Donald Trump and California state officials sparred over if climate change is contributing to out-of-control wildfires across the West, after the president insisted that bad forest management drives the conflagrations.
Wade Crowfoot, the secretary of California’s Natural Resources Agency, told Trump in a assembly in Sacramento on Monday that a warming climate is making the state’s fires worse.
“We wish to work with you to in reality recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests, and in truth work along side that science,” Crowfoot told the president. “The science is going to be key. Whether we disregard that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all approximately vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.”
Trump responded: “It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch.”
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot said.
“I don’t think science knows, in truth,” Trump responded.
Trump flew into Sacramento after a weekend crusade swing through Nevada with a purpose to discuss the fires with California officials including Governor Gavin Newsom. More than 5 million acres have been burned across the West this season, killing dozens of people and ruining air quality from California to Washington.
Newsom on Friday argued that fallacious forest management practices of the past can’t give an explanation for the state’s worsening fire seasons. California has been stepping up its use of controlled burns to thin out vegetation and has accelerated cutting fire breaks around vulnerable communities, he said.
But the recent drought and a tree-killing beetle infestation, either one of which Newsom tied to climate change, have killed more than 150 million trees across the state, leaving ample fuel for fires.
“I’m not going to propose for a second that the forest management practices in the state of California over a century-plus have been ideal,” Newsom said Friday in Butte County, surrounded by scorched trees. “But that’s one point. It’s not the point.”
The president has regularly criticized California’s Democratic leaders for, in his view, failing to adequately manage the state’s forests to minimize fire risk.
Approximately 57% of California forests are land owned and managed by federal agencies, according to the University of California. Newsom said Monday that just 3% of the state’s forests are on land managed by the state government.
In August, Newsom’s administration reached an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to jointly minimize fire risk on no less than 500,000 acres of public lands each and every year.
Trump claimed before the assembly that an unnamed European leader told him his country has more explosive trees than California, before disputing state officials who said climate change used to be contributing to out-of-control West Coast wildfires.
“I used to be talking to the head of a major country and he said, ‘We are a forest nation. We imagine ourselves a forest nation.’ This used to be in Europe. I said, ‘That’s a beautiful term,”’ Trump told reporters after touchdown in Sacramento.
“He said, ‘We have trees that are far more explosive’ — explosive when it comes to fire — but ‘we have trees that are far more explosive than they have got in California, and we don’t have any problem.’”
Trump said that “I think a large number of things are conceivable” in response to a question approximately if climate change is driving the western wildfires, which have consumed more than 5 million acres, killing dozens of people and ruining air quality on the West Coast.
“With regard to the forest, when trees fall down, after a short time period — approximately 18 months — they develop into very dry. They develop into in reality like a matchstick,” Trump said. “And they rise up; you realize, there’s no more water pouring through, and they develop into very, very — they just explode. They may be able to explode.”
“Also leaves,” he added, “you probably have years of leaves, dried leaves, on the ground, it just sends it up. It’s in reality a fuel for a fire. So they have got to do something positive about it.”
He said the state will have to cut more firebreaks through its forests, again comparing California to European forests that he said are better managed.
“They also have to do cuts. I intent, people don’t find irresistible to do cuts but they have got to do cuts,” he said. “So whether you do have a fire and it gets absent, you’ll have a 50-yard cut in between so it won’t have the ability to catch in the other side.
“They don’t do that,” he said of California. “Whether you go to other countries, you go to Austria, you go to Finland, you go to many different countries and they don’t have problems.”
After taking office, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord negotiated by President Barack Obama, calling it unfair. On Monday, he suggested the U.S. shouldn’t undertake efforts to mitigate climate change because other countries can’t be trusted to follow suit.
“Is India going to change its ways? And China going to change its ways? And Russia — is Russia going to change its ways?” he said. “You realize, so, you have a large number of countries that are going to have to change because they make up — we’re just a small speck.”