President Donald Trump, arriving in Sacramento for a briefing on Western wildfires, continued to downplay the role of climate change in California’s horrific fire season, claimed the earth will soon begin cooling — and told California and other states to solve the problem by managing their forests more wisely.
Trump’s comments belied the broad consensus among scientists that climate change is contributing heavily to the worsening of wildfire seasons — and that the problem will get worse over time, not better. They also overlooked the fact that the federal government is a major owner and manager of forested lands in California.
Arriving at McClellan Park, the former Air Force base north of Sacramento, Trump received an earful from Gov. Gavin Newsom and others about climate change during a roundtable discussion.
Responding to comments from Wade Crowfoot, the secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, the president said: “It will start getting cooler. Just you watch.”
Crowfoot disagreed with Trump and later tweeted a chart showing rising summertime temperatures in California over the years.
Trump also said, when asked about climate change and its effect on fire season, “I think a lot of things are possible.”
With wildfires raging in California, Oregon and Washington, the president said “there has to be good, strong forest management” and he’s been telling states for three years to embrace that.
“Hopefully they’ll start doing that,” he said.
Trump ignored the fact that the federal government manages much of the forested land in the West. Of the 33 million acres of forest in California, roughly 57% is owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service or federal Bureau of Land Management, according to a report by the state’s Little Hoover Commission. State and local governments control only 3%, while the rest is private.
“The state cannot require the federal government to manage its forests,” the commission wrote.
While Trump has railed about California’s forestry management practices before — at times threatening to withhold federal aid — his government has forged a partnership with Newsom’s administration on forest issues. Last month the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding promising to double the number of forested acres that are treated annually. Treatment generally means either mechanical thinning, by removing trees and brush, or through deliberately-set “prescribed burns.”
Newsom, after touring an area around Lake Oroville burned by wildfire last week, said the memorandum commits federal and state agencies to do more to reduce wildfire risks.
“There’s resources committed from the federal government,” he said. “It’s more than just a piece of paper.”
Trump’s remarks at McClellan also ignored that California’s 2020 wildfires aren’t simply a product of overgrown forests.
The major fires that started in August were ignited in a wide array of habitats — grasslands and scrubby chaparral, as well as forests lush with trees — on private and public lands.
All told, more than 3 million acres have burned in California, representing 3% of the state’s total landmass. In terms of acreage, 2020 is already the worst wildfire season in modern history in California.