President Trump threatened to cut federal emergency funding for California’s firefighters in the middle of a partial government shutdown.
On Wednesday morning, Trump complained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sends billions of dollars to California to fight fires that are the result of poor forest management.
“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forrest [sic] fires that, with proper Forrest [sic] 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!” Trump tweeted.
Based on Trump’s phrasing, it’s unclear whether he meant that he has already ordered the funding to stop until the issue is addressed or if he would order the funding to stop if the issue isn’t addressed.
When reached for comment, the FEMA news desk responded with a boilerplate email about the partial government shutdown, which is the result of an impasse over the proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It read: “Thank you for contacting the Federal Emergency Management Agency Press Office. Due to the federal funding hiatus, we are not able to respond to general press queries.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom responded on Twitter that the people of California and the town of Paradise in particular should not be the victims of partisan bickering. Paradise was incinerated in the Camp Fire last November, and suffered a death toll of 86 people.
“Disasters and recovery are no time for politics. I’m already taking action to modernize and manage our forests and emergency responses,” Newsom said.
The Trump administration routinely argues that California’s forests need to be thinned out so that flames cannot spread from one tree to the other as quickly and blames “radical environmentalists” for opposing these proposals.
Environmental groups have long opposed the commercial logging of large healthy trees and dispute the notion that it would help prevent fires. It’s true that removing dead undergrowth, such as twigs and needles, would help, but conservationists say that cutting the largest, most fire-resistant trees would leave saplings and other smaller, fire-vulnerable trees exposed.
Jonathan Cox, an assistant chief with San Mateo County Fire Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), told Yahoo News this epidemic has many variables and that there’s no silver bullet. Over the last 100 years, overdevelopment, population growth and climate change have all contributed to the problem. He said solving the crisis would require long-term, systemic social change.
Nevertheless, the Trump administration is ignoring the role of climate change in drying out fields, trees and other vegetation in California — turning much of the state’s forested land into a tinderbox. Just last year, the Golden State suffered some of the largest and most destructive wildfires in its history.
The staff at Cal Fire has stopped thinking in terms of a fire season, which traditionally ran from around June until late October, and are now on alert for destructive wildfires all year round. As the world grapples with global warming, the trend toward more frequent, more powerful wildfires in California is expected to continue.
Steve Reaves, president of FEMA’s union, appeared alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at a press conference Wednesday. He said FEMA is recovering from one of the most active hurricane seasons in recent memory and last year’s historic wildfires.
“Normally, this is when we restock. This is when we rest our people. This is when we prepare for the next big disaster. What this means is, anyone who needs insurance claims, property damages while we’re out, and the American people ask, ‘Where’s FEMA?’ We’re furloughed,” Reaves said. “We need the government opened now.”
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