President Donald Trump’s patience is wearing to an end when it comes to California’s continued forest mismanagement.
In a Wednesday morning tweet, the president threatened to cut Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to the state unless California’s Democratic leaders “get their act together” soon.
Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2019
The best of intentions
Beginning in the 1990s, environmentalist liberals began implementing plans to limit logging of old-growth trees and active forest management, hoping to protect endangered species and their habitats. However, like many Democratic policies, good intentions can reap devastating results.
“[Before 1994] mostly fuels were removed through logging, active management — which they stopped — and grazing,” said Bob Zybach, a reforestation consultant with a doctorate degree in environmental science. “You take away logging, grazing, and maintenance, and you get firebombs.”
The Western Governors Association predicted the looming firestorm in a 2005 report, warning that unsound government policy had created a recipe for disaster:
Over time the fire-prone forests that were not thinned, burn in uncharacteristically destructive wildfires, and the resulting loss of forest carbon is much greater than would occur if the forest had been thinned before fire moved through.
In the long term, leaving forests overgrown and prone to unnaturally destructive wildfires means there will be significantly less biomass on the ground, and more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Too little, too late
California’s government has only recently taken forest management seriously. For years, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown insisted that climate change was to blame for the conflagrations burning across his state, and when much of California was burning in August, Brown blamed carbon emissions.
“We’re fighting nature with the amount of material we’re putting in the environment, and that material traps heat, and the heat fosters fires, and the fires keep burning,” Brown said at the time. He added that people need to “shift the weather back to where it historically was,” arguing that current climate is the hottest it’s been “since civilization emerged 10,000 years ago.”
However, there is no legitimate science behind Brown’s attempt to transfer the blame for California wildfires from environmentalists to “climate deniers.” As forestry professor David B. South of Auburn University testified to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2014, “data suggest that extremely large megafires were four-times more common before 1940,” and “we cannot reasonably say that anthropogenic global warming causes extremely large wildfires.”
“To attribute this human-caused increase in fire risk to carbon dioxide emissions is simply unscientific,” South told Congress. But California’s newly-elected Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom responded with impunity, lending his signature to a joint letter asking the federal government to assist the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington in combating recent “unprecedented” wildfires.
“We have been put in office by the voters to get things done, not to play games with lives,” the letter stated. “Disasters and recovery are no time for politics. I’m already taking action to modernize and manage our forests and emergency responses. The people of CA — folks in Paradise — should not be victims to partisan bickering.”
“Fire prevention has always been very important, and the good news is the last couple of years we have become more aggressive with that,” added California Fire Chief Director Ken Pimlott, who blames poor policy for the “very aggressive” fires that have been raging across the state. Indeed, the California legislature set aside $200 million in the 2018 fiscal year to fund forest management, and the federal government recently passed an omnibus spending bill that offers contingency funds for states to access in particularly disastrous years.
The cost of inaction
Still, California has taken far too long to see the writing on the wall and to formulate sensible fire management policy. Conservatives would like to set aside resources to counter environmentalist lawsuits and make it easier for state and local governments to assist in federal forest management.
Moreover, much of the money that California set aside to prevent fires has been used instead to fight fires, explaining why some 4,500 fires scorched the Golden State in 2018, consuming more than 400,000 acres of land.
With any luck, the president will succeed in pressuring the new California chief executive to take forest management more seriously. There are lives depending on it.