by Michael Bastasch
President Donald Trump moved forward with policies aimed at preventing catastrophic wildfires while the media breathlessly covered the government funding battle.
Trump issued an executive order Friday to allow for active management of forest and rangelands, including thinning and removing debris from millions of acres of federal lands.
The order also calls on federal officials to streamline regulations and permitting processes to allow the harvest of at least 3.8 billion board feet from U.S. Forest Service lands and 600 million board feet from Bureau of Land Management lands.
That represents a massive increase in timber sales from federal lands. For example, loggers harvested 2.9 billion board feet from Forest Service lands in 2017, according to federal figures. But even Trump’s increased allowance for loggers is still about one-quarter of what was harvested in 1973.
Trump also asked federal officials to do more to maintain roads into hard-to-reach areas where fires can spread.
Western Republicans welcomed Trump’s order. GOP lawmakers said that a change in policies was sorely needed after the devastating 2018 wildfire season, which saw more than 8.5 million acres burned.
“While litigation activists thwarted forest management reforms, the Senate also failed to pass legislation to help minimize forest fires,” Utah GOP Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in a statement.
“As a result, parts of the West were left in ashes. We cannot ignore these systemic issues any longer,” Bishop said.
Trump issued the order one day after signing the $867 million farm bill that included provisions allowing foresters to more quickly remove dead and diseased trees that increased fire risks.
Environmentalists railed against Trump’s executive order, characterizing it as a “gift” to the logging industry that would do little to prevent wildfires.
“It won’t work, and we know that,” Denise Boggs with the group Conservation Congress told The Sacramento Bee. “All the fire ecologists are saying the same thing: You can’t log your way out of this situation.”
“Logging in the back country is just a gift to the timber industry,” said Boggs, adding the order didn’t mention global warming or thinning around communities in wildfire-prone areas.
Democrats and environmentalists tend to blame global warming for the increasingly massive western wildfires. Republicans, however, argue more active management of forests through thinning, clearing of dead and dying trees and logging is needed to prevent wildfires from getting out of control.
“This executive order will save lives and communities throughout the West!” the Congressional Western Caucus tweeted Friday.
Thank you @realDonaldTrump for ensuring that necessary fuel load reduction and forest management policies are implemented that will mitigate the frequency and intensity of wildfires. This executive order will save lives and communities throughout the West! https://t.co/QcXz29FkqR
— Western Caucus (@westerncaucus) December 21, 2018
Wildfire management, usually not a national issue, became a hot topic against after the Camp Fire became the deadliest in California’s history, killing 88 people and destroying thousands of buildings.
Outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed environmentalists for the increasingly devastating fires in the western U.S. — environmentalists often sue to keep federal officials from removing trees or conducting prescribed burns.
“However, this issue will only be fixed through congressional action,” Bishop said.
“The House and Senate must work to implement statutes that protect our environment and the many communities across the country who live every day with the threat of wildfire,” Bishop said.
Bishop is reportedly one of several candidates being considered to replace Zinke. Zinke will resign by the end of the year.
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