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West Coast Governors, Trump Argue Over Wildfire Prevention Efforts

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and her fellow governors in Washington and California say President Donald Trump is rebuffing their attempts to work cooperatively with him on wildfire safety.

The three Democratic governors reacted angrily after Trump renewed his threat to withdraw federal emergency aid to wildfire survivors in California, saying the state had mismanaged its forests.

Trump’s latest tweet came just one day after Brown, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and California Gov. Gavin Newsom sent the president a letter asking him to double funding for wildfire prevention projects on federal lands. They say federal spending has been flat while the states have been upping their budgets to thin forests and take other steps to reduce the severity of wildfires.

The federal government is the largest landowner in all three states. But Trump has repeatedly charged that California is to blame for the severe wildfires that have devastated the state in recent years.

“Billions of dollars sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen,” Trump said in his latest tweet. “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 Federal Emergency Management Agency has been providing millions of dollars in disaster aid to wildfire survivors, including in and around Paradise, California, where 86 people died in this fall’s Camp Fire. Just the day before Trump’s latest tweet, Newsom said he was pleased Trump had never “played politics with disaster declarations” that allowed emergency aid to flow to the state.

It’s unclear if Trump’s latest threat would affect FEMA actions. The agency has so far not responded to news media requests for comment.

On Wednesday, the three governors were united in condemning the president.

“We have been put in office by the voters to get things done,” Newsom tweeted, “not to play games with lives.”

“We asked for a constructive dialogue to ensure the safety of our people, and instead we got an angry tweet” from the president, added Brown. “Matters of public safety should not be politicized.”

Inslee, the Washington governor, added in a tweet that, “The president’s political threats are counterproductive at best, dangerous at worst.”

The three Democratic governors have repeatedly fought Trump on a wide variety of issues, ranging from immigration to climate policy.

In their forestry letter, the three governors urged the president to focus on forest management projects that have already passed environmental review. The Trump administration has supported easing environmental laws to allow more widespread logging on federal lands.

Trump’s grasp of forest issues has come under question. On a visit to the largely destroyed town of Paradise, the president suggested that the U.S. follow the lead of Finland, where “they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problems.”

That was met with derision from many forestry experts, including many in Finland.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.