Trump suggests California Democrats are to blame for record-setting wildfires even as the federal government controls 19 times the forest acreage there

President Donald Trump listens as California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a briefing at Sacramento McClellan Airport, in McClellan Park, Calif., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, on the western wildfires.AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
  • President Donald Trump blamed inadequate forest management for the devastating wildfires ravaging California, but didn't mention that the federal government owns most of the state's forests.
  • The president stuck by his longstanding argument that if more is done to clear forests of dead trees, leaves, and other debris, wildfires could be virtually eliminated.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed that more should be done to manage the forests, but pointed out that 57% of California's 33 million acres of forest is owned by the federal government and just 3% is owned by the state.

President Donald Trump blamed inadequate forest management in deep blue states for the devastating wildfires ravaging vast swaths of the West during a trip to California on Monday.

The president stuck by his longstanding argument that if more is done to clear forests of dead trees, leaves, and other debris, wildfires could be virtually eliminated. He claimed that European countries don't have as many wildfires, despite having "more explosive trees than we have in California," because they do a better job of managing their vegetation.

"You can knock this down to nothing," Trump said during a televised briefing with federal and state officials in Sacramento. "You go to Europe ... They're very, very strong on management, and they don't have a problem." Advertisement

California Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed with the president that forest management is important in controlling the fires and pointed out that his state had partnered with the Trump administration to boost forest management efforts.

But the Democratic governor also pointed out that 57% of California's 33 million acres of forest is owned by the federal government. About 40% is privately owned, and just 3% is owned by the state.

"There's no question, when you look past this decade and almost 1,000-plus years, that we have not done justice on our forest management," Newsom said. "But one thing is fundamental, 57% of the land in this state is federal forest land, 3% is California. So we really do need that support."
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Newsom also asked the president to "respect" differences of opinion on climate change, which scientists say is worsening the US's record-breaking fires, which come amid historic drought and heat.

"We come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in and observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this," Newsom told Trump. "I think there's an area of, at least, commonality on vegetation and forest management, but please respect — and I know you do — the difference of opinion out here as it relates to this fundamental issue, on the issue of climate change."Trump replied, "Absolutely."Advertisement

But later in the briefing, the president was directly challenged to accept the reality of climate change by California's secretary for natural resources, Wade Crawfoot.

"If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it's all about vegetation management, we're not going to succeed together protecting Californians," Crawfoot told the president.

"It'll start getting cooler, you just watch," Trump replied. Advertisement

"I wish science agreed with you," Crawfoot said.

"I don't think science knows, actually," Trump shot back.

California is experiencing its worst fires on record. Hundreds of thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate, thousands of homes have been lost, millions are living under toxic smoke, and at least 33 people have been killed in the state. Advertisement

Before Monday, Trump had made almost no public comments about the record-breaking fires. On August 20, the president told supporters at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania that California officials were to blame for the fires and threatened to withhold federal assistance.

"They're starting again in California," the president said. "I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they're like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up."

He went on, "Maybe we're just going to have to make them pay for it because they don't listen to us."Advertisement

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