“It’s not ‘climate change equals fires.’ ” Trump officials call for forest thinning to reduce wildfire risk
A flat tire, a rim scraping against asphalt and a shower of sparks were all it took to start a small blaze that turned into the massive Carr Fire that has devastated Northern California. Containing and extinguishing the monster wildfire required the combined efforts of federal, state and local resources.
As the cabinet secretaries charged with responding to fires, we knew that the only way to gauge the severity of such a disaster and the proper federal response was to see it. At President Donald Trump’s direction, we traveled to California to assure residents that the administration will do everything in its power to aid those in harm’s way.
The president actively monitored the Carr Fire and other wildfires, declaring a disaster in California on Aug. 4 and ordering federal assistance to be made available to survivors who suffered losses not covered by insurance. Our two departments – the Department of Agriculture through the Forest Service, and the Department of the Interior through the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service – have deployed thousands of personnel and tons of equipment.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a grant the day the Carr Fire started to help the state with firefighting costs. The Department of Homeland Security coordinated the deployment of firefighters, aircraft and logistics and communications support.
This is not the first time the two of us have jointly visited the scene of a major wildfire. Last August, we surveyed the Lolo Peak fire in Montana to witness the coordination among federal, state and local departments. Always learning from past experiences and adapting to present dangers, we signed a memorandum in May highlighting the importance of inter-departmental collaboration to protect public safety, property and firefighters as fire season approached. What we have seen in California has cemented our belief in the effectiveness of a united, coordinated response from all levels of government.
Heroes were all around us in California – in the fire camps, the ranks of firefighters and among the smoke jumpers, who risk their lives leaping from aircraft to make early assaults on blazes. Some lost their own homes to the flames, but still reported for duty to protect the lives and property of their neighbors.
While we must work to contain wildfires, we are also making increased efforts to prevent the frequency and intensity of such catastrophes. Last year, President Trump championed and Congress passed measures that were a start for the federal government to better manage its forests. The fire funding fix approved this year will provide enough money to fight fires without having to borrow from forest management funds. This will allow proper prescribed burning, harvesting, insect control and debris clearing to reduce wildfire fuel.
But the scale of the work needed is larger than what Congress provided last year. Consistent with the president’s request, we now need Congress to provide our departments with the necessary legal and regulatory authority.
In the meantime, we will continue to pursue shared stewardship of our forests, working with states to set priorities. Upon our return from California, the Forest Service announced a new strategy outlining plans to work more closely with states to identify landscape-scale priorities in areas with the highest payoffs.
For too long, our forest management efforts have been thwarted by lawsuits from misguided, extreme environmentalists. The time has come to act without flinching in the face of threatened litigation. President Trump has rightly recognized that the old way was doing a disservice to our precious national forests and the communities that depend on them. We ask California’s senators and representatives to join us in this bipartisan effort.
Inevitably, wildfires will start with an errant spark from a wheel rim, a carelessly extinguished campfire or a lightning strike. There is no denying that fires have been a part of Earth’s history since forests first flourished on the planet. What we can control is how we prepare and respond to them, which is where the Trump administration is taking the lead.
The people of California and other states affected by increased wildfires throughout the year should know that they will receive the assistance they need to be safe and recover from disaster.