Day after day after day after day, Donald Trump fabricates, falsifies, deceives, invents, concocts, manufactures, misrepresents, equivocates, and prevaricates. In short, along with all the other destructiveness he’s brought to the office of the presidency, he has normalized lying. Not that other presidents haven’t also told lies, sometimes very big ones. But Trump is clearly shooting for a record, to be a tremendous liar, the best liar ever to lead the nation. At the rate he is going, by the time he leaves office, even if that should occur next year, No. 45 will have lied more times since taking the oath of office than all 44 previous presidents combined.
Last weekend, while touring the devastation caused by two California fires whose death toll now stands at 81, Trump told two more lies. One was about how he learned in discussions with the president of heavily forested Finland that the Finns rake their forests to keep the fire hazard low. The Finnish president’s response was a diplomatic version of WTF. There was no talking about raking that he can remember.
The other lie—wrote Emily Cadei at McClatchy (whose editor wimped out and headlined as “an error”)—came when Trump said there would be a half-billion-dollar bump in the 2018 federal budget for mitigating wildfires:
“$500 million. That will be in the farm bill. We just put it in,” Trump told reporters at the Incident Command Post for the Camp Fire in Chico, Calif on Nov. 17. “We have a new category, and that’s management and maintenance of the forests. It’s very important.
Just one problem:
“I’m not sure where he got that from,” said one congressional aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record, echoing the sentiment of a number of colleagues on Capitol Hill.
The reality is that there is no such funding provision in the 2018 Farm Bill, which authorizes federal agriculture and land management programs but does not appropriate funds. That requires separate spending legislation, a congressional source familiar with the Farm Bill confirmed.
In fact, as Cadei notes, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told reporters in a conference call Tuesday that his department is not seeking such funding in the 2019 spending bill that congressional leaders hope to pass by December 7.
What Perdue and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke seek to do is roll back environmental reviews of large-scale forest-thinning plans. Zinke has gone on record for the past three months blaming devastating fires on “radical environmentalists” who supposedly stand in the way of thinning.
In some circles in the West, that stab at environmental advocates no doubt resonates. But environmentalists in the know have long recognized that forests in California and other parts of the West are overgrown, and they support controlled burning and forest clearing. What they object to is diluting review standards, a provision that is part of the House-passed Farm Bill, but not in the Senate version, and wrongheaded thinning.
In a September 4 op-ed in The New York Times, Chad T. Hanson, an ecologist whose research focuses on forest and fire ecology, and Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, wrote:
This false narrative is part of the Trump administration’s effort to promote the inclusion of extreme logging measures in the farm bill that House and Senate leaders are now negotiating. (The current farm bill expires at the end of the month.)
These provisions, included in the House version of the bill, could exempt an unlimited number of commercial logging projects up to 6,000 acres each in our national forests from environmental analysis and meaningful public comment. This would include logging of old-growth forests and clearcutting of ecologically important post-fire habitat, upon which many imperiled wildlife species depend. Proposed changes would also essentially nullify the application of the Endangered Species Act to federal forests by eliminating the requirement to consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service over impacts to endangered species.
This isn’t the first time that commercial logging efforts wound up in forest-thinning legislation. The Bush administration’s so-called Healthy Forest Initiative passed in 2003 as the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. But well before that law was enacted, federal agencies already had plenty of authority to do what scientists know works best to protect human development from wildfires: clear small trees and underbrush from areas right around homes and commercial buildings.
Thinning forests far away from communities and homes is not only a waste of already-overstretched fire-prevention resources, it also increases the risk to wildlife, fish, water quality, and forest health. Moreover, a 2000 report by the U.S. Forest Service found that "timber harvest can sometimes elevate fire hazard by increasing dead-ground fuel, removing larger fire-resistant trees, and leaving an understory of ladder fuels."
While short-term methods matter, in the long term, the best thing governments can do to reduce the risk of wildfires is to take strong action to ameliorate the impacts of the climate crisis. Since 2010, Forest Service officials say, 129 million trees in California have died because of climate change, drought and insect infestations. But, top to bottom, the Trump regime is brimful of people who disbelieve climate scientists and have been adopting and trying to adopt policies that are guaranteed to make matters worse. And lying about it.