President Trump: “You don’t have to have any forest fires”

In a 56-minute speech about the environment he spent two minutes on forest fires

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Woodbury Fire Phoenix Arizona
Woodbury Fire in the Tonto National Forest’s Superstition Wilderness east of Phoenix, Arizona June 22, 2019. Inciweb photo.

Yesterday President Trump gave a planned speech from the White House about the environment. In the two minutes he spent talking about forest fires most of it appeared to be without the teleprompter, off script.

As he as done before, he talked about forest management, cleaning the forest, and forest floors. Here are three excerpts:

“You can’t have dirty floors.  You can’t have 20 years of leaves and fallen trees.”

“And you don’t have to have any forest fires.”

“I spoke to certain countries, and they said, “Sir, we’re a forest nation.”  I never thought of a country — well-known countries: “We’re a forest nation.”  I never heard of the term “forest nation.”  They live in forests and they don’t have problems. One was telling me that his trees are much more susceptible to fire than what they have in California, but they don’t have fires because they manage, they clean, they do what you have to do.  There’s not so much to burn.  And we’re going to start doing that.  And it’s called, remember, “management.”  It’s called “forest management.”  So it’s a very important term.”

In the video of the speech, the part about fires begins at 24:00.

The transcript of the two-minute section about forest fires, provided by the White House, is below.

…In December, I signed a historic executive order promoting much more active forest management to prevent catastrophic wildfires like those that recently devastated California and Oregon.  (Applause.)

I went to the fires in California and I said, “It’s also management.”  It’s a lot of things happening, but it’s management.  You can’t have dirty floors.  You can’t have 20 years of leaves and fallen trees.  After the first 17 months, they say the tree is like a piece of tinder.  You have to be very careful.  So you can’t have that.  That’s why you have so many fires.

And I will say this: Spoke with the Governor of California, spoke with many people, and the process of cleaning is now really taking precedent.  It — a lot of people are looking at forest management.  It’s a word that people didn’t understand last year.  Now they’re getting it.  And you don’t have to have any forest fires.  It’s interesting.

I spoke to certain countries, and they said, “Sir, we’re a forest nation.”  I never thought of a country — well-known countries: “We’re a forest nation.”  I never heard of the term “forest nation.”  They live in forests and they don’t have problems.

One was telling me that his trees are much more susceptible to fire than what they have in California, but they don’t have fires because they manage, they clean, they do what you have to do.  There’s not so much to burn.  And we’re going to start doing that.  And it’s called, remember, “management.”  It’s called “forest management.”  So it’s a very important term.

When I went to California, they sort of scoffed at me for the first two weeks and maybe three weeks, and not so much — four weeks.  (Laughter.)  And after about five weeks they said, “You know, he’s right.  He’s right.”

So I think you’re going to see a lot of good things.  It’s a lot of area.  It’s a lot of land.  But a lot of tremendous things are happening…


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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.

44 thoughts on “President Trump: “You don’t have to have any forest fires””

  1. You’re better than me. I will be cordial enough to not say the expletives I’d like to, to describe his total lack of ignorance on this issue.

    Perhaps he could tell Alaskans, better yet, send them federal dollars and give every Alaskan a rake to go out and rake the forest floor under the dense black spruce you can’t even walk through, or the tundra (rubber boots too) to manage their forest fires raging now, esp the 10,000+ acres Shovel Fire outside of Fairbanks burning through dense black spruce.

    Will he please notify God, or is it Mother Nature to stop all the lightning strikes so we no longer have forest fires (which actually do some benefit to our ecosystem) around the world.

    Better yet, perhaps a lightning caused forest fire in the Washington, DC might turn his attention to locals who aren’t raking their forest/greenbelt/park floors.

    Gawd help us.

  2. I think that a couple of the above commentators should suggest any amazing solutions that they may have ?
    Knee jerk, partisan criticism of the President of the UNITED STATES is not necessarily productive !

  3. Sounds like he’s taking credit for inventing Forest Management. Remember, if you say it often enough, it becomes the truth, and your idea.
    OK everyone, you heard him, get your rakes out!

  4. Yes, forest management is very important. And, over the past three decades plus on public lands, especially — due in part to a shifting of resources from management actions to fire suppression — there has been a significant lack of forest management along a rural to urban land gradient, resulting in fires that are larger and more intense. So, what does this Administration do in terms of the 2020 proposed budget? They decrease forest management. The good news, I suppose, is the term “forest management” has surfaced within the Administration. So far, however, it’s just a phrase without meaning.

    Clearly, everything is about priorities. And, it has become apparent to most that the management of America’s forests is not a real priority for this Administration and our current Congress, which suggests it is not a priority to us — the American people. And, that’s a shame.

    Part of the reason there is not a top priority for forest management, is there is no cohesive story that a wide-range of interests can gravitate to. Forest industry says one thing and scientists say another. Citizenry [people like you and me] say something else. And, government agencies [for example, the Forest Service] are content to conclude another direction. If I say, we need +$2.2 billion per year for the Forest Service for the next 5-7 years, the USDA will say the Forest Service already has too much money.

    In 2018, under the leadership of Bruce Courtright and the National Wildfire Institute [NWI], a draft Executive Order [EO] was compiled. In part, this draft EO called for: Convening a “Commission on the Stewardship of America’s Forests.” The Commission was designed to help tell a cohesive story; gather facts and find common ground to address, in part, the catastrophic wildfire situation facing America, including the lack of forest management and the negative forces of a changing climate on people’s lives, their property and their communities.
    Unfortunately, what resulted instead was an EO signed on December 21, 2018 by the current Administration entitled, “…Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk.” And, with all the respect I can muster, this EO was and remains a joke. It includes no real actions and no funding; nothing except rhetoric and the notion, I suppose, that an EO was signed so therefore forest management to address the risk of wildfires must be a priority. What a profound opportunity lost.

    Iconic leaders have the ability to shape a clear vision and the ability to advance that vision. The “Commission” is simply a tactic. I understand that. What’s missing now are leaders within the Administration and Congress that should have the ability and willingness to say, “…the lack of forest management in America is the natural resource conservation issue of our time. People’s lives, their property and their communities are being wiped away by catastrophic wildfires. It does not have to be this way. We must do something about this. Now is the time.”
    That’s the required first step. Conclude that the lack of forest management is a significant problem. Get the facts lined up. Shape a vision. Advance the vision. Pretty basic stuff. But, when things are not a priority, they get succumbed by rhetoric or simply shoved aside. That is what’s happening now to forest management across our country and the 2019 fire season will probably be worse than 2018, which was worse than 2017…etc., etc. Nothing changes.

    So, what to do? Becoming nauseated by careless remarks from the President like “raking leaves from the forest floor will eliminate fires” will get us nowhere. Somehow, someway, we need a call to action to address this national crisis. I think we need:

    1. An unprecedented national federal, state and local commitment to aggressively manage America’s forests along the complex rural to urban land gradient and this commitment must begin now.
    2. The goal is to reduce to size and intensity of wildfires in order to protect people’s lives and their communities.
    3. A Commission should be formed to lead the way. A cohesive story that finds common ground must be shaped and told, told again, and then continually and consistently re-told. This needs to be a “campaign of our campaign.” We need an iconic leader for the Commission. A Charles Bolden-type leader [former NASA Administrator] is that kind of individual to lead the way; one who has the ability and willingness to “decide.”
    4. Additional funding resources shall be required. For the Forest Service alone, that figure is +$2.2 billion annually for the next 5-7 years, perhaps longer [until gains can be achieved and fire suppression costs can be shifted back to forest management actions]. This will require an aggressive, coordinated Congressional outreach strategy.
    5. The overall effort shall be a long-term campaign and require a long-term commitment [minimum 10 years].

    Very respectfully,

  5. As a wildland firefighter I can personally say it’s about time. He’s right, we have 20 years of fuel that’s stacked up. Beetle kill, logging operations, and natural debris have been building up with no real way to manage it. Prescribed burns only do so much because of the lack of mapping and budget we have for management. More Ranger, Foresters, and wildland firefighters are needed. We’re at a shortage right now and it’s good that this is finally recognized as a problem.

  6. I don’t believe that the subject of forest management has just been recognized. However, more money is what it will take to start to solve the problems facing our Forests in this county. Last year the Donald threatened to take money away from managing Forests if steps weren’t being taken to solve the problems of Forest Management. He now takes credit for highlighting the problems. Oh, and rakes will do the trick alright….Just because he’s the President doesn’t make his bizzare statements about raking the forest floor and other countries not having problems with fires and so on and so on. Bottom line I think is he’s not talking to the experts here in this Country.

  7. The Trump administration has a singular focus in their land management actions. They promote industry extracting resources from our public lands especially oil and gas, coal, uranium and anything else campaign contributors want to mine. Trump’s people have tried to get logging going again on the national forests because this is business so people can make money. Overall, Trump’s people are not interested in stewardship or conservation and they are ambivalent about public ownership of public lands. Thus the lack of public interest initiatives from Trump’s people.

    Trump gave this speech because polling shows him in serious trouble with key parts of the electorate that he needs to get reelected. The public is increasingly focused on the environment. Republicans lost the house in 18 because people are angry about inaction on global heating. Trump has shown a complete lack of interest and knowledge about the environment and about science. He clearly has never taken any interest in these topics and he just wings it when asked about these things. In fact, he doesn’t care. He cares about making money and about being a really important guy. That’s it.

  8. I meant to say that just because he’s the President doesn’t make his statements correct about raking the forest floor and other countries not having problems with fire and so on and so on.

  9. Why don’t the Forest Services do more controlled burns in the middle of the winter ?

    I start fires with 1 to 2 cubic feet of dry wood that I store off to the side, under tarps. My burn piles aren’t large, I try to burn about 1000 pounds (dry) at a time, in the process of clearing a 15 acre parcel.

    I then hand-pick about 1/2 a cubic yard, gathering up the more dry & flammable materials.

    The rest is all normal wet wood.

    Some times I need to use a leaf-blower to keep the nucleus of the fire going.

    It’s a lot more fun to burn when the risk of the fire spreading is close to zero.

  10. Alaska has 128 million acres of forests. Trump suggested during last years California fires ? to rake all the forest floors. Keep them clean.
    Certainly his BASE will buy this ……

  11. Thank you for taking the time! I appreciate your stance and your ability to make it readable. I will be contacting my governor, my senator(s) and my representative(s) and let them know that we need this and we need it now! Is there anything else or anything more I/we can do?

  12. It’s not knee jerk or partisan. It is obvious that Trump is stupid and its an embarrassment to our country.”Cleaning the dirty forest floor” is not an option. People have heard of forest management. Trump did not invent the concept. There will always be the possibility of forest fires its part of nature. You need not look further then Trumps first pick to head the EPA Scott Pruitt to realize the man doesn’t care about or understand the environment. Hopefully this poor excuse of a leader does not get re-elected

  13. We recently went camping in northern AZ, right outside the site of a 95% contained forest fire. This fire was not man made, it was started by an act of god, lightning splitting a tree to its core. It was then further spread and became unmanageable fast due to the shear amount of downed trees in the area! Exploring through the hills we came across almost as many dead/fallen trees as the towering ones over top! Once you got close enough to the fire(s) you encounter fire fighters, or rangers directing you around certain areas. Areas that were still smoldering, ash falling in the air! The number one reason this and many fires spread so far/fast is due to the lack of maintenance in the forest floors. The professionals we spoke to had the same perspective, fireman, sheriffs and rangers in the area all agreed… If they had a proper crew to remove these fallen trees the extensive damage would have been contained to literally a couple trees, not a 1500 acre forest fire! As you drive through the affected areas you can see the flames path, the jumping from place to place, skipping over healthy beautiful forest to only be drawn back down to areas where the fallen trees have covered the ground beneath the towering trees above. Maintenance is key, more crews to clean up the forest “floors” is a huge step in the right direction on preventing the spread of these extensive forest fires!

  14. I am not an expert in “fuels,” but one of the main goals of controlled burns is to reduce fuel buildup in the understory. Most of these areas have snow cover in the middle of winter so it would be impractical to burn the understory. On our own acreage we have shifted from burning our slash to chipping everything in place using the chipper on the back of our tractor. It is labor intensive but I think in the long run easier than managing burn piles which take a long time to burn down. One benefit is that the chips return fertility to the forest floor better then burning.

  15. Seriously?? That needs to be criticized . He has no idea what he is talking about. Better to be thought a fool then open your mouth and remove all doubt.

  16. The problem is it takes money. The FS budget has been slashed, and a significant portion goes to suppression activities. Other spending areas, including fuels reduction are looted to pay for suppression. Without a Congressional budget that increases fuels reduction funding the problem isn’t going to be addressed. Trump can issue unfounded mandates and spout poorly crafted rhetoric all he wants. Nothing will change until he pushes for funding necessary programs.

    On another note, someone published a list of Trump’s “tells” when he’s blatantly lying. One of them was any statement made by a supposed constituent or government official that begins with…” Sir, “.

  17. The original Executive Order drafted by the National Wildfire Institute [NWI] called for the Commission to be co-chaired by the Secretaries of the USDA and DOI. But, that is not necessary. The key points: call for a Commission and get someone really good to chair it. Like I said, a “Charles Bolden-type” leader. Further, the original EO suggested the Commission should “…include at least the Chief, USDA Forest Service; Director, Bureau of Land Management; Director, National Park Service; and, President, National Association of State Foresters. The Commission will fully utilize the collective insight and innovation of a wide range of partners so trees, forests and forest ecosystems across all landscapes can become healthy, sustainable and more resilient to disturbances such as insects and diseases and wildfire.” Again, the important point is to form a Commission and the lead of the Commission be someone who is an iconic leader and the participants also be individuals who are recognized leaders and have the ability and willingness to “decide.”

  18. Making those contacts would be huge. Thank you very much. A “Call to Action” often times just takes a few to create the momentum required. Being tenacious is a great characteristic.

  19. $$$$$$$…But wait…aren’t we taxed to death already, you say? You can’t have it both ways.

  20. Thank you for highlighting the need for added resources. As I have often stated, the forest management accounts of the Forest Service have been cannibalized for the fire effort over the last 25 + years, especially. In 1996, fire represented about 16 percent of that agency’s budget. It is now over 50 percent. By my estimate, the Forest Service needs an increase of +$2.2 billion annually for at least the next 5-7 years [maybe longer] to address the lack of forest management along a rural to urban gradient.

    Recently, I was reviewing the Forest Service budget. I listed the primary accounts that I think will best contribute to “…aggressive forest management to ensure effective fire management.” For example, in 2019, $2.1 billion [includes the Forest Service indirect role in the stewardship of nonfederal forests] is available; about the same as 2018. The 2020 proposal for the same forest management accounts is about $2 billion or a proposed reduction of about $100 million [the actual reduction with the accounts I used is -$90,582,000]. For fire, the 2019 budget is $3,004,986,000. The 2020 proposal is [up to] $4,600,620,000 [including the full “fire fix” that is supposed to begin in 2020]. That equates to a possible increase for fire of about $1.6 billion [again, assuming the full “fire fix” funding is used].

    So, the proposed 2020 funding priorities say, “…reduce forest management and increase fire suppression.” THIS IS EXACTLY OPPOSITE OF WHAT IS NEEDED. The message that “aggressive forest management will ensure effective fire management” is clearly not getting through.

    Again, notice the magnitude of the possible fire increase – up to $1.6 billion. I can only imagine the tremendous positive results on the land if there could be this priority: maintain fire at the 2019 level and increase forest management by +$1.6 billion. I am sticking with my +$2.2 billion for at least 5-7 years, but a +$1.6 billion increase in forest management actions would be a tremendous beginning. At least this would stay within what Congress has already committed to in terms of their bottom-line Appropriations level.

    By the way, if the “fire fix” funding of $2.25 billion comes into full play in 2020, the percentage of fire funds [including hazardous fuels] will be 63.5 percent of the total Forest Service budget. I predicted by 2025 it would be 70 percent. Looks like, at the current pace, I will be wrong. It will exceed 70 percent.

    I have always concluded that if 70+ percent of your product line is “cookies”, then you are a “Cookie Shop”, regardless of the store front sign that says “Doughnut Shop” [i.e., the United States Forest Service will become the United States “Fire” Service, in spite of what the sign says]. We cannot allow this to happen; what a shame that would be.

    I understand that +$2.2 billion is a large amount. But, when you compare this to the impacts on people’s lives, property and infrastructure due to wildfire — exceeding tens of billions of dollars every year — the additional funds to begin to address what is clearly a national emergency seems to me to be insignificant in the overall scheme of things.

  21. I believe you have really pissed off Smokey Bear this time Mr. President and that is not wise. Looking forward to all the new jobs and equipment that you will be obtaining for your “Forest Management” project. Somebody needs to take President Trump to the Klamath National Forest during a lightning storm and leave him there with his rake.

  22. I’m sure Sonny Perdue, our current Secretary of Agriculture, can give a more coherent answer!

  23. Goodness the Man is an embarrassment to the nation, it’s not like this is the first or even the 100th incredibly stupid statement

  24. Hi Athena, I think your comment is the best among all others in my opinion. Whoever owns the forest (could be private owner, city, state or the federal government) should do regular check up and clean up.

  25. Instead of all of you naysayers picking on his choice of words, perhaps it is the golden moment so many of you whine about never having and take the leaders intent message ( whether you like him as a leader or not) and start sweeping and raking with a drip torch, terra torch, fusee, PSD etc…So many in fire management seem to still think management is meetings, budgets, personell, and talking things to death until nothing gets done. Take his intent, make it fit the overpriced forest management plans all the alphabet soup agencies have gathering dust on the desks, and stop whining and talking about it and go sweep the forests. Fire folks love to preach “ turn a negative into a positive” Ball is in your court now. Show him how its done

  26. Yeah, the R state of AK. They hate prescribed fires, complain of the smoke. “Logging” that’s always the answer. Log black spruce?

  27. They aren’t knee jerk reactions Chuck. Do you work in fire? He blames California, clearly not loving CA – where every party affiliation is represented – but doesn’t other western states affected by fires, or FL, or TN or OK, you name it. His is the knee jerk reaction.

    The dilemma is he will not listen to those with a lifetime of fire experience, and work to increase funding, not reduce funding, which has been reduced yet again (as stated here a month or so ago).

  28. Thank you Thomas, this may be the true thought behind his 2 minute comment on the environment. Which, he did tout as the best ever. It is not the best ever, quite the opposite.

  29. Of course, it takes money. Nothing is free in this world. Therefore, it needs to be included in the budget of each city, state, office etc. etc.

  30. Alaska fires fuels with the Nugget Creek Fire today, InciWeb:

    “The fire is predominately burning in Alaska forest fuels consisting of black spruce and mixed hardwoods, including birch, aspen and white spruce. Fire scars exist to the west and east which will potentially limit the spread of the fire to in those directions if the fire reaches those areas.”

    Every state’s fuel source is different. Midwestern states with rangeland of grass, mesquite, sagebrush, etc., how are you going to “rake” those thousands of acres. In some western states, ie Idaho there are thousands of acres of thick dense Doug and lodgepole stands in 60% grade slopes. Inaccessible only by air. Some of said log by air, not understanding the board feet and diameter is not cost effective.

    This is a multi-faceted, multi-agency, multi-State issue, multi-fuel issue.

  31. Rocco this President has demonstrated now and in the past that “He” is the expert at everything. He has stated that he knows more than the Generals when it comes to military matters and he knows more than the Scientists when it comes to Climate Change. He has inferred that he knows more than the CIA when it comes to intelligence also. Why would anyone think he knows more than the Foresters, Forest Technicians, Fire Fighters, and the people who have been impacted by the devastation of Fires. He continues to throw comments out hoping they will stick. And now, he has thrown out the comments about “Forest Management” and that people didn’t understand about Forest Management before. That is pure bunk! And I think the Experts would back that up. It’s been understood for a long time that putting out fires as was the policy in the past has attributed to the build up on the forest floors. These problems should be handled by the experts with of course a President’s backing. But it will take time and money to do these things. Along with that. Money needs to be set aside for the health of the Fire Fighters who battle these fires. Not enough has been done for that as far as I’m concerned.

  32. sure, with all of the resources Trump is kicking our way. We can’t even get vacancies filled…smh.

  33. Look who just invented Forest Management! our ”stable genius”, yeah, the horse stable genius. Geez

  34. After 40 seasons in wildland fire, I still can not figure out how to rake up a four foot around tree. The ignorance of someone who has probably never set foot in a National Forest still amazes me.

  35. Very good point Rocco! A poor choice of words for sure (“rake”) but the intent is there. As in what most of us, regardless of politics know to be true. There is a lot of work to be done in the woods and correctly applied fire is one tool. An executive order could be signed directing large sums of money to address fuels reduction and some would still find reasons to attack.

  36. You’re right Mike. Ignorance is bliss. The President’s walk around video of last years fires in California clearly made it clear he said “Rake”. They were using rakes to clean the forest floor. He says. You can’t have dirty floors he says in his latest video. It shows his ignorance and simplifying the situation. It takes money, know how, and experts to get this done. In his mind he thinks it’s simple. And again. He takes credit for coming up with this. I’m afraid it all boils down to politics. Politicians decide how much money goes to Public Forests. They write the checks. Not the head of the Forest Service or BLM or any other agency that manages public lands. The time for action is now. As they say. Talk is cheap. Whiskey costs money.

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