Governors Natural Disasters Trump Brown Newsom

President Donald Trump, center, talks with California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, left, as California Gov. Jerry Brown listens during a visit to a neighborhood impacted by the Camp wildfire in Paradise, California, on Nov. 17. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

You can't say the Trump administration has no plan to combat the ravages of climate change.

Pick up a rake and head to the forest, President Trump seemed to suggest after viewing the ravages of the California wildfire.

In a burned-down community called Paradise, the president said, "Pleasure, what a name." 

It feels like much the same conversation is going on around the politics of climate, where one side sees a tragedy to be visited on their grandchildren and the other sees the heavy, unnecessary hand of government.

Special interests on both sides are raking in the campaign cash.

To a backdrop of ash and folly, Trump said Finnish President Sauli Niinistö told him the Finns "spend a lot of time raking," and that's why the (cold, damp) country doesn't have many forest fires. Twitter laughed, birthing the hashtag #MakeAmericaRakeAgain. The Finns laughed. And Niinistö said he didn't remember discussing raking with Trump.

Three days later, two of Trump's Cabinet members and public-land overseers, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, got on the phone with a handful of reporters to clean up but support Trump's rhetoric on raking.

“Germany does not have the scale of fires we do, and there are models of active forest management that are effective," said Zinke, switching countries. "And the president is right; this is the time to act.”

Zinke and Perdue made only glancing comments about climate change being one of several causes for the scorching of the West.

“Yes, the temperatures are getting hotter, the seasons longer," Zinke said. "But there are active forest management principles we need to go forward on. One is to remove the dead and dying trees, to thin, to do prescribed burns late in the season rather than mid-season."

Both secretaries said the Trump administration needed more authority from Congress to get ahead of fires by expanding "good neighbor" programs with local governments, expanding the fight against diseases and insects and managing funding better.

This administration doesn't like to talk about climate change. Zinke spoke more in the 30-minute call about the problems environmentalists cause.

He cited "lawsuit after lawsuit, by, yes, the radical environmental groups that had rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree and thin the forest, and it’s easy to find who is suing and who promulgates these destructive policies. Yes, I do lay it at their feet.”

These issues are especially critical in Colorado, a state dominated by its dense, iconic forests that are prone to burn. A dwindling snowpack will drain the economic lifeblood from our tourism economy.

Scott Braden, the wilderness advocate for Conservation Colorado, the state's largest environmental organization, told me, essentially, the Trump administration can't or won't see the forest for the trees.

He and Zinke had points of agreement, however. The landscape is increasingly dry, they said, and a century of fire suppression has built up a powder keg of brush and weeks awaiting their spark.

Braden went farther: Building houses and communities in these vulnerable places worsens the risks and raises the cost of solutions.

"Pretty simple," he responded in an email when I asked his opinion. "Solutions, less so.

"We need to build smarter, fire-resilient communities where vulnerable (hello, Woodland Park, the next Paradise), address climate and reduce fuels (prescribed burns, not fighting every fire, thinning and fuels reduction, which is not the same as logging all the big trees; the big trees are the fire-resilient ones you want to leave)."

On climate, Trump will only beat around the bush.

A reporter asked him amid the California devastation whether he was having second thoughts on climate change.

“No. No," Trump said. "I have a strong opinion. I want a great climate.”

Every four years, Congress receives the National Climate Assessment. Thirteen federal agencies under the Trump administration issued a stark assessment and dire warnings. 

The administration released it the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. Trump didn't bother to tweet about it.

CNN media critic Brian Stelter pointed out that Fox News made only a 30-second mention of the report that day, spending more time that day discussing Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's shoes.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver, however, called it a major report that didn't tell Coloradans anything they aren't already experiencing.

Bennet's office pointed to parts of the 1,656-page report that show temperatures in Colorado and the rest of the Southwest are climbing, threatening not just the landscape and snowpack, but people's health, as well.

“From persistent drought to reduced snowpack to raging wildfires, our state’s farms, mountain towns, and cities all feel the effects of climate change," Bennet said in a statement about the report. "And those effects take a real toll on Colorado’s economy.

"I’m glad to see the Trump administration is finally acknowledging the science behind our changing climate. Now it’s time they act on it.”

Again, it sounded like the two sides, at least in rhetoric, aren’t that far apart about tackling the symptoms, even as they differ on the cause.

“We’ve talked about active forest management for a long time," Zinke said. "The talking is over. Now it’s time to act.”

That sounds like, "Grab a rake, Colorado."

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