Zinke blames lawsuits by ‘radical environmentalists’ for creating more wildfires

November 20, 2018

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed “radical environmentalists” Tuesday for blocking federal forest-management efforts and causing dangerous conditions that lead to deadly wildfires such as the blaze that killed dozens last week in northern California.

“When lawsuit after lawsuit by, yes, the radical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forest, then it’s easy to find who is suing and who promulgates these destructive policies,” Mr. Zinke said. “Take a look at who’s suing every time there’s a thinning project. The density of dead and dying trees is higher.”

He added, “When nature alone takes its course without management, there are consequences. The special-interest groups are really exercising their very tight agenda.”

Mr. Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue held a conference call with reporters to urge Congress to give the administration more flexibility to remove dead trees and carry out more “prescribed burns” to prevent devastating wildfires. The “Camp” fire in California last week killed more than 70 people, with hundreds of others unaccounted for, and destroyed more than 10,000 homes.

“It was literally like a flame-thrower of embers,” Mr. Zinke said of the wind-driven fire. “The talking’s over, now it is time to act. We need to prioritize getting back to an active [forest] management system. This is the time to act. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is an American issue.”

Mr. Purdue agreed that the government’s hands have been tied by “well-meaning” environmentalists.

“A well-managed, well-groomed forest is always better...” Mr. Purdue said. “I think some are coming around to that way of thinking. We need more to come along, and we need the lawsuits to stop.”

Mr. Perdue said lawmakers could amend the farm bill under negotiation to give federal agencies more leeway to clear away brush and work with local governments to create more buffer zones around populated areas. He said federal agencies have had to borrow money from fire prevention budgets to pay for emergency firefighting, a situation that will change in fiscal 2020.

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