Proactive investments need to be scaled to match fire suppression spending. In 2020 alone, more than $5 billion was spent suppressing fire in California, but only a fraction of that was proactively spent on improving forest health, reducing hazardous fuels and bolstering community resilience. It’s time to shift the fire paradigm from one of suppression and exclusion, to one of stewardship and adaptation.
We know that fire will eventually impact all of the landscape, so we must have a plan to address forest resiliency on every acre. Planned fuels treatments should include the use of fire whenever possible to increase the amount of forestland treated. For example, a proactive policy and regulatory strategy is needed to maintain future forest health. NEPA and CEQA should be updated to consider the detrimental impacts of decades of fire suppression on our forested landscapes and the importance of beneficial fire on maintaining forest health.
Living with fire and making this paradigm shift requires new, unique partnerships and necessitates co-ownership of fire management and shared responsibility across all levels of government and with private, tribal, and community-based groups. The focus should be on shared values, shared vision, and shared investments, with a central recognition that fire is a natural and essential part of the California landscape.
Rather than simply counting acres treated, we should consider other factors, such as jobs created, people trained, increases in water yield, water quality, public health improvements, homes hardened and processing facilities developed.