President Donald Trump is threatening to withhold Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money to help California cope with wildfires if the state doesn’t improve its forest management practices.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that California gets billions of dollars for fires that could have been prevented with better management. The state’s former top firefighter Ken Pimlott disagrees, saying last month that California leads the nation in clearing away dead trees and thinning areas to remove fuel for fires.
Trump tweeted that “unless they get their act together … I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”
November’s fire in the northern California town of Paradise was the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, killing at least 85 people and destroying nearly 14,000 homes.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has responded to the threat, saying residents should not be victims of partisan bickering.
Newsom, a Democrat, says “disaster and recovery are no time for politics.”
The dispute comes a day after Newsom joined the governors of Washington and Oregon in sending a letter to Trump asking for more federal dollars to clean up forests.
California lawmakers last year approved a fresh $1 billion over five years for forest management activities.
Newsom discussed that letter and other investments he plans to make in fire safety at a Tuesday event in the fire-prone Sierra Nevada foothills. He praised Trump then for quickly providing disaster relief money in the past.
California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice also responded Wednesday, with the following statement:
“President Trump’s threat to cut off FEMA assistance to California, President Trump is a deplorable attempt to play politics with the lives of tens of thousands of wildfire victims. The people of Paradise have only begun to be able to rebuild their lives in these last few weeks. Now, they find themselves being used as pawns in the president’s ill-informed chest-pounding at their expense.
“The president’s attempt to pin sole blame for California’s wildfire problems on the state’s forest management is flat wrong. While forest health can be a contributing factor in large fires, more than 60 percent of these forests are controlled by the federal government, not California. And yet, the federal government has cut $2 billion from the US Forest Service even as California has spent more on forest management.
“More to the point, many catastrophic fires in California occur in the wildland-urban interface, fueled by unprecedented weather conditions, drought and development patterns. It is in these communities where the greatest loss of life and property is happening. To hold these victims hostage over a political fight is wrong.
“On his first full day in office, California Governor Gavin Newsom established fire prevention and forest management as a statewide priority, with a proposal aimed at combatting wildfire, protecting communities and safeguarding forests. This strong focus on what’s important to firefighters and the safety of our citizens stands in stark contrast to the president’s ill-informed tirade.
“With the federal government mired in a self-imposed shutdown, the president has little standing to lecture anyone else about dysfunction. Instead of threatening innocent fire victims, the federal government should try working with California – and all Western states – to responsibly address the wildfire threat we face. “
California Professional Firefighters represents 30,000 frontline local, state and federal firefighters.