President Donald Trump has, again, suggested California Gov. Gavin Newsom has done a “terrible job” of raking up leaves and otherwise managing the state’s forests.
In response, the governor countered with: “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.”
The war of wits and words between Trump and Newsom continues. Maybe “wits” was not the best choice of words.
However, the victory will most likely eventually go to Newsom, because a cursory examination of the facts of land ownership in California tells even the most casual observer that it is the government being led by President Trump that is responsible for much of the problem plaguing California, at least with regard to forest management.
Newsom earlier this week said: “We’re successfully waging war against thousands of fires started across the state in the last few weeks due to extreme weather created by climate change while Trump is conducting a full-on assault against the antidotes.”
The governor conveniently omitted the possibility that the state’s electric power companies may be directly involved in causing fires, but he makes a valid point about antidotes.
To wit: The state government controls 3 percent of forest land in California, while the federal government owns 57 percent of that land. About 40 percent of the state’s forests are privately owned.
The verbal battles between Trump and Newsom began last year when the president made a similar threat to withdraw federal funding to help fight wildfires as big conflagrations ravaged Malibu and Paradise. Again, the term “gross mismanagement” of forests was employed by the president.
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Newsom’s response at that time was to toss the issue back at Trump, saying the feds weren’t doing enough to protect California’s forests. The U.S. Forest Service has reduced its forest management funding on its California forest land twice this year. The Trump administration's 2020 spending plan calls for more cuts in the hazardous fuels reduction account.
The governor signed a series of bills last month aimed at improving California’s wildfire prevention, mitigation and response efforts.
All this high-stakes, low-browed personal animosity and squabbling reminds us of something you might see and hear on a grade-school playground. It’s certainly not the sort of civil discourse one might expect from a president of the United States and a governor of California, which happens to have the fifth-largest economy on the planet.
Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of Californians — the ones who have been displaced by one or another of the state’s recent wildfire rampages — are essentially caught in the middle, perhaps wondering if California’s visceral allure is worth it. And the rest of us are left wondering where and when the next big fire will spring up.
Also meanwhile, calmer public and private-sector officials continue to prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best.
Winter rains may be coming, but until they do, everyone on the Central Coast needs to be ready to move quickly. Wildfires are not discerning. They destroy property and kill people with mindless impunity.
A quick look at the local weather forecast through the weekend indicates only a slight chance of rain. All a wildfire needs is dry brush, an errant spark or someone foolish enough to ignore some basic rules about tossing lit cigarettes from car windows, or parking your car or truck, with its burning hot exhaust system, in tall, dry grass on the side of the road.
The president and governor will likely continue their spat. The rest of us need to be ready to duck and run.