Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2020-2021 state budget calls for numerous cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newsom is hopeful federal stimulus funding will help make up for many of the cuts. But Newsom’s focus on reforming the state’s criminal justice system could lead to the closing of facility that has been around in this area for more than 70 years.
The Governor’s budget calls for the closing of eight of the state’s 43 conservation camps. Mountain Home Conservation Camp is one of the eight facilities that could be closed.
It’s stated in the Governor’s proposed budget the eight conservation camps to be closed will be chosen by the California Department of Corrections in coordination with Cal Fire.
“The locations selected will take into consideration proximity to other fire camps in an effort to minimize impacts to communities that rely on the services provided by inmate fire crews,” the Governor’s budget states.
The closest conservation camp to Mountain Home is in Mariposa. It would figure the state could decide to close either the Mariposa facility or Mountain Home.
The state expects to save $7.4 million in 2020-21 by closing eight conservation camps.
In an average year, Mountain Home Conservation Camp inmates provide more than 115,000 man hours of conservation and other public service work to local, state, and federal agencies. More than 90,000 hours of work are performed in firefighting or other emergency services. It’s estimated the Mountain Home Conservation Camp, saves California taxpayers more than $2 million a year.
Among the entities Mountain Home provides extensive work for are Mountain Home State Forest, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Success Lake and Lake Kaweah and at SCICON. Mountain Home also helps out with work on Tulare County roads.
Officials state much of the work couldn’t be done without inmate fire crews and California Department of Corrections and Cal Fire staff at Mountain Home.
Mountain Home is also being used in the Tree Mortality Task Force to deal with the 66 million dead trees in the state.
Mountain Home Conservation Camp was first opened on the Mountain Home State Forest in 1947 under the direction of the California Division of Forestry and the California Youth Authority. At the beginning there was a 20-man summer spike camp located at the current Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest summer warehouse at 6,500 feet. In 1955, the California Division of Forestry and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation opened a 30-man spike camp.
In 1959, under the direction of Governor Edmund Brown, the Director of Department of Natural Resources, DeWitt Nelson and the Director of Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Richard McGee, announced and began construction of the current Mountain Home Conservation Camp.
In 1960, Mountain Home became the state’s first mobile conservation camp. This mobile camp and the summer camp were used in the construction of the current Mountain Home Conservation Camp.
Mountain Home’s primary mission is to provide inmate fire crews to battle fires in Tulare and Kern Counties, although the fire crews may be dispatched anywhere in the state. Mountain Home inmate fire crews also provide a work force for conservation and community service projects in the area.
The California Department of Corrections is responsible for the selection, supervision and discipline of inmates. Inmates placed at Mountain Home are determined based on a number of factors including criminal history and length of sentence.
The state budget will eventually have to be approved by the State Legislator and signed by the Governor this summer.