Hands in pockets, looking intently at the ground, Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s body language last Saturday was unmistakable. He was touring Paradise, the scene of the deadly Camp Fire, in the company of Gov. Jerry Brown and President Donald Trump. And it appeared he would rather have been anywhere else in the world.
At campaign rallies this fall, Trump had singled out Newsom for jeers and scorn. In Nevada last September, Trump asked: “How about this clown in California who’s running for governor? He wants open borders and then he wants to give them health care, education, everything.”
Saying Newsom is for “open borders” is a typical campaign lie, but if immigrants are here it’s fairly clear Newsom would rather have them healthy and educated than sick and ignorant.
California is the epicenter of the “Resist Trump” movement, and Newsom is its newly-elected leader. If he’s not entirely comfortable with being the face of that resistance, well, that’s probably a good thing.
Saturday’s trip was a somber moment, and even Trump was acting appropriately – not here to demean the city or state, but to pay his respects. He couldn’t get the name of the city right (twice calling Paradise “Pleasure”), and he got a lot of other stuff wrong – raking won’t stop forest fires. But he didn’t repeat his inane threats to withhold federal funding if we don’t start better managing our forests. Most of what is burning in California is under federal control – and the feds aren’t paragons of forest management, either.
We doubt Trump knows any specifics, but he’s right – we are doing a poor job managing our forests.
Why? Because the dynamics of forest management are changing. We experienced a five-year drought, that stressed tens of millions of Sierra conifers and made them susceptible to deadly beetle infestation. Now, they’re sticks of kindling standing upright and waiting to burn. Gov. Brown has set aside nearly $100 million to have them removed. The federal government’s commitment has been far, far smaller.
It’s going to be a tough job. California was once home to 150 medium to large sawmills with thousands of loggers felling trees. Now there are only 29 mills and a fraction of the loggers needed to remove this fire fuel. To get to them, roads will have to be cut into the forests – a difficult sell on both federal and state lands.
More people are living in burn-prone areas. Counties and their communities aren’t insistent enough that new houses have defensible space, that roads in and out be sufficient for emergencies evacuations and those who want to live there must help fund their own protection.
Knowing this, it was good to see Brown and Newsom standing with President Trump. And despite the body language in Paradise, by the time the threesome arrived in Malibu, site of the Woolsey Fire, they appeared more comfortable – friendly, even.
“Come here,” Trump called out to Newsom, extending his hand. Newsom shook the president’s hand and slapped his back.
Don’t forget, the Trump administration has granted nine disaster declaration requests from Brown in 2017 and 2018, for deadly wildfires and the record storms that stressed our dams and levees. President Trump “has been pretty good about helping us out in disasters,” said Brown.
That kind of help must remain available for a state that knows catastrophe year in and year out. Our elected officials should be gracious in accepting it.
Resisting the Trump administration’s worst policies is appropriate; throwing political napalm on a tinder-dry environment is something else. We need more help, and less heat.