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California Asked for Money to Fight Wildfires. President Trump Responded by Threatening to Cut Off Funding

4 minute read

Amid a partial government shutdown that is headed into its third week with no end in sight, President Trump threatened to cut off federal funding for California – currently recovering from its deadliest wildfire in history.

Trump claimed that California had not been handling federal funds for forest fires correctly and that they were not utilizing proper forest management. He said unless the state gets “their act together” he would order FEMA to stop sending money.

“It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!” the President tweeted.

Trump’s tweets appear to have been triggered by California’s newly sworn in Democratic governor Gavin Newsom, who yesterday outlined a $305 million budget plan to prepare California for wildfires.

Newsom said yesterday he had sent a letter to the President asking the federal government to work with the state to tackle wildfires.

On Tuesday, the governor used his first day in office to announce emergency preparedness plans, focusing on wildfire prevention.

Newsom issued two executive orders, the first directing state agencies to identify and prioritize communities most at risk or unable to escape wildfires in order to offer them protection, the second allowing state agencies to reach out to the private sector for help and advise regarding the newest technology that best detects fires.

But what seemed to have bothered President Trump the most was a request by governor Newsom, Oregon governor Kate Brown and Washington governor Jay Inslee for the President to double the federal government’s funding for managing federal forestlands in California, Washington, and Oregon.

Newsom announced plans for a five-year, $1 billion forest management plan in his next budget. He said the state has already invested $111.3 million in forest health since 2017 but the U.S. Forest Service saw its budget slashed by more than $2 billion since 2016, “reducing the agency’s capacity to manage federal forestland in California.”

Newsom said the letter written to Trump “emphasized that the western states’ significant state-level efforts will not be as effective without a substantial increase to wild land management by our federal partners.”

In November, as wildfires were burning through California, Trump blamed the forest fires on “gross mismanagement” of the forest.

Prior to the wildfires he placed the blame for California’s wildfires on lack of water to put out the flames and the need for logging.

Glen MacDonald, Geography professor at UCLA, said there is a debate among experts in California on whether forest thinning- which includes selective and salvage logging- is a viable solution. He said fire suppression practices have led to an unhealthy build up of fuel in some of the state’s forests, making wildfires easier to spread.

MacDonald said that Trump’s claim that logging would have stopped the California wildfires from spreading were wrong.

“There is no question that that is something we need to tackle,” MacDonald said. “Would that have made a difference at the Woolsey Fire down here in southern California or Camp Fire up in Paradise? No, it doesn’t seem like that would of made any difference there, but it is something that def has to be considered.”

Macdonald said he does not understand President Trump’s logic when it comes to federal funding in the state.

“What I don’t understand is the President belittles the state in terms of our forest management, and yet then threatens to hold back the money to do that management on the federal land,” he said. “Federal forests make up the majority of the forest land in the state. It does not make any sense.”

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Write to Gina Martinez at gina.martinez@time.com