The coalition that authored and introduced the bill consists of Republican State Assembly and Senate members who say that drastic action needs to be taken to prevent further destruction.
Catastrophic wildfires have plagued us for years and sadly 2020 was the worst with over 4.2 million acres burned. Clearly, what we’ve been doing isn’t working,” said Gallagher. “We know what the problems are. We haven’t made enough progress clearing fuel buildup and managing our forests, red tape and regulatory hurdles increase costs and delay work, and there are few options for processing materials from forest health and fuel reduction projects.
Here is a closer look at what the legislation would do if passed:
The bill would exempt fuel reduction/ forest health projects from the California Environmental Quality Act. With current environmental regulations, it can take three to five years to get such projects approved. Proponents say that Governor Gavin Newsom did exactly that but on a smaller scale back in 2019– when he declared a state of emergency and exempted 35 forest management projects. Republicans say that streamlining approval will also help California meet its goal of treating 500,000 acres a year.
AB 297 would expand on an existing exemption to the Timber Harvest Plan requirements for homeowners who wish to clear defensible space beyond the required 100 feet.
The legislation would incentivize utilizing biomass, biofuel and innovative wood products to clear and use millions of dead or dying trees across the state. AB 297 would give priority under the California Competes Tax Credit Program for industries that utilize these projects.
At this point, AB 297 only has Republican support. However, a spokesperson for Assemblyman Gallagher says he is speaking with Democrats in the hopes of gaining bipartisan support.
Northstate Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (R-Bieber), who is a joint author of the legislation, echoed that sentiment.
“With every passing year, California continues to shatter records with devastating fire seasons and 2020 was no exception. Republicans and Democrats do not always agree on public policy, but the issue of wildfire preparedness and treating our forests is one that we must prioritize and work together on. It is far past time we allocate much-needed resources to get timber operators to work, to fire safe our communities.