For next fiscal year, which begins July 1, Gov. Jerry Brown has recommended a $200 million increase for the Cal Fire budget. The agency’s total would be $2.1 billion compared to $1.9 billion in fiscal 2015-16.
The increased funding will support a proposed staffing increase of nearly 750 positions. About 650 positions will be for fire protection, of which about 455 are temporary. Another 30 are for resource management and 43 are for administrative functions.
As part of the Emergency Drought Response effort, Brown allocated another $292 million, including $77.4 million to Cal Fire. These funds will help ensure firefighters are available for surges, retain seasonal fighters, ensure more defensible space inspectors and improve Cal Fire’s air attack resources.
About $180 million of the total increase is from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. Reimbursements are expected to increase $25 million and the funding from the State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fee will decrease about $5 million to $75.9 million.
The Greenhouse Gas funding includes $140 million for forest treatments, $30 million for urban forestry projects and $10 million for Forest Legacy program. The purpose of the legacy program is to protect environmentally important forestland threatened with conversion to non-forest uses, such as subdivisions for residential or commercial development.
The $140 million will fund activities to reduce wildfire risk, including thinning of tree stands that are too dense, prescribed fire and other boots-on-the-ground mitigation work. “As [Cal Fire] Chief [Ken Pimlott] says, ‘We are going to set some hard goals for ourselves,’” said Janet Upton, Cal Fire’s deputy director for communications.
Another $17 million and 96 of the positions will augment Cal Fire’s Emergency Command centers and the two regional and Sacramento centers. These resources are needed especially during periods of “historic, increased fire activity.”
Improving information technology’s contribution to the agency’s responses will be acquiring automated vehicle locators and mobile data computers in all of the agency’s emergency response equipment.
As a result of investigations of several Cal Fire personnel and training activities, the agency plans to establish a unit with capability and authority to carry out comprehensive personnel investigations and adverse actions.
According to the Budget Summary, “A centralized unit will improve the quality of investigation and written adverse actions through dedicated, trained investigators, and provide centralized oversight resulting in coordination and consistency in adverse actions, penalties and investigative materials.”
Finally, the governor promised to submit a new budget proposal in the spring to fund the replacement of Cal Fire’s current 12 Vietnam-era helicopters with new and modern equipment.
Included in the budget proposal is a $40-million allocation over the next two years to go toward replacing woodstoves. The money would come from the proceeds of the State’s Cap and Trade Program to reduce California’s Greenhouse Gas emissions.
“This could potentially help change out thousands of old stoves, which is good for consumers and the environment,” notes Mario Allen, president of Pacific Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.