Amidst a government shutdown and on the heels of a sober report concluding California’s Camp Fire was the world’s costliest disaster last year, President Donald Trump decided it would be a good time to reiterate the lie that “poor forest management” is to blame for California’s wildfires woes. He also again threatened to cut off FEMA aid to the state.
The “news” was announced this morning on Trump’s communication platform of choice, in a typo-laden tweet that has since been taken down and rewritten with the standard English spelling of ‘forest.’
Here’s the original:
The confusing wording of the tweet has led some outlets to report that the president already ordered FEMA to cut off funding to the state of California. But as we should all be well aware at this point, Trump has a habit of sounding off about matters of national importance without bothering to inform the parties involved, whether he’s firing the secretary of state via Tweet or attempting to kick transgender people out of the military.
FEMA told Earther that a statement was being prepared in response to Trump’s supposed order, but a spokesperson declined to provide further details. The spokesperson did say that FEMA has continued to pay for disaster recovery despite the government shutdown. “There are no disaster projects on hold presently and we are not aware of any that will have to be put on hold in the near future,” FEMA said.
The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and state fire agency CalFire, which coordinate with FEMA on wildfire responses, did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding Trump’s tweet.
It’s not the first time Trump has at least threatened to pull federal aid to California as fires in the state spiral out of control. He issued a similar ultimatum back in November as firefighters were in still battling the Camp Fire. It’s also hardly the first time Trump has pointed a finger at state environmental policies or forest management as the cause of California’s fire woes. He’s been doing so for months, although Trump’s fallacious fire culprit seems to have evolved over time from environmentalists who are wasting the rivers by “diverting” them into the ocean to state forest managers who can’t be bothered to rake enough.
Every version of these wild-ass claims has been thoroughly debunked by everyone from state firefighters who say they have plenty of water to fight the blazes, to Republican voters in Malibu who have correctly observed that “better forest management” wouldn’t have prevented wildfires in their forest-free backyards to the president of Finland who said he never told Trump good forest management is the result of raking.
A charitable read on Trump’s thought-salad about forest management is that he’s heard about how the antiquated Forest Service practice of stamping out small brush fires has caused fuel loads to increase on forests throughout the West, priming them for larger fires.
But as University of New Mexico fire scientist Matthew Hurteau explained in a Guardian article in November, this is not the predominant cause of the recent fires that have scorched California.
Rather, human development at the wildlife urban interface has upped the number of fires being sparked, whether due to poorly-maintained power lines or an errant cigarette butt, in addition to putting more people and property in harm’s way. And climate change has primed landscapes to burn more frequently and more intensely, with hot weather and persistent drought turning landscapes into tinderboxes and causing fire season to start earlier in the spring and extend later into the fall.
What’s more, as Axios notes, more than half of California’s forests are federally-managed, and more fires burned on federal land than state land last year.
Hopefully, this latest threat to cut off FEMA aid will turn out to be as empty as the last one. 2018's wildfires took a devastating toll on California, and the state needs all the help it can get. Since President Trump issued disaster declarations for Ventura, Los Angeles, and Butte counties, FEMA has approved nearly 49 million in federal aid, according to a data tracker on the agency website. On Tuesday, newly-elected Governor Newson, along with the governors of Oregon and Washington state sent a letter to the federal government asking for more collaboration on managing the “unprecedented fires” the West faces.
“We have been put in office by the voters to get things done, not to play games with lives,” Newsom tweeted in response to Trump’s threat.