By Julie Watts

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — From the recall debates to the Assembly and Senate floors, the number of acres recently treated to prevent wildfires has become a political hot button heading into the recall.

A year ago this month, the governor, the US Forest Service and other stakeholders signed an agreement committing to treat a combined million acres of forest land each year by 2025.

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This built on the state’s existing commitment under former Governor Jerry Brown to treat 500,000 acres a year by adding 500,000 acres of federal land.

However, in the year since it was signed, it appears neither the state nor the feds treated a half-million acres—and it’s not clear if anyone actually knows how many were treated.

“We’ve actually been able to treat well over the goal that we were trying to get at, which was sixty thousand acres a year,” said Cal Fire Chief Daniel Berlant. But, he notes, Cal Fire is only responsible for a portion of the half-million acres of state land.

Under the agreement, he says the rest of the state land is supposed to be treated by other state agencies, parks, conservancies and private landowners—including timber companies.

But who’s keeping track of who’s making sure that they’re doing the job? Berlant says the governor’s Wildfire and Forest Resiliency Task Force is in charge.

“A lot of people and a lot of agencies are working towards fuel reduction efforts,” Berlant said. “And how we get our arms wrapped around how much everybody is doing is an important task.”

Right now, it’s not clear how many state acres were actually treated since the million-acre-per-year agreement was signed.

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The US Forest Service tells us they’ve treated over 300,000 acres of federal land over the past two years—212,000 acres in 2020, and 110,000 acres so far in 2021.

Cal Fire reports treating more than 84,699 acres of state land between June 2020 and June 2021. They expect that number to increase as more reporting comes in.

But the task force could not tell us how many state acres were treated by others as their still trying to reconcile records from multiple state agencies and other stakeholders.

Pending legislation would require the governor’s task force to “track and ensure the achievement” of the goals. But in the meantime, the exact progress is unclear. Berlant says it’s safe to say the state has not met the 500,000-acre-per-year goal yet. Though, notably, they have until 2025.

“While we are definitely are making good strides and we’ve increased the pace and scale, we still have some work to go over the next couple of years,” Berlant said.

So, could any of the fires we’ve seen this season have been prevented if the state and the feds had met the million-acre goal this past year?

“If our forests were healthier, if they were in better shape, if they were thinned out, we absolutely would have a greater chance of being able to stop the fires,” Berlant said.

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He says the Caldor Fire has now burned up to the border of one project area. However, the area where the fire ignited was not part of the project.

Julie Watts