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Editorial: Fire tweets spotlight feud between Trump, California

Editorial: Fire tweets spotlight feud between Trump, California

There's a kernel of truth in some of President Donald Trump's recent tweets about this year's California wildfires, but just a bit: Overall, the president's tweets show the same general disregard for the facts that we've come to expect.

But it's important to remember that the president's tweets aren't really about the wildfires: Instead, they're intended as attacks against a state that he wants to portray as an out-of-control socialist experiment of sorts. Trump has nothing to lose in these attacks — it's not as if he's going to carry California in the 2020 elections — and they might be useful in an attempt to keep his political base united.

And, to be fair, California Gov. Gavin Newsom can give as good as he gets, often firing back against Trump on Twitter. Again, Newsom has nothing to lose politically by taking on Trump, and at least part of his appeal to state voters is based on the idea of being a thorn in the president's side. (The same is true, to some extent, of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.)

With that said, many of Trump's recent tweets about the wildfires display a general unfamiliarity with the issues behind the blazes. That's to be expected, in part because the president generally has never displayed much sustained interest in Western issues.

This tweet from the president was typical: "Every year, as the fire's rage & California burns, it is the same thing - and then he (Newsom) comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor. You don't see close to the level of burn in other states."

It is true that in 2018, California had more acres burn than in any other state. But so far this year, Alaska has seen 2.57 million acres burn, as opposed to 266,000 acres in California. In 2017, both Montana and Nevada had more acres burn. In 2016, Oklahoma had more acres burn; in 2015, Alaska and Washington saw more acres burn. California, of course, gets more attention than any of those states because it has so many more people living there. (And so far, this fire season in California has been less destructive and deadly than the last two years.)

Trump also said Newsom had done a "terrible job of forest management. ... he must 'clean' his forest floors, regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him. Must also do burns and cut fire stoppers."

The nugget of truth here, as many fire experts agree, is that we do need to do a better job of forest management to reduce the fuels that can turn these fires into infernos (and, yes, prescribed fires are part of the equation.

But the president ignores certain inconvenient truths about these most recent fires: For starters, they're generally not burning in forests but rather in in agricultural areas and grasslands. In addition, of the 33 million acres of forestland in California, 57% is owned by the federal government; just 3% is owned by the state. And California actually is increasing the money it's spending on reducing fuels for fire — while federal officials scramble to find money to do that work.

The evidence suggests, however, that this latest tussle of tweets is mostly intended to let the two leaders posture to their bases: After all, before the latest feud broke out, Newsom had gone out of his way to praise the administration for making federal funds available to fight several of the blazes. "Every single request we've had to the administration has been met." And on Twitter, Newsom actually posted this message: "Thank you, @realDonaldTrump."

Of course, Trump could have responded by saying something equally gracious. But on Sunday, he renewed his attacks on California and Newsom. The California governor responded in kind to Trump: "You don't believe in climate change," he tweeted. "You are excused from this conversation."

And so, the show goes on. (mm)

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