Gavin Newsom asks Biden for more ‘boots on the ground’ in fighting California wildfires

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom pleaded with President Joe Biden for more federal support in combating forest fires Friday during a virtual White House meeting with Western governors.

Following the governors of Montana and Washington, Newsom offered some of the most pointed criticism of the federal government’s handling of the issue during the public portion of the meeting.

“We just simply need, No. 1, more boots on the ground. We can’t do it without you guys,” Newsom told Biden, saying that the state’s resources are already stretched thin months before the peak of wildfire season.

“We’re not in fire season. Fire season in California is late September, October, into November. We’re in July, we already have 7,400 personnel actively working to suppress fires,” the California Democrat said.

“Last year, the federal government asked us for over 5,000 mutual aid support that we could not provide. That gives you a sense of what the federal government wanted from California last year to send to other states. That gives you a sense of how far behind we are with federal support.”

Newsom also said that the U.S. Forest Service has a culture that “too often is wait and see,” blaming the agency’s slow response for the spread of a fire from California into Nevada last weekend.

“We need your help to change the culture in terms of the suppression strategies in this climate literally and figuratively to be more aggressive on these federal fires,” Newsom told Biden.

Biden repeatedly promised greater cooperation on the issue and asked the governors to identify what else the government could be doing to assist them.

“We’re in for a long fight yet this year. And the only way we’re going to meet those challenges is by working together,” Biden said at the outset of the meeting. “Wildfires are a problem for all of us, and we have to stay closely coordinated and doing everything we can for our people.”

Governors ask for aggressive wildfire suppression

The governors weren’t shy about sharing their frustrations with the federal response to the issue over multiple administrations.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, thanked federal agencies for their support in fighting the fires, but he also pressed Biden on the management of federal forests that allows them to spark in the first place.

Gianforte said roughly 60 % of the state’s 9 million acres at high risk are on federal land, a similar proportion to California.

“We have many forests in Montana that have not had good stewardship. The growth has gotten to the point I can take you 10 miles west of the state capitol in Helena and show you a federal forest where 90% of the trees are standing dead… And this really creates a tinderbox situation,” Gianforte said.

Inslee emphasizes climate change

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, on other hand, said that the focus should be on long-term solutions to climate change rather than on short-term management of the individual forests.

“There is nothing in human intervention against these fires while climate continues to ravage our forests,” said Inslee, a Democrat who competed with Biden for the 2020 nomination.

Newsom noted that states are having to compete with each other and the federal government for resources, including access to DC-10 planes to fight fires.

“The reality is there’s four for the country. And we’re competing,” he said.

He also called on Biden to take steps to ensure states have long-term access to Pentagon satellite technology to predict fires before they spread.

“Every year we fight to get a one year extension on that access to critical technology. I’d encourage you to help us, so we’re not just fighting every year for something that I think you would support,” Newsom said.

Biden promised to call the Pentagon about the issue after the meeting.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting