President Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funds for California firefighters. Trump claims that California’s forest fires are the result of poor forest management by the state. In January, Trump tweeted: “Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forrest (sic) fires that, with proper Forrest (sic) Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”
There are 2 big problems with Donald Trump’s argument.
1. Most really big forest fires in California start on Federal land, not land owned by the state of California. That’s not surprising since the Federal government owns 48% of all the land in California, including most of the forest land in the state. For example, this past summer’s Carr Fire started in a recreation area owned by the United States Forest Service. The fire then moved onto private land and then into the city of Redding itself, where the fire destroyed over 1,000 houses. The most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California’s history was this past summer’s Camp Fire, which also started on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service. It was the world’s costliest natural disaster in 2018. A long list of Federal agencies own big chunks of California real estate in addition to the Forest Service, including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All of these agencies are under the direct control of President Trump. While it is true that forests in California have been and are being badly managed, most of these forests are under the control of the president of the United States, not the governor of California.
2. Climate change and global warming are major factors in California’s forest fires. Over the past 100 years, the average temperature in California has risen by 3 degrees. In addition, the average annual rainfall in California has fallen. This warmer, drier air sucks water out of plants and the soil, leaving trees and grass drier than they used to be. The California fire season used to be late summer, but now, it is nearly all year round. California used to get some rain in late October that wet things down, but now, the rain doesn’t come until November or December. Global warming is not a controversial theory within the scientific community, but unfortunately, President Trump and most of the people in his cabinet believe that it is.
Sonny Perdue. The U.S. Forest Service is under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue. Perdue believes that global warming is a hoax. He calls global warming “junk science” and “a running joke.” Perdue is also one of the neo-Confederates in Trump’s cabinet. For as long as I can remember, neo-Confederates have always frustrated me. I grew up in Maryland, which was a slave state until the end of the Civil War. When Perdue talks about slavery and the Civil War, he sounds like the pro-Confederate schoolteachers I had when I was a kid. When Perdue was governor of Georgia, he tried to put the Confederate battle flag back into the Georgia state flag, and he made April ‘Confederate Heritage Month’. Perdue believes that most slaves supported the Confederacy and that large numbers of them fought for the Confederacy too. Perdue’s claim that there was widespread support for the Confederacy among the slaves has come under a lot of criticism from historians, just as his speeches on global warming have come under a lot of criticism from climate scientists. When I was living in Maryland, I knew white people who shared Sonny Perdue’s belief that black people didn’t mind being slaves and that during the Civil War, their sympathies were with their owners and the Confederacy, just like in ‘Gone With The Wind’; however, I have never met a black person in my life who shared that view.