With a government shutdown looming, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday to boost logging and forest thinning on more than 4 million acres of federal lands to combat extreme wildfires.
The order, which makes no mention of climate change, comes on the heels of another devastating and deadly wildfire season in California. Trump has blamed the state’s infernos on everything from a lack of raking to a nonexistent water shortage resulting from “bad environmental laws.” And the administration has used the disasters to push partisan policy, connecting devastating California wildfires to a longstanding fight between farmers and environmentalists over water resources.
“For decades, dense trees and undergrowth have amassed in these lands, fueling catastrophic wildfires,” Trump’s order reads. “These conditions, along with insect infestation, invasive species, disease, and drought, have weakened our forests, rangelands, and other Federal lands, and have placed communities and homes at risk of damage from catastrophic wildfires.”
The order directs the Interior Department and the Department of Agriculture to identify ways to reduce “regulatory barriers” to better manage forests and get rid of hazardous fuels. It calls for “treating” 4.25 million federal acres — an area larger than Connecticut — to cut fuel loads. And it allows for a total 4.4 billion board feet of timber to be harvested from Forest Service- and Interior-managed lands in 2019 (board feet is a unit of measurement for the volume of lumber).
That would be a significant increase over the combined 3.2 billion board feet removed from those agencies’ lands in 2017, the Sacramento Bee reports.
“Active management of vegetation is needed to treat these dangerous conditions on Federal lands but is often delayed due to challenges associated with regulatory analysis and current consultation requirements,” the order states.
The order also calls for addressing invasive species and working to mitigate flooding and erosion risks that result from wildland fires. And it requires the agencies’ secretaries to “identify salvage and log recovery options from lands damaged by fire during the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons, insects, or disease” by no later than March 31, 2019.
While the order lists a number of forest threats made worse by climate change ― drought, disease, insect infestations, invasive species ― it ignores climate change as a whole. That comes as little surprise, given the misinformation and climate change denialism that the administration rolled out in response to the fires in August.
“I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth. This has nothing to do with climate change,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told KCRA-TV in Sacramento during a trip to assess damage from the Carr fire. “This has to do with active forest management.”
Zinke, who is resigning at the end of the year amid numerous federal investigations into his conduct and policy changes, has gone so far as to blame the blazes on “environmental terrorists” who he claims are standing in the way of forest management. He echoed that sentiment in an interview that aired Friday on Fox News.
“Those who want to wrap [public lands] up in bubble wrap are fully content with watching our forests burn down,” he said.
The Carr fire this summer ― then the sixth most destructive on record in California ― burned more than 200,000 acres, destroyed 1,600 structures and killed seven people, including three firefighters. November’s Camp fire ― the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history ― engulfed more than 153,000 acres, killing at least 85 people and destroying nearly 14,000 homes.
Scientific research has shown that climate change is contributing to the extreme fires raging across the West. It is true that the accumulation of fuel is a factor that contributes to increased fire activity; however, a 2016 study found that human-caused climate change had doubled the amount of land that burned in Western forests over a 30-year period by significantly drying out vegetation.
Denise Boggs, director of Conservation Congress, a forest and wildlife advocacy group in California, told the Sacramento Bee that Trump’s executive order won’t work.
“All the fire ecologists are saying the same thing: You can’t log your way out of this situation,” Boggs told the paper. “Logging in the back country is just a gift to the timber industry.”