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No, We Won’t be Raking Our National Forests

Photo Source Nicholas A. Tonelli | CC BY 2.0

By now the worst wildfire in California has been extensively covered, even as rains drown the ashes and bones during the grim search for the missing. Despite their best attempts to deceive the American public and push their commercial deforestation agenda for the timber industry, both President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s comments about managing our national forests have been widely rebutted by firefighters and scientists who correctly assessed the disaster for what it was — a climate change-fueled urban fire that started in chaparral causing homes, not forests, to burn. And no, the blame can’t credibly be laid on failures by federal forest management agencies or “environmental extremists.”

By now most Americans — and the rest of the world’s citizens — are all-too-well acquainted with Donald Trump’s propensity to lie about issues large and small. But he may have set a new low with his false claim that the president of Finland told him that they have fewer forest fires because they rake their forest floors.

To quote our very stable genius president: “I was with the president of Finland, he said ‘We have a much different — we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation. And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem. And when it is, it’s a very small problem. So I know everybody’s looking at that to that end. And it’s going to work out, it’s going to work out well.”

It was such a blatant misrepresentation that the Finnish president himself had to clarify that he never told Trump any such thing and that, no, the Finnish people do not rake their forest floors.

To anyone with even elementary knowledge of an actual forest, the entire idea of raking the forest is ludicrous. That, of course, would exclude Trump since he’s spent most of his life in high-rise New York penthouses or on manicured golf courses. His understanding of nature and functioning ecosystems is about on par with his claim that he has a “natural instinct” for science. Uh yeah, science is definitely an instinct — unless you’ve actually studied organic and inorganic chemistry, biology, physics and the host of other intellectually demanding disciplines that form the basis for real, not imagined, science.

If Trump had any understanding of the world he may have realized that Finland isn’t California, that a quarter of Finland lies north of the Arctic Circle where the sun never rises for 51 days during winter, that the average summer temperature hovers in the 60s, and their sub-arctic forests are blanketed in snow during the long winter months.

In truth, the forest floor is where the mycelium lives and performs its vital function of turning rotting vegetation into nutrients to return to the ecosystem, where new growth begins and sustains the vast array of flora and fauna necessary to functioning ecosystems.

That Ryan Zinke, who was raised in Montana, went along with Trump’s balderdash is even harder to take because he should know better. Then again, the way to keep a job in the Trump administration is to be, above all, “loyal” — and Zinke will obviously now say anything to keep his job.

But for the rest of us it’s another day, another Trump lie, and another ignorant mandate to “Make America Rake Again” from the bumbling and embarrassing occupant of the White House. Thanks for the great wisdom, Mr. Trump and Mr. Zinke, but no, we shouldn’t and won’t be raking the forest floors in Montana any time soon.

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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