Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke claims “radical environmentalists” deserve blame for the dozens of deadly wildfires burning in California and elsewhere on the west coast, saying they “would rather see forests and communities burn than see a logger in the woods,” Zinke wrote in a USA Today opinion piece published Wednesday.
Zinke said “active forest management” — including logging, prescribed burns and clearing brush — is the way to minimize wildfires on federal land and blamed green groups for stopping the management practices.
“Every year we watch our forests burn, and every year there is a call for action,” he wrote.
“Yet, when action comes, and we try to thin forests of dead and dying timber, or we try to sustainably harvest timber from dense and fire-prone areas, we are attacked with frivolous litigation from radical environmentalists who would rather see forests and communities burn than see a logger in the woods.”
“Radical environmentalists would have you believe forest management means clear-cutting forests and national parks. But their rhetoric could not be further from the truth. They make outdated and unscientific arguments, void of facts, because they cannot defend the merits of their policy preferences year after year as our forests and homes burn to the ground,” Zinke wrote.
“I’ve visited too many fire camps and spoken with too many experts to know that those who perished fighting these fires could have been saved.”
The interior secretary made no mention of the major role scientists say climate change is playing in California, instead focusing on the need to remove dead and dying timber.
— NOAA NCEI Climate (@NOAANCEIclimate) August 8, 2018
According to NOAA, the July 2018 contiguous U.S. temperature was 75.5°F, 1.9°F above the 20th century average.
This tied with 1998 as the 11th warmest July on record. Much-above-average temperatures stretched across the West, Northeast and parts of the South. California had its hottest July and hottest month on record at 79.7°F, surpassing the previous record set in 1931.
His op-ed comes after President Donald Trump’s claim that California’s water, which could be used for firefighting, was instead “being diverted into the Pacific Ocean” by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state officials for diverting water into the Pacific Ocean.
“Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading,” Trump said.
Catastrophic fires in California have already killed seven people, including a 33-year-old firefighter and a 36-year-old heavy-equipment operator.
JUST IN: California fire officials say the so-called Mendocino Complex Fire has burned more than 283,000 acres, making it the largest in wildfire state history. https://t.co/cbOIH4v37Q pic.twitter.com/LoS7Mc7ncx
— ABC News (@ABC) August 7, 2018
Over the weekend, the Mendocino Complex Fire, which is made up of two separate fires, became California’s largest since record-keeping began.
Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, fired back at Trump’s tweet, telling the HuffPost on Monday that his state has “plenty of water to fight these wildfires.” He noted the lakes near the Carr and Mendocino Complex fires.
What’s driving these raging infernos, McLean said, is a crisis that Trump has in the past dismissed as “bullshit” and a Chinese hoax.
“It is our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires,” McLean said.