The President expands on his comments about the wildfires in California

Camp Fire Northern California
Camp Fire in Northern California. Inciweb photo.

Several times over the last month President Trump has expressed his opinions about wildland fire management. On two occasions he said forests were being mismanaged in California, but did not specify exactly how, or if he was referring to the half of the forested land in the state that is managed by the federal government, or possibly the state managed lands, or private property. He also threatened twice to cut funding in the state because “forest management is so poor”, but it was not clear what funds he wants to reduce.

On November 27 Mr. Trump expanded on his wildfire management opinions in a lengthy interview with two reporters from the Washington Post, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey. Below is what he said to them about fires, according to the Post:

“The fire in California, where I was, if you looked at the floor, the floor of the fire they have trees that were fallen, they did no forest management, no forest maintenance, and you can light — you can take a match like this and light a tree trunk when that thing is laying there for more than 14 or 15 months. And it’s a massive problem in California. … You go to other places where they have denser trees — it’s more dense, where the trees are more flammable — they don’t have forest fires like this, because they maintain. And it was very interesting, I was watching the firemen and they’re raking brush — you know the tumbleweed and brush and all this stuff that’s growing underneath. It’s on fire and they’re raking it working so hard, and they’re raking all this stuff. If that was raked in the beginning, there’d be nothing to catch on fire. It’s very interesting to see. A lot of the trees, they took tremendous burn at the bottom, but they didn’t catch on fire. The bottom is all burned but they didn’t catch on fire because they sucked the water, they’re wet. You need forest management, and they don’t have it.”

This quote was in the Post’s Fact Checker column, written by  Glenn Kessler and Salvador Rizzo, in which they checked a number of statements made in the interview. If you scroll down you will see what the authors determined to be factual, or not, in the President’s comments about fire.

This reminds me of how fictional President Josiah Edward “Jed” Bartlet of the TV series The West Wing handled a controversial wildfire issue. (Spoiler. It was very different.)

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

16 thoughts on “The President expands on his comments about the wildfires in California”

    1. As if this whole situation can be made worse….leave it to tRump to do just that…
      His inability to make a complete sentence, form a thought that is actually fact based, shows that, in fact, education is important to all of us.

      God forbid he makes it a policy to have the forest raked….I guess he could have seen leaf blowers in action…..

  1. Very embarrassing to see irrational and uninformed (or mis-informed?) comments coming from POTUS. When science isn’t believed, very challenging to gain understanding. Rakes will not prevent the increased fire activity we have experienced over the past 20+ years.

  2. He doesn’t comprehend that droughts, or Santa Ana winds (CA), that anything burns, anything, any vegetation. Nothing on God’s green earth could’ve stopped the Paradise Fire even if it’d not been suspected anything related to PG&E, even arson. (Obviously no lightning this time of year.) And no mention of the other devastating fires all over the west in the past few years, just mismanagement in CA.

    And why is it taking FEMA so long to get temporary housing to those now homeless by the Paradise Fire?

    What was included in the Farm Bill today to help?

  3. Sorry, but y’all a missing the point. Trump’s not interested in the science behind fire behavior. He’s not interested in understanding drought, Santa Ana winds, and sure doesn’t give a crap about FEMA housing for fire victims. For goodness sake, the man can’t even be bothered to remember the name of the town that practically burned to the ground. He’s not interested in sounding smart or even coherent. Facts, accuracy, nuance, consistency, knowledge and understanding have no place in his message. We’ve seen this over and over again in a broad and deep series of situations. The things he says and the way he talks is intentional, it’s not because he’s stupid or uneducated; he’s not the buffoon he appears to be. It’s an act for the rubes who support him.

    The message is that extractive industries (logging, mining, petroleum, etc.) are good and environmentalism is bad. Only unregulated logging can save the forest!

    1. Trump is right the environmentalists have a lot to blame for the forests being what thy are. They have for decades blocked logging and mining in our national forests and now blame it on climate change.

      1. You seem to be making the point that logging makes wildfires less likely to occur and that’s simply not true.

        Think of what you see when a wildfire has gone through a forest, what do you see? Unless a fire has been super intense, you see a lot of blackened tree trunks. Leaves, needles, twigs, and most of the smaller branches have been burned away. Maybe the really big trees even have live leaves and twigs toward their tops. The light fuels have burned and the heavy fuels remain. Now compare that to what you see after an area has been logged especially if it’s been clear cut. It’s the exact opposite, isn’t it? All the heavy fuel has been removed (’cause that’s the valuable part of the tree) and all the fine fuel is lying dead on the ground, it’s been added to the all the fuel that was present before it the property was logged. All the remaining fuel has been consolidated on the ground.

        Now think about how you build a campfire. Do you find yourself a big green log and throw matches at it? No you don’t. How about trying to start your fire by lighting a big dry log, does it light easily? Every good scout knows that you start a campfire by consolidating a bunch of dead dry leaves and twigs, some birchbark if you can find it (some people call this tinder or kindling) and lighting that. Once you get those lit you add larger and larger twigs and small branches. How is that campfire of yours different from a slash pile that has cured for a year or two. How about after a few years of drought and no shade.

        Logging, regardless of whether you view it as a good or bad thing, removes the fuel least likely to burn (live, wet, green logs) and consolidates the fuel most likely to burn and dries it out until it’s good and crisp. Explain to me how a logged forest is less likely to burn.

        The deadliest wildfire in US history, the Peshtigo fire, burned in 1.2 million acres of slash and killed 1500 people in 1871. The Pagami Creek fire in the Boundary Waters ran 16 miles in a day through arboreal forest that had blown down (uber- meta slash 8 feet deep) a decade earlier.

  4. Hindsight is always 20/20. I think that as a community it is important for us to accept that mismanagement of public and private lands has occurred. But the actions we took that have resulted in the current state of our public lands had our country’s best interests in mind. Over 100 years ago, when fire suppression began to take an “out at all costs” approach we had no idea the impact it would have over a century later. We saw fire as a threat to our expanding nation. We didn’t have the information or understanding of fire as a regulatory force at the time that we have today. With logging regulations we were seeking to prevent the absolute depletion of timber in the U.S. as well as try to prevent the extinction of a species at the hand of man. Only now are we beginning to fully grasp the reality of the impact we’ve had. With that being said now is not the time for our president or anyone else to be pointing finger at who is responsible for the mismanagement. If the president truly wishes to remedy the issue he would seek to allocate more monetary resources to the agencies that manage public lands with the intent that money be used to complete hazardous fuels reduction work at a faster rate.

  5. I do not listen to him. I listen to 31 years of fires being my work.
    We must stop the carrying capacity of wildland interface being overwhelmed by overpopulation and construction. Greater policing of clearing flammables, from dead vegetation to brush to man-made items that propagate fire spread. Required fire resistant buildings. Power line fire prevention. Enforcement and tougher laws. Preplanning for fire and evacuation. Recognizing that global warming is real.

  6. California forests are far too dense and have been stressed by an unnatural situation. In our attempts to protect the forest, we’ve eliminated fire from the ecosystem and thus unintentionally eliminated low-intensity natural thinning. We now have overcrowding where every tree is fighting for survival.

    The concept is just like gardening. If you plant a garden but don’t weed or thin to maintain plant spacing, you get weak plants, weeds, bugs, and poor results. In the Sierra, 40+ years of understory buildup has led to widespread tree mortality where the forest is so stressed due to overcrowding that it can’t fend off bugs and drought. Weakened trees die, the insect population explodes, and the entire forest dies. We now have tens of thousands of acres of standing dead forest.

    In our remaining forest, we can’t burn to clear those 40 years of buildup. Reintroducing fire now would only get out of control and jump up into a catastrophic crown fire. If the fire did stay on the ground, it wouldn’t remove enough material.

    So what to do? Both horizontal and vertical separation of fuels (forest litter, brush, dead limbs, snags, understory trees, and some overstory trees) need to be cleared. A simple and effective way to do this is to specify a site-specific canopy closure percentage as determined by a Registered Professional Forester (RPF), who is a forest expert and certified by the State of California. For example, after a site evaluation, based on multiple factors, the RPF prescribes thinning to a 50% canopy closure. This lets in sunlight, rain, and snow to 50% of the area which waters the trees and restores groundwater. At the same time, tree branches take up the other 50%, increasing forest vigor and fire resiliency.

    Only once it’s been thinned can we come back and reintroduce low intensity fire on a regular basis to maintain forest health.

    Permitting is the main issue preventing thinning. Currently in California it requires NEPA or a CEQA-equivalent Timber Harvest Plan to accomplish a simple thinning. Those processes often take over a year, and are subject to cost-prohibitive studies, delays, challenges, lawsuits, mitigations, and final approvals by multiple agencies. The process ultimately renders most beneficial thinning projects economically infeasible. Meanwhile, we’re playing politics and pointing fingers as our forests burn.

    The end result is that we are actively deforesting California. The USFS does not replant after fires, so hundreds of thousands of burned acres each year are turning into permanent brush fields. There is simply no natural seed left after these high-intensity fires. This is the equivalent of clear-cutting as far as the eye can see, and then intentionally preventing forest regeneration.

    There is no way to solve this problem until we have both NEPA and CEQA-equivalent thinning exemptions that actually work and aren’t neutered for political reasons.

  7. Great job Dan! Finally someone who knows what they are talking about! I have worked for the USFS for 11 years now and I totally agree with you.

  8. I believe the experts should be in charge of Forest Management. Not politicians. If work is to be done in managing Forests and Urban interface it will take time and MONEY to accomplish that. Awareness from the public is important in accomplishing this too. When someone like the President makes comments like he has on this subject in such a bizarre way he not only embarrasses himself, but he disrespects Professionals who are the ones in the know. The people who put boots on the ground and the fire behavior specialists are the ones who should be in the same room with this President to straighten out his wayward thinking! I have the utmost respect for those people in every way!

  9. Probably about the best we can do, Dan. The Indians burned forests, they knew how to do it. In their day there were herds of elk that grazed the forest, they knew how to help spread their annual migrations so that enough, and not too many, elk spread to each region. The elk thinned out the brush and saplings so the forest would not grow so thickly, and fires would not burn so hot as to sterilize everything. The Forest Service does what it can with their plowdowns to substitute for the elks’ work, but slash piles are admittedly a poor substitute for elk s**t.

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