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Calif. to drop $500M to ‘rake’ forest land to prevent wildfires, just as Trump suggested last year to ridicule

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California is set to plunk down $500 million to dethatch and clean up its 33 million acres of forest land in an effort to prevent the super spread of wildfires amid an ongoing and worsening drought that also threatens to overtax the state’s power grid this summer.

But the plan has not gone unnoticed — on social media and elsewhere; California’s initiative is identical to the same one then-President Donald Trump recommended in 2018, though at the time he was summarily ridiculed by TV comedians and his suggestion mocked state officials wrote it off as unreasonable and foolish.

“While touring the disaster…Trump suggested that in order to prevent future fires, the state should rake forest floors, that’s right,” late-night host James Cordon said during a monologue in November of that year, to audience laughter. “Rake forest floors…there are 33 million acres of forest in California alone, so…that’s our show tonight, everyone grab a rake on the way out. It’s gonna be a busy Thanksgiving week, let’s go.”

 

“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,” the Daily Mail reported Saturday.

However, the outlet goes on to point out that during California’s peak fire season in August 2020, Trump turned his suggestion into a de facto mandate by withholding emergency wildfire aid to the state over officials’ refusal to clean up forest floors of dead brush, trees, and branches — all of which serve as fuel to wildfires and lead to them spreading wider and faster.

According to Bloomberg, the Golden State is now adopting Trump’s proposal. Officials are assembling 12-person crews who will embark on an ambitious $500 million initiative to thin out forest beds using controlled burns and ‘raking’ or “sweeping” of forest floors.

“…[A]after a succession of horrific, record-setting wildfire seasons, this is where the state now finds itself: So desperate to stem the tide and contain the losses — of both lives and property — that it’s plunking down more than $500 million this fiscal year alone for an effort that includes clearing pines, firs and redwoods,” the outlet reported.

“I see again the forest fires are starting,” the then-president told an August campaign rally in Pennsylvania in 2020. “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,” Trump added then. “I’ve been telling them this now for three years, but they don’t want to listen. ‘The environment, the environment,’ but they have massive fires again.”

Social media users were quick to note the former president was right again.

“We need all and every plan President Trump came up with back in order immediately,” one user noted.

“Yet another conspiracy theory turned fact,” wrote another.

“They really need to start learning how things work before they insult and make themselves look stupid 6 months later on the regular,” said another user.

Despite the state’s continual battles with deadly wildfires — 31 people died last year alone — there are still critics of the clearing plan.

Michael Wara, director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford University, told the Daily Mail reacting to fires after they start is like fighting “a forever war.”

“You don’t win those. The solution is to change your strategy and really rethink what you are doing,” he said, suggesting changes in lifestyles might help.

“As soon as you cut it down, it starts to regrow,” Steve Hawks, the manager of the wildfire planning and engineering division at Cal Fire, told Bloomberg, adding: “It is going to be a constant thing.”

The outlet estimates that “on a good day,” a 12-person crew can only clear about a half-an-acre. But for his part, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said that he hopes crews will be able to clear a million acres per year by 2025.

And while it is tedious slow-paced work, Hawks suggested it’s better than doing nothing.

“You get caught in this spiral of increasing costs and increasing fires. The governments have to break out of this spiral by doing more preventative measures,” he said.

Meanwhile, California energy officials are warning that some residents are likely to see rolling brown-outs and blackouts again this summer as the heat and drought tax the state’s grid.

“If we get into another west-wide heating event like we saw last year, our numbers tell us the grid will be stressed again,” Elliot Mainzer, president of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), said during an energy panel discussion earlier this month. “We will be reaching out actively to consumers to conserve energy.”

Jon Dougherty

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