Two years after announcing a plan to address wildfire prevention in California and four years after former President Donald Trump called out the “gross mismanagement” of the state’s forests, California Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D) program has reportedly accomplished next-to-nothing.
In 2019, Newsom instituted the California Vegetation Treatment Program (CalVTP) to accelerate environmental reviews before the state promised the U.S. Forest Service in 2020 they would properly maintain 500,000 acres throughout California each year by 2025.
Now, according to a joint investigation performed by Capital Public Radio (CapRadio) and National Public Radio’s California Newsroom, not only did they miss the mark to manage 45,000 acres in the first year, they haven’t completed a single project to date.
In fact, near the end of March, the Natural Resources Agency told CapRadio that only 26 projects had made it through the review process to be approved while 45 were still mired by the environmental regulations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that CalVTP was designed to help navigate.
Newsom had stated that “The scale of the wildfire crisis in California is unprecedented, and we need a response to match the scale and severity of this challenge.” It only took him two years to arrive at that conclusion, denying Trump’s call to action and blaming climate change for the wildfires.
In the summer of 2018, Trump drew attention to the flawed environmental policies that many believe exacerbated the wildfire problem, tweeting, “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”
Understanding the severe risk these fires posed to Americans, the president continued to hammer Newsom for his abysmal leadership, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests.”
As another wildfire season draws near, foresters and experts in fire prevention told CapRadio that it is not even clear how they are meant to use the program that requires burdensome amounts of paperwork.
Project Manager Keith Rutledge from the Sherwood Firewise Communities in Brooktrails, CA was understanding of the importance of the approval process, by emphasizing the consequences of not completing projects.
“Our number one goal is to try to keep people from dying,” Rutledge expressed.
Lisa Lien-Mager, deputy secretary for communications at the California Natural Resources Agency, argued detractors were using the wrong metrics to assess CalVTP.
“The measure of CalVTP’s success,” she suggested, “is the time it takes to get projects cleared and on the ground. The physical work of fuels treatment is an entirely separate exercise.”
In other words, the bureaucracy is going great and we won’t take any blame if the forests aren’t properly managed before the next wildfire breaks out. This report of delayed results from CapRadio followed a 2021 investigation that found Newsom had claimed to treat 690 percent more acres than what had actually been done.
He boasted of 90,000 acres of fire prevention when the state had only accomplished 11,399. One has to wonder what more it will take for Newsom to abandon his partisan posturing that delayed these projects for fear of giving Trump a win.
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