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Biden Tours Wildfire Damage in California

  • September 14, 2021

“The fire situation in California is unrecognizably worse than it was a decade ago,” said Michael Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University. He said that with the exception of 2019, each of past five years has brought fires that were more destructive than the year before it.

The wildfire crisis in California has often become a political fight. Last summer, President Trump blamed California for its fire problem, and initially denied federal disaster aid.

“You gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests,” Mr. Trump said at the time, in comments that emphasized just one aspect of a complex problem. “There are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable.”

Mr. Trump also dismissed the link between forest fires and global warming. When state officials urged him not to ignore the science of climate change, which shows that higher temperatures and drought are making fires more destructive, Mr. Trump inaccurately responded, “I don’t think science actually knows.”

While Mr. Trump was wrong to dismiss the role played by climate change in exacerbating the fires, he was right that more aggressive forest management is vital for addressing those fires, experts say. But much of that work must come from the federal government, which owns about half the land in California, Dr. Wara said.

Mr. Biden’s first budget request, earlier this year, didn’t ask Congress for enough money to reduce the amount of flammable vegetation in the nation’s forests, Dr. Wara said. The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill now pending on Capitol Hill would significantly increase that funding.

“There’s no fixing the wildfire problem without dealing with how forests have been managed,” Dr. Wara said.

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