By Christopher Flavelle and Justin Sink
August 16, 2018
The Trump administration announced a new policy to fight wildfires, doubling down on its assertion that the best response is better forest management rather than focusing on climate change.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said Thursday that the U.S. Forest Service would increase the amount of logging and controlled burns on federal lands, to reduce the amount of fuel available to drive increasingly severe forest fires. He brushed off questions about whether climate change was making those fires worse.
"A lot of people, when you talk about climate change, they want to talk about what the causes are," Perdue said. "What we’re trying to talk about is the impact."
Ryan Zinke, the Interior Department secretary, said removing the dead timber that fuels the fires is the best approach. “Whether you’re a global warming activist or denier,” he said at the start of a cabinet meeting at the White House on Thursday, it doesn’t matter if you have rotting wood in the forests.
Zinke acknowledged that global warming is contributing to wildfires. "Temperatures are getting hotter," Zinke said, adding "of course" when asked if he accepted that climate change was part of the problem.
People watch flames from the Holy Fire in Corona, California, on Aug. 10.Photographer: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
Environmentalists have said that the Trump administration has made the problem worse by rolling back policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After Zinke asserted last week that policies backed by “radical environmentalists” were partly to blame for wildfires, the Sierra Club hit back.
“Zinke, like Trump, continues to deny the obvious,” Kirin Kennedy, associate legislative director for lands and wildlife for the Sierra Club, said in an email. “It is climate change that is exacerbating wildfire season in the West.”
The strategy announced Thursday drew mixed responses from environmentalists -- including Kennedy.
The wildfire problem requires “more protection near homes and businesses and less logging in the wildlands where it provides no additional fire protection,” Kennedy said.
Kameran Onley, director of U.S. government relations at the Nature Conservancy, said in statement that "reducing fuels and improving forest conditions are the best strategies for lowering the threat of catastrophic wildfires, and we support the strategies laid out by the secretary."
President Donald Trump, at the start of the cabinet meeting, criticized California’s water policies designed to protect drinking supplies and fish habitats by limiting diversions of water to agricultural uses. California fire officials have said there is no shortage of water for dousing the fires.
“Ryan was saying it’s not a global warming thing it’s a management issue,” Trump said.