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Trump says his budget has more money than ever for wildfire prevention; it doesn't

Kate Irby and Emily Cadei, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump says in his budget that he's asking for the highest amount ever for certain wildfire prevention programs. His proposal actually contains less money for wildfire prevention efforts than the current federal spending plan.

It's a small difference, just $6 million out of about $1.4 billion for wildfire prevention programs managed by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But, it would be a cut if Congress approves it.

Meanwhile, Trump's budget would increase money that could contribute to harvesting timber and clearing trees. Trump has encouraged more logging in the past year. He publicly blames California and environmental groups for lax forest management on federal lands, where it is the responsibility of the federal government.

His administration's budget proposal says, "In light of historically catastrophic wildfire seasons in recent years, the budget significantly increases funding for wildland fire management programs to reduce hazardous fuel loads and support wildfire preparedness efforts."

Trump is requesting $450 million -- $15 million more than the current budget -- for hazardous fuel mitigation under the U.S. Forest Service, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense.

That increase is offset by his proposal for a reduction to a separate wildland fire management program under the Department of Interior. He's asking for $920 million -- $21 million less than the current budget -- for the department's wildland fire management budget. He's also proposing to reroute more money from that fund to cover fuel management activities and increase spending on forest products, which specifically deals with timber harvesting.

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Both of those budget items directly relate to wildfire prevention on different federal lands. A spokesman for the Trump administration did not comment.

More than 147 million trees have died in California since 2010, with 18 million dying last year. The U.S. Forest Service has struggled to manage those forests, where dead trees act as ripe kindling when fires start. The Camp Fire last year -- the deadliest on record, killing 85 civilians -- was one of many fires that officials said was worsened by a lack of adequate forest management.

Congress has consistently granted more to wildfire prevention funding than Trump has requested. Trump last year requested $390 million for hazardous fuel management and Congress budgeted $435 million.

And because of a fix Congress made in how wildfire funding is handled last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said they should have even more money for prevention efforts, since they shouldn't be borrowing as much from those funds to cover unforeseen costs in suppressing the fires.

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