- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2018

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Thursday that environmental groups have increased wildfire danger with litigation that has “held hostage” the ability of federal managers to thin the overgrown national forests.

“You know, it used to be where it was an advantage to be next to federal property,” said Mr. Zinke on Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria.” “And now being next to federal property means you’re at greater risk of fires because the federal property, by and large, over the last decades has not been managed.”

Why? “We have been held hostage by these environmental groups that sue after sue after sue after lawsuit in preventing us from managing our forests,” he said. “And the public land belongs to everybody, not just these special interest groups.”

Mr. Zinke, who has spent the summer traveling to fire sites in California, issued an order last year directing forest managers to “adopt more aggressive practices” to stop the spread of wildfires through “robust fuels reduction and pre-suppression techniques.”

 



 

Environmental groups have argued that climate change is driving catastrophic wildfires and criticized the Trump administration for failing to take global warming seriously.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent, tweeted earlier this week that “wildfires in California have everything to do with climate change” after Mr. Zinke said they have “nothing to do with climate change.”

 

 

Mr. Zinke challenged the senator to “come out and look at the forest fires and, you know what, talk to the actual firefighters that are fighting it and they’ll tell you the same thing.”

“They don’t have access because the roads have been closed. There’s no fire breaks. There’s too much dead and dying timber. The intensity of the fires by and large are from the fuel,” he said.”

No matter what your position on climate change, Mr. Zinke argued that the solution still requires more thinning of the national forests, where tree density and the number of dead trees has climbed as logging operations drop.

“I served in Iraq, and the devastation in the California fires is the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Mr. Zinke. “The speed, the intensity, the amount of fuel. And the debate, whether it’s from climate change or not from climate, is irrelevant to what’s occurred. It doesn’t relieve you of responsibility to manage the forest.”

In December, California hit a record 129 million dead trees on 8.9 million acres as a result of beetle-kill and drought, according to the Forest Service.

His critics have also accused Mr. Zinke of attempting to prop up the ailing logging industry by pushing for more tree-cutting, while the secretary said he’d rather see timber sold than left to rot in the woods.

“[T]here are billions of board feet lying on the forest floor rotting when we’re importing lumber in this company. That’s unacceptable,” he said.

In Northern California, the Carr fire has burned 211,019 acres, while the Mendocino Complex fire, the largest wildfire in state history, has torched 364,145 acres. Both fires were about two-thirds contained as of Thursday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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