Wildfire season raises concen
Monday, May 27, 2019
The San Francisco Chronicle
California stands on the verge of yet another devastating wildfire season. So why is the Trump administration planning to slash the state’s wildfire assistance payments?
Since 1961, California has had some form of agreement with the federal government to provide financial assistance for firefighting.
One of the most obvious reasons for this agreement the fact that 60 percent of California’s forested land — which tends to be fire-prone — is owned by the federal government. Wildfires scoff at jurisdictional lines, and California firefighters battle blazes on federal land as well as they do on the state’s.
So, it’s puzzling that the U.S. Forest Service is accusing the state’s local fire departments of overbilling the federal government.
The agency, which audited the most recent fire-service agreement in January, claims that California submitted inaccurate invoices. It’s now threatening to cut millions of dollars’ worth of funding.
“The requests for reimbursement were based on an estimate of expenses instead of the actual expenses incurred and the documentation provided did not fully support those actual costs,” U.S. Forest Service National Press Officer Babete Anderson said in a statement.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Forest Service was influenced by President Trump’s inaccurate Twitter rants. (In November 2018, he claimed without evidence that there was “no reason” for the deadly California wildfires other than that “forest management is so poor.")
State officials are rightly concerned.
“Given increased wildfire risks in recent years, I do not believe any action should be taken to jeopardize that (state-federal) partnership,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote in a May 14 letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen and Sonny Purdue, secretary for the Agriculture Department.
The agency told us it was “working cooperatively” with California to settle the dispute. Given the impeding disaster season, Gov. Gavin Newsom needs to make that cooperation a top priority. But it would help if the Trump administration wouldn’t change direction mid-course.