Air tanker drops retardant
A giant Boeing 747 air tanker drops retardant on the Valley Fire. Courtesy Cal Fire

Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday signed a $536 million wildfire package enabling the state to take urgent prevention actions in communities across the state, including San Diego County.

Newsom signed SB 85 alongside legislative leaders at a fuels management project at Lake Oroville State Recreation Area which helped protect a Butte County community from last year’s North Complex Fire.

The legislative package builds on funding for wildfire protections proposed in Newsom’s 2021-22 proposed state budget, providing funds to restore the ecological health of forests and watersheds, create fuel breaks around vulnerable communities, underwrite statewide fire prevention grants and spur improvements to defensible space to mitigate wildfire damage.

The package is part of Newsom’s overall proposed $1 billion plan for forest health and community fire resilience.

“California is taking bold early action to protect our high-risk communities from the upcoming wildfire season before it starts,” Newsom said. “This crucial funding will go towards efforts including fuel breaks, forest health projects and home hardening. I thank the members of the Legislature for their partnership as we do more than ever before to build wildfire and forest resilience across the state.”

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said the legislation promises to “help protect those who have lost so much to wildfires and prevent fresh pain from being inflicted across the state.”

“As the Senate passed the wildfire prevention and resiliency package yesterday, members spoke about the many fires that have torn through their districts,” Atkins said. “From the coast to inland, north to south, Paradise to San Diego, each of us have watched our communities burn, evacuate and work to rebuild far too many times. This is an investment in Californians and it will not be the last.”

The Newsom administration is spearheading sustainable approaches to thinning California’s vulnerable landscapes, half of which will be funded under the early-action legislation, according to Newsom’s office.

One approach is to develop a comprehensive framework to expand the wood products market in the state to create economic opportunities for the use of forest materials that store carbon, reduce emissions and contribute to sustainable local economies.

Additionally, the state’s iBank will partner with the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and other agencies to advance forest and agricultural-related applications to the Climate Catalyst Fund, officials said.

The fund will provide loans, loan guarantees and other credit support to promote development of businesses that utilize wood and forest biomass; encourage private-sector innovations in technology, business models, infrastructure and supply chains in woody biomass markets; and allow for optimization of state grant funds in the sector.

Newsom announced last week that he was expanding and refocusing the Forest Management Task Force to deliver on key commitments in the Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan issued in January, including the proposed $1 billion plan for forest health and community fire resilience.

In March, Newsom authorized $80.74 million in emergency funds for 1,399 additional Cal Fire personnel to bolster statewide fuels management and wildfire response efforts.