Jun 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Newsom misled public about progress of wildfire prevention efforts, report finds

California Governor Gavin Newsom

California Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

California Gov. Newsom (D) misled the public about the progress his office had made in shoring up wildfire prevention according to an investigative report by CapRadio and NPR’s California Newsroom.

Why it matters: The revelations come just as drought-stricken California gears up for a devastating fire season that could prove to be the worst on record.

The state of play: Newsom has underscored the importance of wildfire prevention since his first day in office in 2019, when he signed an executive order overhauling the state's fire prevention efforts.

  • Shortly thereafter, Cal Fire launched 35 "priority projects" to protect 200 communities especially vulnerable to wildfires.
  • In January 2020 Newsom announced that the 35 priority projects had successfully targeted 90,000 acres of land with fire prevention efforts, such as fuel breaks.

The big picture: The report states that there is "little evidence" that Newsom had accomplished these goals and had, in fact, reduced funding for wildfire prevention programs.

  • The investigation found that while Newsom claimed the priority projects successfully treated 90,000 acres, state records show the number to be 11,399—an exaggeration of 690%.
  • "But the data analyzed by CapRadio and NPR’s California Newsroom show that Cal Fire treated a small fraction of that amount, 11,399 acres, or about 13% of the amount cited by Newsom," it noted.

In 2020, Newsom cut about $150 million from Cal Fire’s wildfire prevention budget, slashing it from $355 million to $203 million.

  • California's fuel reduction output also dropped by half in 2020, the report added.
  • In 2019, the "overall amount of wildfire mitigation work carried out by Cal Fire" totalled 64,000 acres but in 2020 that figure had plunged to less than 32,000 acres.
  • The report notes that Newsom's office did not respond to a request for comment.

What's more: The head of Cal Fire, Chief Thom Porter, admitted in the report that Newsom had misrepresented his accomplishments.

  • In fact, according to Porter, California was never in the position to treat 90,000 acres in 2019.
  • “We didn't have all of the environmental clearance that we were going to need to do all of that work,” Porter said. “Nor did we have all of the agreements with landowners completely in place.”

The bottom line: "Overall, California’s response has faltered under Newsom," the report states.

Go deeper