Newsom Under Fire for California Wildfire Claims

By Vanessa Serna
Vanessa Serna
Vanessa Serna
June 24, 2021 Updated: June 24, 2021

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wildfire management claims are in dispute following a report that claims he misled the public about his accomplishments.

“Governor Newsom’s deceitfulness and half steps don’t cut it. He is a self-serving hypocrite who needs to get his priorities straight,” Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Red Bluff) said in a press release in response to the NPR and CapRadio report.

“Rather than spending money in the budget to create several new do-nothing state agencies, his priority should be saving people, wildlife and property from devastating wildfires, like the tragic 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise.”

The June 23 report said the governor slashed about $150 million from Cal Fire’s wildfire prevention budget in 2020, ahead of the worst fire season in modern history. The report also accused Newsom of exaggerating by 690 percent the number of acres treated with fuel breaks and prescribed burns.

Newsom claimed his executive order included 35 priority projects that resulted in prevention work on 90,000 acres. In reality, the preemptive work was completed on 11,399 acres, the report said.

The NPR and CapRadio investigation was released more than a year after Newsom claimed that the 35 preventative projects to protect wildfire-vulnerable communities were completed.

“California isn’t just waiting around for the next fire season. We are acting quickly—with emergency pace—to protect communities most at risk and save lives before the wildfire starts,” Newsom said in a January 2020 press release. “The unprecedented scale of the crisis requires an unprecedented response. These projects are part of California’s all-of-the-above and all-hands-on-deck approach to preventing and fighting wildfires.”

According to the governor’s administration, 90,000 acres of land were treated by removing hazardous dead trees, clearing vegetation, creating fuel breaks and community defensible spaces, and creating ingress and egress corridors.

In response to the report, Assemblyman James Gallagher said on June 24 that he would submit an emergency budget amendment to bolster the state’s wildfire response efforts.

Gallagher represents Paradise, California, which was heavily affected by a 2018 fire. His budget amendment would appropriate $200 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for fire prevention and forest programs.

California Natural Resource Agency spokeswoman Lisa Lien-Mager said the radio report contained misleading information.

“In his interview with CapRadio, Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter recognized the topic is complex and acknowledged that Cal Fire has not done enough to explain these nuances to the public and to the governor,” Lien-Mager told The Epoch Times. “He did not, however, suggest that the 90,000 acres figure is an inaccurate description of the project areas collectively affected by the 35 projects.

“The actions Cal Fire has taken to date on the 35 priority projects have collectively protected 90,000 acres near some of the most wild-vulnerable communities in California.”

Project areas and treated acreage are not always the same thing, she said. Fuel breaks, such as those completed through the 35 priority projects, are designed to protect more acreage than the amount treated.

“They do that through their intended effects of slowing fires, creating space for firefighters to take a stand, protecting escape routes, and creating safe havens for shelter,” Lien-Mager said. “The 35 priority projects benefited a total area of 90,000 acres, even though not every single acre within that was actually treated.”

Lien-Mager said the impacts of the pandemic and unprecedented wildfire season impacted Cal Fire’s ability to complete treatment work last year.

She said the governor didn’t reduce funding for wildfire prevention, despite CapRadio’s report.

“We’re proud of the work the state is doing as we continue to prioritize wildfire prevention and commit significant resources to increase the pace and scale of the work,” she said.

Since the start of 2021, California has reported 29,195 acres burned with 24 structures either damaged or destroyed.

Vanessa Serna
Vanessa Serna