On October 17, President Trump went all-in on the California wildfires, going as far as to threaten to cut federal funding for fire relief that he claims is costing the government “hundreds of billions of dollars.”
“Because California, we’re just not going to continue to pay the kind of money we’re paying because of fires,” he said at the Cabinet meeting.
California wildfires have ravaged that state the past two years, with over a million acres burning in Northern California this fire season alone. The fires have cost the state $773 million dollars so far this year.
“California’s a mess,” Trump remarked at a Cabinet meeting following comments from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “There’s no reason for those fires to be like they are. They’re leaving them dirty. It’s a disgraceful thing. Oak trees are sitting there rotting and dry. And instead of cleaning it up, they don’t touch them. They leave them. And we end up with these massive fires that we’re paying hundreds of billions of dollars for to fix and the destruction is incredible.”
Trump’s claims of “hundreds of millions of dollars” is wildly exaggerated, as the federal governments spend on California wildfires in 2017 was under $3 billion. But his message to the governor, or upcoming governor, of California was clear – clean up the forests.
“It’s the same thing every year. And they don’t want to clean up their forest because they have environmental problems in cleaning it up,” said Trump. “They’re getting destroyed and it’s hurting our budgets, it’s hurting our country – and they just better get their act together.”
Watch the full statement by the President:
While Trump continues to cite the clearing of forests alone as the cause the devastating fires, fire officials refuse to agree, with CalFire director Ken Pimlott saying “climate change-driven extreme weather conditions continue to drive intense and large fires.”
Northern California has been ravaged by wildfires in 2017 and 2018.The past 12 months alone have produced four of the top eight most destructive wildfires in California’s history.
There is certainly some truth to the forest management argument. Researchers have concluded that fire suppression has left forests dense, dry and primed to burn. But Zinke’s assertion that the fault lies entirely with environmentalists is a stretch. Yes, mistakes have been made by environmentalists who overstep their boundaries. Today, modern-day conservationists have realized the science behind effective logging. The Save the Redwoods League has even started a program to cut down 10,000 acres of trees in the Redwood National and State Parks.
But denying climate change’s involvement in these fires is not only wrong – it’s dangerous.
“Specifically for the western states, we know that the wildfire activity in recent decades – at least half of it – is attributable to human-caused climate change,” Kristina Dahl, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Guardian. “This is a reality that we have created and that we are living with, but this is an evolving situation. Where we are right now is just one point on a trajectory that is headed in a worsening direction.”
Either way, Trump continues to voice his disagreement with California officials when it comes to wildfires. But will he actually take the steps to cut the federal firefighting money allocated to California? That’s difficult to imagine.