- President Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted that “raking” and better forest management can prevent more forest fires like those that devastated California in 2018.
- But the government shutdown is preventing the Forest Service and other agencies from doing that.
- Employees say that preventative activities such as prescribed burns and debris clean-ups have been stopped during the shutdown.
President Donald Trump’s government shutdown looks as if it’s getting in the way of his solution to the California wildfires.
Trump has long suggested that better forest management and “raking” are the primary solutions to the rash of devastating wildfires in California and the rest of the country. But according to federal employees working on land management, the ongoing shutdown is crippling the very activities Trump wants.
During a visit to California in November, Trump suggested that raking the floors of forests could have prevented the devastating fires that ravaged the state in 2018.
“I was with the president of Finland and he said, ‘We’re a forest nation,'” Trump said during a visit to the town of Paradise. “He called it a forest nation. And they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. And they don’t have any problem. And when it is, it’s a very small problem.”
Trump has often cited the need for increased “forest management” in California to combat the worsening forest fires. In fact, Trump once again harped on the issue in a tweet Wednesday.
“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen,” Trump said. “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!”
While experts say that Trump’s view of the issue is a bit simplistic – ignoring factors like climate change – the forest Service and other agencies do clean up “fuel”on forest floors that can act as kindling for wildfires.
But the government shutdown has cut off funds for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), including the National Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. That means the employees that would be “raking” the debris on the forest floor, or conducting other forest management services like prescribed burns, are unable to do so.
While the departments can respond to fires, employees have said that preventative activities have ceased.
One National Forest Service wildland firefighter told the Washington Post that all work on clearing excess brush to help mitigate forest fires has ceased.
“We’re not allowed,” the firefighter told the Post.
In addition, the Forest Service is unable to hire or train new recruits during the shutdown – a critical function that helps get firefighters ready for the more active months.
“This is the second year in a row we’ve had a shutdown right in the middle of the training season,” Jim Whittington, a former US Bureau of Land Management employee, told McClatchy. “The last thing we want is for fires to break out, and not have the kind of crews we need to to field.”
The issues aren’t just in California: Prescribed burns in the Pisgah National Forest – which covers a half a million acres in North Carolina – have not been carried out during the shutdown.
According to the USDA’s shutdown plan, just two-thirds of Forest Service employees are still on the job during the shutdown, while the rest – around 11,000 employees – are on furlough. Those employees remaining on the job are also doing so with no pay, but will receive back pay when the government reopens.
While state agencies are still active, the shutdown is still cutting into critical time for forest managers and could lead to worse wildfire conditions.
But as it stands, those agencies may not have a chance to resume activities anytime soon. The government shutdown is now in day 20, the second-longest of the modern budgeting era, and neither Trump nor Democrats sound ready to back down.
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