Trump’s Being Fair To Deny California FEMA Forest Fire Money – Fires Are Hardly Unusual There

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Donald Trump has announced that he’s going to – or desires to – stop sending money to California through FEMA over forest fires. This seems fair enough to be honest for given the incidence of such fires they’re now part of normality rather than emergencies. This is before we even get to the major claim here, which is that Trump thinks some to all of such fires are caused by government actions themselves.

So, fair enough perhaps:

Note what FEMA is all about, that E stands for emergency. And California’s having fires every season now, it’s only exactly where they are which is the issue, not whether there will be some. Thus it’s not really a matter for that Federal level of government but something that can be and possibly should be handled in state. In theory at least things should only be bumped up to that Federal level when it’s something that a State on its own can’t handle. Either something that’s too large a problem to be handled at that more local level, or some rare event that may or may not happen in any one state.

The damage of and by California’s fires isn’t too large to be handled more locally and the probability of there being some such in any one year is 1 – thus not something that requires the insurance pooling effect of moving up that level of governance. So it’s at least arguably fair that the Feds don’t get involved here:

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he has ordered a halt to federal emergency funds for California to fight wildfires and manage its forests unless officials in the western U.S. state can “get their act together.”

It’s also true that the costs of preventing such fires largely fall on California, while if outside funds come into to pay damages for fires which do happen then we’ve a certain moral hazard there. Costs of prevention and costs of clean up should fall on the same pockets otherwise we do have that hazard.

As to whether California is in fact delinquent in its forest management practices, so much so that more fires occur than should, well, that’s certainly possible. General policy for decades at every level has been to suppress all and any fire all of which leads to those which do take hold finding much more fuel. Those western forests are rather adapted to, rely upon even, regular and low level fires. But whether California is still that bad, or is worse than the Feds themselves, is another matter.

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TDMohave GreenieJonathan Harston Recent comment authors
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Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

I remember reading articles in New Scientist in the 1980s examining evidence suggesting that California’s vigourous suppression of small fires was resulting in bigger fires.

Mohave Greenie
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Mohave Greenie

In the 1970s, California used to do controlled burns to reduce fuel loads in the Los Angeles area. However this was soon stopped by a combination of the California Air Resources Board and a number of NIMBYs in expensive hillside communities. This has caused the high fuel loads in the forest areas that cause great conflagrations when they burn. Trump is right, this is a homegrown problem and not something the federal government should be paying for.

TD
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TD

The total land area of California is almost half owned by the Federal government, so if the forests are mismanaged it’s a lot of national forest being mismanaged by the feds. That wouldn’t surprise me. But it does make a strong argument that sending tax monies from the states to the feds to then be returned as grants to the states (after passing through some sticky fingers) is very illogical and that perhaps the feds should tax a lot less and let the states tax to the extent they think they need to take care of what’s within their borders.… Read more »