In an annual rite of winter, California Gov. Gavin Newsom released his 2022-23 budget proposal on Jan. 10. This rollout doesn’t produce the level of suspense that it used to, thanks to Democrats’ supermajorities in the Legislature and to COVID-19 relief packages that have given states mounds of cash. I’m old enough to remember recession-era budget fights that went well past the July 1 start of the fiscal year, to the point that state workers went without paychecks and had to take out short-term loans to get by.
Still, while political battles over the budget are largely gone, the January rollout is still noteworthy as a tool to gauge the administration’s priorities for the coming year. And one of the priorities within Newsom’s $262 billion ledger aligns with a key goal of the California Cattlemen’s Association.
Tucked inside the proposal is $1.2 billion in new funding for forest resilience and wildfire prevention over the next two years, including $482 million to enhance wildfire resilience, the CCA notes in a legislative bulletin. In his press conference, Newsom piqued the cattle industry’s interest by suggesting the fire-prevention money could be used for “expanding grazing” and “utilizing prescribed fire.”
The budget includes other earmarks of interest to the farm sector, including a $750 million drought assistance package that includes $40 million for land “repurposing” into uses such as rangelands, $20 million to improve on-farm water conservation and $10 million for small farmers, the CCA observes.
The proposal comes as the cattlemen’s group is pushing for passage of Assembly Bill 434 by Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, which would encourage grazing leases to reduce the risk of wildland fire on lands managed by state agencies. The bill languished in the lower chamber’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee last year, but the CCA wants to keep trying.
“We’re going to get a lot of pushback, but I think one way or the other we want to make that happen,” CCA president Tony Toso told me at the Tehama County Cattlemen’s annual dinner on Jan. 8.
Wildfire issues have been front-and-center in recent years for the CCA and for Toso, who had about 700 acres of his ranch in Mariposa County, Calif., burned in 2017.
Two fire-related bills sponsored by CCA were signed into law in 2021 – Senate Bill 332 by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, which raises the negligence bar for prescribed burn bosses; and AB 1103 by Assemblywoman Megan Dahle, R-Bieber, which created an “Ag Pass” to allow ranchers onto their land during wildfires to move livestock out of harm’s way and make sure they have feed and water.
Wildfires burned more than 2.5 million acres in the Golden State in 2021, and nearly 7 million acres in the West. The fires’ severity can be at least partly blamed on forest fuels. The CCA sees grazing as one key solution, and Newsom’s budget comments hardly hurt the organization’s cause.