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Trump Officials Accused of Using Deadly Wildfires to Boost Logging
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=20421"><span class="small">Oliver Milman, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Wednesday, 28 November 2018 14:16

Milman writes: "The Trump administration has been accused of using the deadly wildfires in California to push for weakened environmental rules in forests, opening them up for more logging."

Firefighters battle flames at a burning apartment complex in Paradise, California, on 9 November. (photo: Josh Edelson/Getty)
Firefighters battle flames at a burning apartment complex in Paradise, California, on 9 November. (photo: Josh Edelson/Getty)

Trump Officials Accused of Using Deadly Wildfires to Boost Logging

By Oliver Milman, Guardian UK

28 November 18

Interior secretary Ryan Zinke says he hopes new laws will end environmental reviews and allow ‘thinning’ of forests

he Trump administration has been accused of using the deadly wildfires in California to push for weakened environmental rules in forests, opening them up for more logging.

Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, said that he hoped new legislation would allow for the “thinning” of forests to help prevent wildfires. He said he was confident Congress would soon pass a new farm bill that would remove environmental reviews for the removal of trees and brush, as well as the building of roads through federal forests.

“We have to manage our forests,” said Zinke on a visit to the charred remains of Paradise, a town in northern California that has been razed by the so-called Camp fire. The death toll from the fire stands at 88, making it the deadliest in California’s history.

“It shouldn’t be as hard; sometimes it is,” Zinke said of forest management. “I think our practices over the period have ended up to where we are today. Maybe this is the time to take a horrendous experience like this, and move things along to where we don’t have to do this year after year. It’s unacceptable.”

Zinke was joined on the Paradise tour by Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, who also backs greater intervention in forests. “People say they want pristine forests – well, this doesn’t look pristine to me,” Perdue said, referencing the ashy remains of Paradise. “Pristine is well-managed, groomed forests.”

But environmentalists claimed that the administration, led by Trump, who has blamed “gross mismanagement of the forests”, was using the fire to pave the way for more logging on federal land, with potentially disastrous results.

“Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are being dangerously dishonest,” said Chad Hanson, a forest ecologist who was involved in a major 2016 study that found that logged areas with lower environmental protections have the most intense, fast-moving fires.

“They are trying to use this tragedy to help logging interests, which is one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in my career. They are trying to eliminate half a century of environmental protections and turn over forests to the logging industry.”

Since 2011, an area east of Paradise has been set aside for logging, with the Camp fire racing through it rather than slowing down. Instead of selectively eliminating flammable fuel from the forest, “thinning” usually involves removing trees and leaving behind debris and invasive weeds that are actually far more effective at spreading fires, Hanson said.

“Zinke and Perdue are pushing extreme logging provisions that experts say won’t protect Californians from these blazes,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Their so-called solutions could actually worsen wildfire risk. It’s misleading and dangerous to give people a false sense of security that they can log their way out of this, especially in the face of climate change.”

Fire experts have backed a variety of measures, such as allowing remote fires to burn, making buildings more fire resistant and widening roads, as a way to reduce wildfires. Zinke has also backed many of these reforms, as well as improving evacuation routes, and claimed his concept of forest management has been mischaracterized.

“It’s not clear-cutting, it’s coming in and thinning those forests,” Zinke said on Monday. “Logging has become a pejorative term of just massive hillsides of clear-cutting, and that’s not what we’re talking about. That’s not what producing fuel load is all about.”

The Trump administration is less enthusiastic about addressing the link between climate change and wildfires, an influence made clear in a major federal government climate report released last week that warned the area burned annually in the western US could increase by up to six times by the middle of the century due to rising temperatures.

Asked by the Guardian about whether the wildfires would make the administration rethink its reversal of climate regulations, Zinke demurred.

“We’ll go through it with a fine-tooth comb,” he said of the climate report. “I think we’ll look at all things considered. We’re gonna to look at the report, seriously. I’ve asked the US Geological Survey, for example, the last hundred years, tell me what the sea level has risen? In 20 years. Do you know?

“Regardless of whether you believe or don’t believe in climate change, it doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of mitigating destruction of these fires.”

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+2 # Auteur47 2018-11-29 00:12
That Zinke and Trump are using the tragedies in California to promote more commercial logging is hardly surprising. What's really disgusting is the bid to make money in the guise of addressing the threat of more and bigger wildfires. And, of course, the major contributing factor of climate change is dismissed with more denial.
+2 # dotlady 2018-11-29 10:20
Remember former EPA head Scott Pruitt proclaiming that woody biofuel is "carbon neutral?" (It's not, and creates particulate matter as bad as coal for the lungs.) There is a clause in the present Farm Bill that allows the burgeoning biofuels industry to get subsidies and permits for cutting trees and pelletizing the wood and shipping it to Europe where it is burned for fuel? Maybe Rinke knows the same people in the industry that Scott Pruitt seemed to favor? This clause must be removed from the Farm Bill before it is passed!