UPDATE: Gov. Newsom Signs Legislation Providing $536 Million in Early Action Wildfire Funding
On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 85, approving a $536 million “early action” funding plan for wildfire resilience. Early action funding augments the current fiscal year budget and can be spent almost immediately on fuels treatment projects and other resilience initiatives. Governor Newsom signed the bill alongside legislative leaders at a fuels management project in the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area which helped protect a Butte County community from the 2020 North Complex Fire.
The agreement includes $198 million for funding wildfire fuel breaks, $283 million for forest health and resilient wildlands and $27 million for home and community hardening, among other funding. Altogether, the early action funding is more than $200 million greater than the amount initially proposed in Governor Newsom’s January 8 Proposed Budget.
CCA issued a statement praising the $536 million appropriation but noted that “this is only the beginning. More work needs to be completed to correct the mismanagement of our landscapes over the last 100 years.”
The move came just two weeks after Governor Newsom announced $80.74 million in Emergency Fund spending to support early action on fire fuels management and wildfire response efforts, enabling the hiring of 1,399 additional firefighters including “fire crews for fuels management.”
More information about the wildfire funding agreement is available in the April edition of Hot Irons and the May edition of California Cattleman.
UPDATE: USDA Designates All California Counties as Primary or Contiguous Natural Disaster Areas Due to Drought
As previously reported in Legislative Bulletin, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on March 5 designated “50 California counties as primary natural disaster areas due to recent drought.” The natural disaster designation was justified by the U.S. Drought Monitor designating those counties as having Severe (D2) drought for at least eight weeks or Extreme (D3) or Exceptional (D4) drought at any time.
California’s remaining eight counties—Monterey, Orange, San Benito, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura—are immediately adjacent to counties designated as primary natural disaster areas, and thus have been designated as “contiguous natural disaster areas.” Counties in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon which are immediately adjacent to one of the 50 counties designated as primary natural disaster areas are likewise deemed contiguous natural disaster areas.
The primary and contiguous drought designations make ranchers in every county of the state eligible to be considered for certain assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), such as FSA emergency loans, and from the Small Business Administration (SBA), such as Economic Injury Disaster (EID) Loans. Applications for assistance from FSA or SBA under the drought designation must be submitted no later than November 5.
To apply for an emergency loan or inquire regarding other drought disaster relief resources available through FSA, ranchers should contact their county FSA office. You can find your county office’s contact information by clicking on northern California or southern California here and then clicking on your county. To apply for an EID Loan or other assistance from SBA, producers should visit SBA’s website, here, or contact SBA via phone at 1-800-659-2955 or via email at email@example.com.
FDA Releases Report on 2020 Central Valley Leafy Green E. coli Outbreak
In early April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the release of a report on the investigation into a Fall 2020 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses. In its announcement, FDA states that “we identified the outbreak strain in one cattle feces composite sample taken alongside a road approximately 1.3 miles upslope from a produce farm with multiple fields linked to the outbreak through traceback. In addition, several other samples tested positive for other [Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC)] strains, including E. coli O157:H7. While no direct source or route of contamination was identified, the investigation provided insights into potential sources of contamination, including livestock activities on adjacent land.”
It is worth noting that the report does not conclusively demonstrate a causal link between cattle grazing and the illness outbreak. It is possible, for instance, that both cattle and leafy greens were contaminated with the outbreak strain of E. coli from wildlife or another source.
FDA has recommended that the agricultural community in the Central Coast continue to “work to identify where this reoccurring strain of pathogenic E. coli is persisting and the likely routes of leafy green contamination,” including through participation “in the California Longitudinal Study [(CALS)], and in the locally-led, locally-convened California Agricultural Neighbors (CAN) workgroup.” CCA is participating in both CALS and CAN, and in other California food safety initiatives outlined here.
On April 6, California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross issued an open letter encouraging farmers and ranchers to participate in the California Longitudinal Study; if you are interested in participating or learning more, contact Dr. Michele Jay-Russell at UC Davis or contact Kirk Wilbur in the CCA office.
USDA Announces $10 Million in WHIP+ Assistance for Certain Commodities
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it has made $10 million available from the agency’s Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) “to assist agricultural producers impacted by the worsening drought conditions in the Klamath River Basin.” WHIP+ assistance is being made available for drought losses in 2018 or 2019 and requires at least a D3 drought rating from the U.S. Drought Monitor in the producer’s county to be eligible.
WHIP+ only covers losses for “crops, trees, bushes, and vines that occurred as a result of those disaster events, milk losses due to adverse weather conditions, and losses to on-farm stored commodities.” While the available assistance is not directly applicable to cattle production, it may provide relief for producers with diversified operations.
Further details are available from USDA’s press release, here.
CDFA Releases Draft Report on Farmer- and Rancher-Led Climate Solutions
In early February, CCA reported on stakeholder meetings hosted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to solicit insights regarding “farmer- and rancher-led climate change solutions.”
Earlier this month, CDFA released its draft report based on those stakeholder meeting. CDFA is soliciting public comments on the draft report to better inform the agency’s understanding of farmer- and rancher-led climate change solutions. Comments are due no later than 5:00pm on April 30 and may be emailed to CDFA’s Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feedback received by CDFA will ultimately inform the Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy developed by various state agencies as mandated by Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-82-20, which also established the goal “to conserve at least 30 percent of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030” (often referred to as the “30 by ’30” initiative).
USDA Seeks Information on Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry
On March 16, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a notice in the Federal Register seeking public input on the agency’s Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Strategy. USDA’s Strategy is in furtherance of President Biden’s January 27 Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.
The notice requests information on how USDA can “encourage voluntary adoption of agricultural practices that sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and ensure resiliency to climate change” and “utilize programs, funding…and other authorities to decrease wildfire risk fueled by climate change,” among other issues.
In the wake of California’s worst wildfire season on record, there is much that the US Forest Service—an agency within USDA—can do to reduce wildfire risk on the 28.8 million acres of land the agency manages within the state. The agency must substantially increase its application of prescribed fire, remove deadfall accumulated during prior fire seasons and complete NEPA on vacant grazing allotments to ensure that livestock can remove fine fuels which would otherwise provide tinder for wildfires.
CCA and its national affiliate the Public Lands Council will draft detailed responses to USDA’s request for comment over the coming weeks. Interested CCA members can provide comments to USDA by clicking “Submit a Formal Comment” here. Comments are due no later than 8:59pm on April 29.