Taking a moment from the fires burning in his own backyard, President Donald Trump went on Twitter this morning to opine on the devastating fires currently burning in California—and to threaten to cut off federal funding if his wishes aren’t followed:
There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
The president is referring to the three major fires in Northern and Southern California. The Camp Fire, in Butte County, has killed nine people and has been the most destructive in state history. More than 200,000 people have been evacuated due to the Woolsey Fire burning in Malibu and the San Fernando Valley; the nearby Hill Fire has burned more than 6,000 acres.
Trump is correct that these fires have been massive, deadly, and costly. Otherwise he’s blowing smoke. His claim that poor forest management is responsible for killer wildfires is a favorite talking point among anti-environmentalists such as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It’s an argument for more logging, which isn’t the same thing as smart forest management, as climate scientist Peter Gleick explained to Mother Jones when Trump fired off similar tweets in August: “We do know we need to do a better job at managing forests. But I don’t think that is what he’s commenting on.”
In the midst of another spate of fires this summer, Trump tweeted that they’d been made worse by all the water “foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.” As Gleick noted at the time, “That’s completely absurd!…There’s no shortage of water to fight these fires.”
So far, the president has not mentioned another major factor behind California’s wildfires: climate change. Climate change is making fires worse, and it is expected to make them more more frequent. Even Trump’s own Forest Service acknowledges this (without using the dread phrase “climate change”). And like several earlier California fires, the Camp Fire may have been sparked by a power line.
And as for Trump’s vague threat to cut “Fed payments,” his administration is already ahead of him. Earlier this year, it proposed slashing federal funding for studying and preventing wildfires.