California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) overstated progress in wildfire prevention by 690%, according to a new report Capital Public Radio, the local affiliate of National Public Radio.
Capital Public Radio and National Public Radio’s California Newsroom investigated Newsom’s claims of putting in place policies to reduce the deadly wildfires, and concluded that he “overstated, by an astounding 690%, the number of acres treated with fuel breaks and prescribed burns in the very forestry projects he said needed to be prioritized to protect the state’s most vulnerable communities.”
Newsom claimed that 35 “priority projects” were tackled as a result of his executive order that provided fire prevention work on 90 acres.
“But the state’s own data show the actual number is 11,399,” the report found.
CapRadio and National Public Radio’s California Newsroom revealed other instances where Newsom has mislead the public on the state of wildfire preparedness:
Overall, California’s response has faltered under Newsom. After an initial jump during his first year in office, data obtained by CapRadio and NPR’s California Newsroom show Cal Fire’s fuel reduction output dropped by half in 2020 levels below Gov. Jerry Brown’s final year in office. At the same time, Newsom slashed roughly $150 million from Cal Fire’s wildfire prevention budget.
In 2020, 4.3 million acres burned, the most in California’s recorded history. That was more than double the previous record, set in 2018, when the Camp Fire destroyed the town of Paradise, killing 85 people.
The data show Cal Fire treated 64,000 acres in 2019, but only 32,000 acres in 2020 and 24,000 acres through Memorial Day this year. The federal government and private landowners also chip in, but the totals remain far below what experts say is required to effectively adapt to the dangers of climate change.
The taxpayer-funded media outlets said Newsom is now trying to play “catch up” with some of the unexpected surplus in the state budget by proposing $1.2 billion in “wildfire resiliency” funding.
“The state and federal government recently set an annual goal of treating 500,000 acres each by 2025, with Cal Fire developing a list of 500 projects to continuously work on and update to reach that end,” the public radio outlets reported. “The Cal Fire fact sheet from 2019 claimed Newsom’s priority projects would knock out “about 20 percent of the [500,000 acre] goal.”
But it turns out the actual acres treated represented less than 3 percent.
Newsom’s 2019 budget allocated $355 million for wildfire prevention and resource management. The next year, after the coronavirus pandemic hit, Newsom cut that amount to $203 million — a decrease of more than 40 percent.