During his trip to Paradise, California — a town entirely wiped out by the Camp Fire — President Donald Trump discussed a favorite topic of his when it comes to wildfires: forest management.
Speaking to reporters, he praised Finland for its approach to tackling forest fires.
“We’ve got to take care of the floors, you know the floors of the forest, very important,” Trump said. “You look at other countries where they do it differently and it’s a whole different story.”
“I was with the president of Finland and he said… we’re a forest nation, he called it a forest nation,” Trump continued, “and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. They don’t have any problem, and what it is, it’s a very small problem.”
The internet wasted no time tearing down these remarks. And the hashtag “Rake America Great Again” was born.
Trump (self-described genius) thinks Finland have fewer forest fires than California because they rake more.pic.twitter.com/FPvtNeuBHo
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) November 17, 2018
— Memeditorialist – Yes to Prop Rep (@ajhtweeting) November 18, 2018
It appears Trump was referring to the practice of thinning forests that become overgrown after decades of fire suppression. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) approved $1 billion in state aid over the next five years for similar projects.
However, equating Finland and California, many critics said, was a bit of a stretch.
For one thing, many areas wildfires in California occur not in forests, but in chaparral, or shrub land. Months of drought turned such brush into easily ignited kindling.
Just an ordinary day in the Finnish forest ~ Ihan normipäivä suomalaisessa metsässä #Trump #forest #firesafety #raking #forestry #Finland #Finnish #CaliforniaFire #RakingAmericaGreatAgain #rakingtheforest #Suomi #haravointi #metsäpalot #rakingleaves pic.twitter.com/YOKA3D6C2K
— Pyry Luminen (@pyryluminen) November 18, 2018
— T.A. Pierce (@t_a_pierce) November 17, 2018
Finland on the other hand sits in the colder, northern latitudes, and is covered by dense, boreal forest. And while its fire season is much shorter as a result, this doesn’t mean it hasn’t been impacted — just this summer wildfires raged in Lapland.
What’s more, unlike California, Finland has a problem of too few forest fires, which risks impacting biodiversity. If charred areas are protected afterwards, this can help nature restore valuable habitats.
Trump’s penchant for blaming the fires on forest mismanagement has been widely mocked by scientists. Singling it out as the lone culprit for California’s record breaking wildfire season ignores, among other factors, climate change.
The catastrophic Camp Fire has killed at least 71 people, with more than 1,000 others missing. Millions of California residents are breathing the worst air in the world as smoke from the deadliest fire in state history travels hundreds of miles.
Fueled by hot, dry, windy conditions that are becoming more common as climate change intensifies, the Camp Fire exploded last week. Around the same time, the massive Woolsey Fire charred huge swaths of Southern California.
In addition, more people are living along the wildland-urban interface. This puts an enormous strain on California’s firefighting resources — the state exhausted its annual budget of $442.8 million in August. Trump, however, in blaming poor forest management has threatened to withhold federal funds.
Trump said this weekend that witnessing firsthand the destruction caused by the fires in California has not led to him re-think his misguided stance on climate science.
“No, no,” Trump told reporters when asked if he had changed his mind on climate change. “I have a strong opinion. I want great climate, we’re going to have that, and we’re going to have forests that are very safe… that is happening as we speak.”
Trump says seeing the devastation of the wildfires in California hasn't changed his opinion on climate change.
"No, no. I have a strong opinion. I want great climate, we're going to have that, & we're going to have forests that are very safe… that is happening as we speak." pic.twitter.com/FkafOxZqtE
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 17, 2018
Others disagree. Responding to Trump’s comments, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said: “It is unfortunate that we have a president that doesn’t appear to believe in science. If preventing wildfires was as easy as raking leaves, we would have done that by now. But it is a complicated issue. Climate change does play a large role.”