SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has completed 34 of the forest-thinning projects it rushed to finish in the past year as a way to buffer 200 communities at high risk from wildfires, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
His office said two of the projects helped protect Santa Barbara residents during a fire before Thanksgiving.
His administration expedited 35 projects in the wake of catastrophic wildfires that devastated communities in recent years, including one that nearly leveled the Northern California town of Paradise.
The final project is expected to be finished this spring.
“I don't think many folks thought we'd get all those done,” Newsom said during a public interview hosted by the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California.
The forest projects thin or clear brush and trees along wide paths so wildfires slow down and can be contained. Workers also removed hazardous dead trees and created roadways that can help with evacuations during wildfires.
Critics say the projects won't slow wind-driven infernos like ones that devastated communities in recent years. They also caution that to remain effective, even against slow-moving blazes, the fire breaks must be maintained indefinitely by weeding out more flammable brush and grass that would naturally grow where trees are removed.
Newsom sped the projects covering 90,000 acres by suspending some requirements and regulations,
The Democratic governor has faced repeated criticism from President Donald Trump for not doing enough to manage California forests.
“We are doing the job the federal government is no longer doing. A lot of those projects were also on federal land," Newsom said, noting that 57% of forested land in California is federally owned. “We're doing our job. We recognize we have more to do. Mr. President, we recognize that.”