SACRAMENTO– Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) has introduced AB 297, the Wildfire Prevention and Forest Resiliency Act of 2021. The legislation was introduced with a strong coalition of legislators representing communities spanning across California in support, including three joint-authors and 15 co-authors between the Senate and Assembly.
“The time for incrementalism is over. Catastrophic wildfires have plagued us for years and sadly 2020 was the worst with over 4.2 million acres burned. Clearly, what we’ve been doing isn’t working,” said Gallagher, whose district includes the Town of Paradise, which was devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire. “We need bold action and a multi-pronged approach. We know what the problems are. We haven’t made enough progress clearing fuel buildup and managing our forests, red tape and regulatory hurdles increase costs and delay work, and there are few options for processing materials from forest health and fuel reduction projects.”
AB 297 is a comprehensive solution to these problems. The bill would provide sustained funding for important forest health and fire prevention programs by continuously allocating $500 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) for these purposes. Every year uncontrolled wildfires emit millions of metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, negating any progress California has made in reaching its emission reduction goals. The state also spends significantly more on fire response than prevention, with an expected $1.3 billion in emergency firefighting costs in 2020-21. Significant and predictable funding for preventative work is essential to mitigate future wildfires.
The legislation would also provide crucial regulatory relief by exempting specified forest health and fuel reduction projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA approval can take years, delaying critical projects. In 2019, the Governor declared state of emergency which waived CEQA requirements for 35 forest management projects. This approach proved successful by fast-tracking projects that would typically take three to five years to complete. Expanding this exemption will help California meet its goal of treating 500,000 acres each year. AB 297 would also expand on an existing exemption to Timber Harvest Plan requirements for homeowners who wish to clear defensible space beyond the required 100 feet.
Finally, AB 297 would help meet the goals of California’s Forest Carbon Plan by incentivizing innovative solutions for utilizing wood products to support forest management activities. California has millions of dead and dying trees, but nowhere to put them. Shortage of processing facilities also hamper clean-up efforts post-fire. Biomass, biofuels, and innovative wood products are key to ensure these materials can be removed and utilized. AB 297 would give priority under the California Competes Tax Credit program for industries that utilize these products.
“With every passing year, California continues to shatter records with devastating fire seasons and 2020 was no exception. Republicans and Democrats do not always agree on public policy, but the issue of wildfire preparedness and treating our forests is one that we must prioritize and work together on. It is far past time we allocate much-needed resources to get timber operators to work, to fire safe our communities. I am proud to joint-author AB 297, which is a comprehensive solution,” said joint-author Megan Dahle (R-Bieber).
Other joint and co-authors also shared their support for AB 297, issuing the following statements:
“We learned an important lesson this summer from the Creek Fire: The fire burning on the managed forestland gave our brave firefighters the upper hand – saving the town of Shaver Lake. We must do everything in our power to thin our forests now.” – Assembly Member Jim Patterson (R-Fresno)
“My district continues to be destroyed by catastrophic wildfires such as the Creek Fire year after year. It is time for the legislature to stop this cycle and provide every resource possible to help landowners protect their properties and families before the next big catastrophe.” – Assembly Member Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals)
“After the most destructive wildfire season in our state’s history, it is essential that we dedicate funding and commonsense solutions to address what has sadly threatened and impacted significant portions of our state.” – Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron (R-Escondido)
“Comprehensive wildfire prevention policies must to be a top priority for California. As a former Fire Battalion Chief, I am proud to join with Assemblyman Gallagher to co-author AB 297 to address some of the immediate obstacles preventing critical progress including increased funding and regulatory relief.” – Assembly Member Kelly Seyarto (R-Murrieta)
“Lives and properties are tragically and unnecessarily lost each year due to wildfires. The current policies are not working. These proposed changes will bring a more comprehensive approach to preventing wildfires.” – Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama)
“Year after year California continues to set historical records with nearly 10,000 fires in 2020 alone. I’m proud to co-author this legislation with Assemblyman Gallagher to address this issue by addressing fire prevention and eliminating regulatory red-tape.” – Assembly Member Thurston “Smitty” Smith (R-Apple Valley).
“In San Diego County, and all across the state, we have seen catastrophic wildfires that destroy communities and lives. It’s the state’s responsibility to manage our lands and control wildfires before they spiral out of control. This bill sets California on the right path to protect our communities and resources.” – Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee).
“We have neglected the health of our forests for too long. This is an important step towards protecting our state from devastating wildfires.” – Assembly Member Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale).
“I thank Assemblymember Gallagher for his bold proactive action immediately addressing the catastrophic wildfires plaguing our state. I look forward to engaging with the Legislature and the Governor on this very important issue this year.” – Senator Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa)
For more information on Assemblyman Gallagher, and to track legislation visit www.assembly.ca.gov/Gallagher