Trump threat­ens to halt state’s FEMA wild­fire re­lief

Merced Sun-Star - - Front Page - BY DALE KASLER AND KATE IRBY [email protected] [email protected]­clatchydc.com

to re­ject a peace of­fer­ing from Cal­i­for­nia’s new gover­nor, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump threat­ened again Wed­nes­day to cut off FEMA wild­fire re­lief to Cal­i­for­nia be­cause of its “dis­grace­ful” mis­man­age­ment of the state’s forests.

Res­ur­rect­ing a theme from last year, Trump said on Twit­ter that the state’s dis­as­trous string of wild­fires the past two years are largely the re­sult of Cal­i­for­nia’s inept ap­proach to manag­ing forests. He also re­peated his threat to shut down fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to the state.

The pres­i­dent’s lat­est state­ment came a day af­ter Gov. Gavin New­som praised him for his quick re­sponse to the Camp Fire catas­tro­phe.

In an early-morn­ing tweet, Trump blasted Cal­i­for­nia’s for­est man­age­ment and added, “Un­less they get their act toAp­pear­ing gether, which is un­likely, I have or­dered FEMA to send no more money. It is a dis­grace­ful sit­u­a­tion in lives & money!”

New­som replied on Twit­ter: “Dis­as­ters and re­cov­ery are no time for pol­i­tics. I’m al­ready tak­ing ac­tion to mod­ern­ize and man­age our forests and emer­gency re­sponses. The peo­ple of CA — folks in Par­adise — should not be vic­tims to par­ti­san bick­er­ing.”

Trump’s tweet ig­nores the fact that nearly 60 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s forests are on land owned by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, mainly the Na­tional For­est Ser­vice and the U.S. Bureau of Land Man­age­ment. The Camp Fire — which killed 86 peo­ple, more than any other in the state’s his­tory — ap­pears to have started in the Plumas Na­tional For­est.

FEMA has dis­bursed nearly $56 mil­lion to Camp Fire sur­vivors and has been work­ing with state of­fi­cials on plans to re­move de­bris from Par­adise, which was vir­tu­ally de­stroyed by the fire.

The Repub­li­can con­gress­man who rep­re­sents the Camp Fire re­gion, Doug LaMalfa, said he shares Trump’s “great frus­tra­tion with Cal­i­for­nia’s chok­ing reg­u­la­tions” but pushed back on the pres­i­dent over the tim­ing of his tweet.

“The im­me­di­ate prob­lem for fire vic­tims is the first need, and threats to FEMA fund­ing are not help­ful and will not solve the longer term for­est man­age­ment reg­u­la­tory prob­lems,” the Rich­vale Repub­li­can said in a pre­pared state­ment.

“The pres­i­dent has seen first­hand our fire-rav­aged ar­eas in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia,” LaMalfa added. “He made the prom­ise to help, and I ex­pect him to keep it.”

Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has said re­peat­edly that Cal­i­for­nia’s

wild­fires are ev­i­dence that forests must be man­aged more ag­gres­sively, through “thin­ning” and pre­scribed burns to re­duce fuel loads.

Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials gen­er­ally agree; the Leg­is­la­ture last fall ear­marked $1 bil­lion over five years for for­est man­age­ment. New­som on Tues­day called on law­mak­ers to put an ad­di­tional $105 mil­lion into the up­com­ing bud­get for fire­fight­ing ef­forts.

Speak­ing at a Cal Fire sta­tion in Col­fax, near the Ta­hoe Na­tional For­est, New­som on Tues­day chided Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion for cut­ting forestry bud­gets by $2 bil­lion, but he also pledged to co­op­er­ate with the White House. New­som and the gover­nors of Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton state sent a let­ter to Trump of­fer­ing to work with fed­eral of­fi­cials on forestry man­age­ment.

“He’s never played pol­i­tics with dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tions and we’re grate­ful for that,” New­som said in Col­fax. New­som and Trump met when the pres­i­dent vis­ited Par­adise a few days af­ter the fire.

It wasn’t clear whether Trump has the power to carry out his threat with­out Congress’ con­sent. Trump has al­ready de­clared a state of emer­gency for Cal­i­for­nia’s wild­fires, mak­ing sur­vivors el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive fed­eral dol­lars.

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Cal­i­for­nia, called the tweet an “empty threat” and said it “isn’t worth the time of day.” She also called the tweet “heart­less.”

The state has re­quested an ad­di­tional $9 bil­lion from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for wild­fire re­lief, but it’s un­clear how much of that money would go through FEMA.

A spokesman for FEMA, whose op­er­a­tions are af­fected by the gov­ern­ment shut­down, had no im­me­di­ate com­ment.

PAUL KITAGAKI JR. pkita­[email protected]

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­spects fire dam­age Nov. 17 in Par­adise with FEMA Di­rec­tor Brock Long, Gov. Jerry Brown, Gov.-elect Gavin New­som and Par­adise Mayor Jody Jones. Af­ter’s Trump’s threat to cut FEMA aid to the state’s fire vic­tims Wed­nes­day, New­som tweeted, “Dis­as­ters and re­cov­ery are no time for pol­i­tics.”

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