Wildfire funding is an investment in our community (Opinion)

Steve Frisch and Brittany Benesi
Guest column

Every year, the Truckee/Lake Tahoe communities hold their collective breath when wildfires start burning forestland in California.

Steve Frisch

Last year, more than 4.3 million acres in California burned, destroying more than 10,000 homes, killing 31 people, and emitting more than 100 million tons of carbon dioxide. Five of the state’s20 largest fires in recorded history occurred last year, and wildfires are increasingly burning into California’s urban centers. The economic disruption, public health impacts and loss of healthy ecosystems in California are accelerating as our climate is changing.

Brittany Benesi

The challenge of restoring our forests is not insurmountable. There is strong scientific consensus telling us what we need to do. In the words of environmentalist Francis Beincke, “Healthy forests and wetlands stand sentry against the dangers of climate change, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away in plants, root systems, and soil.”

The California Forest Carbon Plan reports that in order to control the risk of severe wildfire and restore our forests, we need to treat 1 million acres per year of state forests through a combination of thinning, prescribed fire and watershed restoration.

The challenge is the cost of these treatments is estimated to be between $3-$4 billion per year, while California has historically spent only about $500 million per year on restoration activities. That is why Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent $1 billion budget proposal to reduce severe wildfire through forest restoration is so important and deserves support.

Newsom’s proposal is the start of a visionary down payment on the action our state needs. The progress made this year helps create a permanent funding source in our state budget, and builds public support for a multi-billion dollar “climate adaptation” bond measure in 2022.

These actions would be a wise investment. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, every dollar spent on disaster preparedness is six dollars saved over time. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, our tourism-based communities and the businesses that serve them cannot risk additional loss. Directing significant funding toward wildfire preparedness today will strengthen the resilience of our communities, economy, and environment.

We need to increase our investment in California forests to $4 billion per year in the next decade. Here is how you can help:

Contact your state legislators and urge them to support Newsom’s forest budget. Visit to find your representatives.

Ask your friends, family members, and coworkers in California’s urban areas to contact their legislators, too, because forest restoration is not just a rural issue. It affects their health and lives, too. Those of us in this region can’t change our wildfire policies alone and we need California’s urban residents to help us.

Support and take collective action through local organizations, including Sierra Business Council and our partners. We are committed to solving this problem in our community, but it will take persistence and vigilance.

Steve Frisch is president of the Sierra Business Council, and Brittany Benesi is the organization’s director of government and community affairs.

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