WASHINGTON (KGET) — President Joe Biden held a meeting with West Coast governors, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, on Wednesday to announce new action to prevent and respond to wildfires.
“We can’t just double down,” Newsom said, joining the meeting remotely. “That’s old, stale rhetoric.”
Wednesday’s meeting was held as western states face the threat of another intense fire season.
“We have to radically change our vegetation and forest management policy, our suppression policy, our prepositioning policy,” Biden said. “Truth is, we’re playing catch up. This is an area that’s been under-resourced.”
Biden announced Wednesday his administration is immediately hiring more federal firefighters and boosting their pay, along with an effort to use more technology to detect and respond to fires, more funding for forest management projects and initiatives to increase the country’s permanent firefighting force overall.
It was welcome news for Newsom, who noted firefighting resources across the country last year were stretched so thin, California had to call for support from Israel and Australia.
“Music to my ears,” he said.
While the federal government announced the new effort, some Republican lawmakers say the state should also be doing more, especially on wildfire prevention.
“People are going to die this year, and that is a sad and scary fact,” Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said. “If we don’t get on top of this, we are going to have another catastrophic wildfire.”
Gallagher’s district includes the town of Paradise, which burned in the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history in 2018.
Gallagher noted the state budget that goes into effect on Thursday includes about a quarter of the $1 billion Newsom and Democratic leaders had been touting for wildfire prevention.
He said the figure finalized on Monday was $258 million.
“It’s not enough, and we also need to make sure it’s continually appropriated every year. We shouldn’t have to fight about this,” Gallagher said.
Earlier this year, Newsom authorized $536 million in emergency funds to get a headstart on fire prevention projects across the state, including forest management, training and home hardening.