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Trump threatens to ax funding for California wildfire relief

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Local forest management is blamed for burns, even though most California forests are federally controlled

Trump with Paradise Mayor Jody Jones in November, surrounded by destroyed homes.
Trump with Paradise Mayor Jody Jones in November.
Photo by Paul Kitagaki Jr.-Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump said on Twitter this morning that he planned to cut federal funding for California wildfire management, prompting responses from state leaders.

“Billions of dollars are sent to the state of California for forrest [sic] fires that, with proper forrest [sic] management, would never happen,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, which he later tweeted again correcting the spelling. “Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money.”

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund’s monthly report for December, this year the agency pledged $444 million in response to 2018’s California wildfires and another $156 million in response to the remaining effects from 2017 burns.

FEMA has not returned requests for clarification as to whether Trump has actually issued an order to stop disaster relief funding.

Trump has previously criticized the state’s forest management, suggesting in November that raking stray leaves in fire zones would prevent future disasters.

However, according to the University of California’s Forest Research and Outreach Department, the federal government—not the state—controls the majority of California forests:

“Of the approximately 33 million acres of forest in California, federal agencies (including the USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service) own and manage 19 million acres (57 percent). State and local agencies including CalFire, local open space, park and water districts and land trusts own another three percent.”

The remaining 40 percent are indigenous tribal lands or in the hands of private entities.

Trump’s comments drew rebukes from California political figures, including Governor Gavin Newsom, who responded via Twitter, saying, “Disasters and recovery are no time for politics.”

California Senator Kamala Harris also issued a statement: “We should work together to mitigate these fires by combating climate change, not play politics by threatening to withhold money from survivors.”

The Camp Fire, which started on November 8, 2018, in Butte County, killed 86 people, destroyed more than 18,800 structures, and burned approximately 153,000 acres. It is California’s deadliest and most destructive fire in recorded state history.