Threats, tweets, and wildfires – oh my!

Yellow brick road aflame

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California is historically infamous for being the “land of earthquakes.” However, with climate change causing increased temperatures and random fluctuations that last nearly year-round, Californians now have a greater threat to face: wildfires.

Recently, California endured its worst wildfires in state history. The Camp Fire in Northern California burned over 150,000 acres, destroyed over 13,000 structures and killed 88 people; the Woolsey Fire in Southern California burned over 97,000 acres, destroyed over about 1,500 structures and killed three people. Thousands have lost their homes and businesses while thousands more have been required to evacuate. Everyone is sending their sympathies and is doing what they can to help the victims.

Well, almost everyone.

On Nov. 10 at 12:08 a.m., President Donald J. Trump tweeted, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

No matter your political affiliation, it’s clear this was a completely inappropriate response to the situation.

While people were afraid and fleeing complete destruction of their homes and community, and firefighters were battling these monstrous flames, Trump felt the need to threaten them with withholding funds during a state of emergency.

Not only is this is a disrespect to the victims, but an affront to all the hardworking men and women battling an enemy that turns even concrete to ash. Should consideration and emotional integrity not be expressed? A nation is supposed to be a family. The president must act not only as a leader but as a father to his citizens. He must be there for them in times of hardship.

When a disaster breaks out, aid and condolences come first, while opinions come second. When I first read his tweet I was appalled. Rather than offering even a smidgen of support for the firefighters who are risking their lives to help save these communities, or showing any sincere empathy to the victims of this catastrophe, Trump decided to make a threat that would essentially make the firefighters’ jobs more difficult in the future and put these communities at greater risk.

Granted, about 14 hours later, he did tweet supportive messages for the firefighters, but this does not excuse the initial tweet. Perhaps if the president were more informed, he would not feel the need to make such threats.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of 2017, fire suppression costs exceeded $2 billion making it the most expensive year in history. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, reported that “Forest Service spending on fire suppression in recent years has gone from 15 percent of the budget to 55 percent which means we have to keep borrowing from funds that are intended for forest management. We end up having to hoard all of the money that is intended for fire prevention because we’re afraid we’re going to need it to actually fight fires. It means we can’t do the prescribed burning, harvesting or insect control to prevent leaving a fuel load in the forest for future fires to feed on.”

The U.S. government estimates that revenue for the 2019 fiscal year will be $3.4 trillion. While we have no way of knowing yet how much will be contributed to the Department of Agriculture, it is known that a mere 0.1 percent of the federal budget would be nearly $3.4 billion. Contributing said 0.1% to the USDA’s overall budget would allow the Forestry Service to allocate almost twice as much as what they spend now towards fighting wildfires.

Therefore, rather than tweeting criticisms or cutting funds completely, is it not more advisable to simply increase the Forest Service budget a bit? A mere 0.1 percent of the entire budget, or even slightly less, could help the Forestry Service better fund forest management that could help prevent these massive fires. This would be a wise investment considering that national forests contribute an annual $30 billion to the U.S. economy and support approximately 360,000 jobs.

Just something for Trump to consider.

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