California is adopting former Donald Trump's plan to thin out the state's 33 million acres of forests with controlled burns and raking the woodland floor - after state officials essentially laughed off the former president's idea a few years ago.
Trump had suggested in 2018 that the Golden State start sweeping its forest floors of debris that often aids in the spread of wildfires.
But by Aug. 2020, at the peak of the state's wildfire season, his suggestion became an ultimatum when he withheld wildfire financial aid on the basis of California's failure to clear its forests of dead trees, branches and leaves, Politico reported at the time.
Now, California is putting Trump's plan into practice statewide as groups of 12-person crews set about a $500 million effort to thin the state's forests with controlled burns and sweeping the forest floors of pines, redwoods and firs, according to a recent Bloomberg report.
'I see again the forest fires are starting,' Trump said at the 2020 rally in Pennsylvania. 'They’re starting again in California. I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up (in flames).'
'Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us,' he added at the time.
Former US President Donald Trump had blamed the Cali's ongoing and deadly wildfire problem on the state's failure to clear its forests of dead trees and debris
During the 2020 California wildfires, 31 people died and another 37 suffered non-fatal injuries due to 9,639 fires spread across the Golden State
Groups of 12-person crews are combing the 33 million acres of California forests and cutting down trees to lessen the chance of wildfires
During the 2020 California wildfires, 31 people died and another 37 suffered non-fatal injuries due to 9,639 fires spread across the Golden State, according to the website Cal Fire, which tracks wildfires throughout the state.
Then-President Trump continuously blamed the Democrat-dominated state for not doing enough to prevent the widespread wildfires in 2018 and 2019 during his presidency, while threatening to withhold relief funds as environmentally-conscious Californians balked at his ideas.
'I’ve been telling them this now for three years, but they don’t want to listen,' Trump said at the August rally. 'The environment, the environment,' but they have massive fires again.'
Groups of 12-person crews will be thinning the state's forests with controlled burns and sweeping the forest floors of pines, redwoods and firs
'I said... you gotta clean your forests' Trump said last summer. 'There are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up'
While the state begins to implement Trump's wildfire plan, those in the climate and forestry sectors continue to remain divided when it comes to the former president's solution.
Director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford University Michael Wara admits that attempting simply being reactive and fighting fires as they start is 'a forever war,' he said.
'You don’t win those. The solution is to change your strategy and really rethink what you are doing.'
For now, that solution is for a handful of 12-man crews, equipped with chainsaws and axes, to thin out the state's forests as a new wildfire season nears, Bloomberg reports. On a good day, these crews can clear up to a quarter of an acre a day.
But whether or not that plan is sustainable remains to be seen, with some skeptics questioning its longevity.
'As soon as you cut it down, it starts to regrow,' said Steve Hawks, manager of the wildfire planning and engineering division at Cal Fire, which maintains firefighting duties for 31 million acres.
'It is going to be a constant thing,' Hawks tells the news outlet.
California will be using $500 million in government aid specifically to combat its deadly wildfire problem
Los Padres ForestWatch conservation director Bryant Baker warns that controlled burns will threaten the native plant areas of Southern California’s national forests
Climate and forestry experts are split on Trump's California wildfire policy, which is about to receive $500 million in government aid despite Trump no longer being in the White House
And the plan to thin out the state's forests is most certainly a long-term one, state government officials claim.
Governor Gavin Newsom hopes that state and federal crews will be thinning out forests at a rate of one million acres annually by 2025, according to Bloomberg.
For a state already scarred by the effects of global warming, preventative measures are quickly coming to the forefront of the conversation when it comes to California's ongoing wildfire problem, where playing catch-up has become the status quo.
'You get caught in this spiral of increasing costs and increasing fires,' Hawks added.
'The governments have to break out of this spiral by doing more preventative measures.'
As for agencies involved in thinning out the state's 33 million acres of forestry, the Natural Conservancy in California 'has been and is very much involved in increasing efforts to reduce the risk of megafires through ecological thinning and controlled burns, particularly in the fire-adapted forests of the Sierra Nevada' mountain range along the state’s eastern edge, agency spokesman Juvenio Guerra told Bloomberg.
Controlled burns are a key part of California's plan to thin out its forests, which are vulnerable to widespread wildfires that have ravaged the state in recent years
Ca. Governor Gavin Newsom hopes that state and federal crews will be thinning out forests at a rate of one million acres annually by 2025
However, conservation director for Los Padres ForestWatch Bryant Baker warns that these kinds of controlled burns threaten the native plant areas of Southern California’s national forests.
'There are issues with just assuming this is some sort silver bullet in changing overall fires in the state,' Baker said. 'Prescribed fire is not going to be the thing that stops very large wind-driven fires that are occurring.'
Gov. Newsom is already asking the state's legislature to give him $2 billion more in an effort to accelerate the forest thinning process in the fiscal year starting July 1, according to Bloomberg.
'Wildfires don’t stop at jurisdictional boundaries. As we respond to wildfires in real-time this summer, improving coordination between the major stewards of California’s forested land will help us protect communities and restore forest health across California,' Newsom said in a statement obtained by Politico.