects and today’s emergency declaration comes in response to the deadliest and most destructive back-to-back fire seasons of 2017 and 2018, during which more than 150 people died and tens of thousands of buildings were destroyed.

In November, the Camp Fire killed 85 people, making it the state’s deadliest wildfire, and wiped out the town of Paradise.

The priority projects span nearly 147 square mile in areas near Big Sur, Orinda, Aptos, Woodside and Los Gatos. Also included are areas near the city of Redding, which was devastated by the deadly Carr Fire last year, and in Butte County, where Paradise is located.

Critics of the plan say they fear the state will clear too many trees, which could cause damageto the environment, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Studies have shown that areas of forest with large trees typically burn more slowly and less hot than areas that are broadly cleared.

One study published last year by Harold Zald, assistant professor of forest mensuration and biometrics at Humboldt State University, found that logging sites on the California-Oregon border experienced some of the highest fire intensity.

Having bigger trees and a more complex fuel structure, associated with a natural regenerating forest, will have lower fire severity,” Zald told the San Francisco Chronicle.

In a statement provided to weather.com, Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the organization “shares Gov. Newsom’s desire for urgent action on wildfires, but for decades now, harmful logging-based strategies have failed to keep Californians safe.

Cal Fire is thinning forests away from where most Californians live and far from areas with big risks of wind-driven fires,” she added. “The governor should reject this doomed, destructive approach and direct funding toward proven fire-safety strategies like retrofitting homes and improving defensible space around them.

Some at-risk areas like Sonoma and Napa counties and much of Southern California are excluded from the 28-page report because the focus is on higher-elevation, forested lands, Chad Hanson, an ecologist who researches fire recovery with the John Muir Project, told weather.com earlier this month.

It explicitly excludes communities that are not in forests, but the majority of the most at-risk communities in California are in grasslands, chaparral, and oak woodlands, not forests,” he said.

Newsom said Friday he was also setting aside about $24 million from this year’s budget to teach residents in six fire-prone counties about fire prevention and to raise awareness. Another $12 million is set aside for local and regional response teams and $13 million will fund a public awareness campaign.

Grants will also be available for groups that aid pets and farm animals during disasters, the governor said.

There have only been two other statewide emergencies in California this century: during the drought in 2014 and the subsequent tree die-off in 2015, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

[CalFire, SacBee, SFChronicle, Weather]

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