Ryan Zinke Blames ‘Radical Environmentalists’ For Turning Forests Into Giant Tinderboxes

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor
  • Zinke blamed “frivolous litigation from radical environmentalists” for keeping federal officials from managing forests.
  • He laid out Trump administration efforts to clear more forests of debris that provide fuel for fires.
  • “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,” Zinke wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went after “radical environmentalists” who use litigation to stop the federal government from actively managing forests in a way to prevent massive wildfires.

“Every year we watch our forests burn, and every year there is a call for action,” Zinke wrote in an op-ed for USA Today, detailing the Trump administration’s plans to reduce wildfires.

“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,” Zinke wrote.

Zinke signed a secretarial order demanding “aggressive fuels management and protecting structures that lie within the wildland-urban interface” and the department began “using drones like never before to monitor and contain fires,” he wrote.

For years, wildfire experts and Republican lawmakers have been calling for more active management of forests — logging, thinning, prescribed burns and other activities meant to keep fuel loads down.

Hot and dry conditions, particularly on the West Coast, prime the region for wildfire activity every year. While some scientists have linked growing wildfires to global warming, most experts say land management is the driving factor.

With most western U.S. forests and grazing lands in federal hands, the turning away from active management techniques in the 1980s allowed fuel build-up in forests. Federal policy had turned against active management due to environmental regulations and litigation from environmentalists.

More than 5 million acres across the country have burned in wildfires, including more than 700,000 acres in California and Oregon where the U.S. Forest Service controls most of the wooded areas.

Thousands of homes have been burned to the ground and lives have been lost to the flames and smoke. Thousands of firefighters are battling blazes, including 200 active duty military personnel.

Zinke said propaganda and lawsuits from activists have made it harder to manage forests. (RELATED: Decades Of Mismanagement Turned US Forests Into ‘Slow-Motion Time Bombs’)

“Radical environmentalists would have you believe forest management means clear cutting forests and national parks,” Zinke wrote in his op-ed. “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.”

“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,” Zinke wrote.

“We owe it to the firefighters we have lost, like Cal Fire bulldozer operator Braden Varney and National Park Service Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Captain Brian Hughes, to work harder to improve the health of our forests so their brothers and sisters on the fire line no longer face the same dangers and do not have to pay the same price to keep our families safe,” Zinke added.

The secretary’s comments echo those he tweeted out on Monday, lambasting “frivolous litigation” employed by environmental groups to keep federal officials from clearing debris and dead wood out of forests.

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