WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he has ordered a halt to federal disaster relief for California’s wildfires unless state officials involved in forest management “get their act together.”
FILE PHOTO: Firefighters battle flames overnight during a wildfire that burned dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen,” Trump wrote on Twitter, a day after western governors asked for greater federal investment in fire prevention.
“Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!” the president said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
California has suffered a series of increasingly massive, deadly blazes in the past two years that have destroyed homes and businesses and put burnt areas at a greater risk of mudslides. Governor Gavin Newsom said 167 people have been killed by fires and floods over that time.
Trump’s move targets a state that is home to some of his biggest political rivals, including Democratic U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is leading the fight in Congress against Trump’s demands for $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall on the Mexican border.
Newsom, also a Democrat, said at his swearing-in ceremony this week that the Trump administration is “hostile to California’s values.”
FEMA, which provides grants for home repairs or rental assistance after disasters, said it could not respond to queries about Trump’s order due to the partial government shutdown, and it was not clear whether there would be any immediate impact.
More than one-half of the 33 million acres of forest in California are managed by federal government agencies, according to the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. State and local agencies control only 3 percent, and the rest is privately controlled.
On Tuesday, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington asked federal agencies to “double” their investment in forest management in a letter to the White House.
California plans to spend $1 billion on forest management over the next five years, the letter said, and has spent $111.3 million since 2017, just under half on federal lands.
During a November tour of the wreckage of the Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history, Trump blamed what he called poor forest management for the fire, and threatened to end FEMA funding.
The California Professional Firefighters organization, with more than 30,000 members, said at the time Trump’s assertion was “dangerously wrong.”
Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Nick Zieminski; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe