The President again takes on fire and forest management in California

“The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management.”

Kincade Fire photo Sentinel 2 satellite
Kincade Fire captured by the Sentinel 2 satellite at 12:02 p.m. PDT Oct. 27, 2019. Processed by Antonio Vecoli, @tonyveco.

Sunday morning President Trump renewed his verbal and tweet battle with the state of California and Governor Gavin Newsom in particular.

In a series of three tweets, Mr. Trump wrote:

The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management. I told him from the first day we met that he must “clean” his forest floors regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him. Must also do burns and cut fire stoppers…..

..Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor. You don’t see close to the level of burn in other states…But our teams are working well together in…..

….putting these massive, and many, fires out. Great firefighters! Also, open up the ridiculously closed water lanes coming down from the North. Don’t pour it out into the Pacific Ocean. Should be done immediately. California desperately needs water, and you can have it now!

After the Camp Fire wiped out much of Paradise, California Mr. Trump began criticizing forest management in the state and threatening to withhold federal funding.

On July 8, 2019 he said in a speech about the environment:

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.

In November, 2018 the California Professional Firefighters responded to Mr. Trump’s criticism of forest management in the state:

The president’s assertion that California’s forest management policies are to blame for catastrophic wildfire is dangerously wrong. Wildfires are sparked and spread not only in forested areas but in populated areas and open fields fueled by parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity and geography. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another one-third under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California…

It is unclear what Mr. Trump meant when we wrote, “You don’t see close to the level of burn in other states.” Below are stats for fire suppression costs and acres burned in California vs. the 11 western states.

cost fires california
On average from 2003-2012, California wildfires had 44 percent of all reported suppression costs in the western 11 states (based on fiscal fire years, October 1 – September 30). Only 24 percent of acres burned were in California, on average, over the same time. Click image to enlarge. Credit: Climate Central.

(Note: if you would like to comment on this article by citing facts or expressing an opinion about wildfire and forest management in California, great, but please remember that at Wildfire Today we avoid political arguing, partisan stereotyping, and personal attacks. More information.)

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+

19 thoughts on “The President again takes on fire and forest management in California”

  1. In fact, a significant number of California’s most destructive wildfires in the past 25 years — in terms of structures destroyed — occurred on federal lands, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection records.

    The Camp Fire, which has became one of the most destructive fire in the state’s history, started either on or very close to the national forest before spreading to private property to the west.

    While the largest fires happened predominantly on federal lands, the majority of the most destructive fires burned across private land, destroying homes and businesses, according to state and federal records.

    It is not surprising that most of the large fires happen on federal land considering 60 percent of California is under some type of federal land management.

  2. Over the years I have spoken to elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels about the fire and fuel problems we face. Very few of them were intellectually able to comprehend the magnitude of the problem.

    If you make reasonable assumptions about average costs per acre and the feasibility of manual fuel reduction versus prescribed burns, performing fuel reduction on all lands that would require it in the USA would likely cost north of $500 billion.

    At the other end of the spectrum, given that there are approximately 50 million homes in the United States that are vulnerable to wildfire, and assuming a (reasonable) $1000 budget to make them more “fire wise”, that would amount to a $50 billion bill for making those homes more resilient to wildfire.

    Even a barely imaginable program that aggressively wrote off areas that could not be saved, provided minimal fuel reduction around critical areas, and placed firebreaks in strategic locations to make it safer and more cost-efficient to fight wildfires might cost $100 billion nationwide.

    Note that we are currently spending less than 1 percent of those amounts towards any kind of forest management. From a practical standpoint our current expenditures aren’t even cutting into the growth rate of the problem(s) we face.

    1. If we were to actually implement fuels treatments on the scale required you’d have to hope the cost per acre would go down from where it is now, at least via economies of scale. There would no doubt be huge ecological benefits from having healthy forests again as well. It’s nice to dream about but our depressing reality is stagnant or declining budgets for everything but suppression and a distinct feeling that we are no longer a nation willing to take on big projects from a cost, political will or planning perspective.

  3. The comment about opening up the “water lanes” from the north seems like a complete disconnect between the water infrastructure in California and where it goes (i.e. 90% to agriculture, the rest to urban areas) from the wildland fire problem. That is unless someone intends to put in sprinklers in the forest after we’re done cleaning the forest floor (raking it?).

  4. Since the earliest scientific warnings about the consequences of global warming, predictions of increased wildfires in western states have been prominent and specific. Over a decade ago, in Science magazine, author Steven W. Running documented the familiar pattern: warmer weather, less snow pack (that melts faster in the spring) higher fuel load and longer fire season. Running makes the following remarkable observations/predictions that have since been largely realized:

    “As part of the upcoming 4th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (10), seven general circulation models have run future climate simulations for several different carbon emissions scenarios. These simulations unanimously project June to August temperature increases of 2° to 5°C by 2040 to 2069 for western North America. The simulations also project precipitation decreases of up to 15% for that time period (11). Even assuming the most optimistic result of no change in precipitation, a June to August temperature increase of 3°C would be roughly three times the spring-summer temperature increase that Westerling et al. have linked to the current trends. Wildfire burn areas in Canada are expected to increase by 74 to 118% in the next century (12), and
    similar increases seem likely for the western United States.”

    As Running illustrates, these trends are the result of global warming and the situation will get worse until/unless we reverse the human behaviors that are driving climate change; we are quickly running out of time. [Running, Steven W., SCIENCE VOL 313 18 AUGUST 2006]

    1. Yes there you are projecting on your computer a result that is concluded in advance! Never are you figuring a mini-ice age possibility! But I guess I shouldn’t forget that its all boils down to the Benjamin’s, correct??

  5. It is clear to me, maybe the tweeter’n’chief should tweet these fires out. In my 30+ years in the fire business I never ran into Trump on any of them, Thanks Jim Linfoot

  6. Oh! And opening up the water lanes? Selfish corporate greed subtly destroys all of what once magnificent North America!

    How about this? Let’s build a dam across the lower Sacramento Valley. It doesn’t have to be high. Rice production increases along the edges of Lake Trump. Great waterfowl hunting and water recreation. Incredible hydroplane racing. Great for local economies. Send all the water to the San Joaquin Valley. San Francisco Bay dies. Plus the state capitol of California is lost to inundation. potus grins! LR

  7. Poor urban planning, poor zoning laws, and hawkish developers must be discussed here. We only label wildfires as destructive when we lose structures and life. Yes, Californians, that means a lot of your state is unsuitable for development all together. It was before and Will be forever.

  8. Perhaps the President could study up on the work President Reagan did on his time off; cutting brush and trees on his rugged ranch in the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara every time he had a chance. No raking there. The current President might learn that it’s not quite as simple as he tweets.

  9. The middle of a crisis is not the time to debate politics. This does nothing to back up responders or to reassure the public.
    As an easterner I don’t have a full understanding of the fire problem in California even though I have been on fire assignments there. I do recall the very appropriate response that our Governor Christie had during Hurricane Sandy that heavily damaged our coast now seven years ago. He completely and literally embraced Pres Obama and the federal response to the storm. This was done even though the timing politically was terrible since the storm had occurred just prior to the 2012 presidential election.

    Once this current fire event is over the discussion needs to be had on how to go forward. Conflicting agendas have prevented a lot of good work from being completed. Our political and other government leaders need to have the back bone to make decisions that benefit the majority of society. This needs to be done aside from where ever it falls politically.

    I don’t believe with their fuels and weather California’s fire problem will ever be eliminated but steps can be taken to mitigate the situation if people are allowed to do it.

  10. I’m disappointed this tweet was even deemed putting on the blog. If you aim to not have a non-political discussion non of his tweets would be discussed, because his tweets are purely political. Besides that, the man has no credibility wrt to forest management or firefighting. Which is not to say we shouldn’t discuss his or his administration’s policies or what he says at a press conference or to reporters, but his tweets should be off-limits if you want to promote an apolitical discussion.

    1. The President’s tweets are relevant to the conversation. The fact that he is once again threatening to cut funding for fire is indeed political.

  11. I thought I remembered an article about a long lasting fire fighting gel. Here is the link to the article.

    Perhaps the utility companies of California could treat their power transmission right of ways with this gel at the beginning of each fire season and avoid large-scale power shutoffs. Other areas of high fire risk would still need fuel treatments of one sort or another.

  12. Does GSA or any other vendor carry “fire stoppers”? Any training anywhere on how to use them? Sounds like a great tool or practice (not sure which it is) that I’ve somehow missed in four decades of wildfire management. Water lanes, rakes, and fire stoppers. So simple! So easy!

  13. I’m very much a layman here so forgive me if this is something obvious. I’m not trying to make a political point here, but why do fires in California cost so much more to fight than elsewhere?

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