BUTTE COUNTY (KPIX) – On Monday, President Trump issued a disaster declaration for California’s devastating wildfires. In a tweet he praised the state’s firefighters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and first responders, calling them “very brave.”
The president has softened his tone since the weekend when, in a tweet, he threatened to cut the state’s funding, claiming leaders have grossly mismanaged forests.
The union that represents the majority of firefighters in California pushed back, labeling the comments, “insulting,” and “reckless.”
Other critics of the President’s comments pointed out that the federal government owns more than half of California’s forest land. The president says California’s fires are due to forest mismanagement.
Leaving aside the timing of those messages, the question lingers as to where or not the state been managing the forests properly.
Rich Gordon is the president of the California Forestry Association. He says there’s just too much flammable material in and near our California forests and images of the Camp Fire show lots of dry underbrush on fire.
“There’s just too much vegetation,” said Gordon. “We’ve had kind of a Smokey the Bear problem. We have said we can’t cut. We shouldn’t thin. We need to protect trees.”
Gordon said in the 1800s there were typically 40 trees an acre. Today there are hundreds of trees to an acre. While Gordon does represent timber companies, even Ken Pimlott, Chief of Cal Fire agrees the forests are too think.
“Yes, it’s true, our forests, whether they’re private or public, are what we call ‘overstocked.’ They’re thick and it’s from, you know, we’ve been excluding fires for so many years because we’re protecting public and infrastructure,” he said.
So, there is a forest management problem. But as Governor Brown says, it’s only one of many.
“Forest management is one element. It’s only one and we have to take care of the whole range of the threats and conditions,” said Brown. “We have to all do more.”
In fact, the state is doing more — a billion dollars more.
“The legislature this year authorized two hundred million dollars a year for the next five years – a billion dollars to be spent on forest management activities,” said Gordon.
There’s a long list of other reforms passed earlier in 2018. That’s one reason why Gordon does not agree with the president’s messages.
“I think we understand the extent of the problem and California is going to be doing its part,” he said.
So the state is working out some issues but the federal government may have some responsibility too.
The federal government controls 57 percent of California’s forests including almost all the area around the Poe Dam. According to preliminary reports, that’s where the Camp Fire started.