Just seconds after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that now is not the time to point fingers in the devastating record wildfires in California, he declared Sunday that the deadly blazes are entirely the fault of “radical environmentalists.”
“I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them,” Zinke said in an interview on Breitbart News. (Listen above at the 5:20 mark).
“In many cases, it’s these radical environmentalists who want nature to take its course. We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it’s not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged,” he said earlier in the interview.
Zinke issued his assessment the day after President Donald Trump urged “raking” the “floors of the forest” to prevent fires, suggesting that’s what Finland’s president recommended. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö later said he couldn’t recall mentioning raking to Trump, but said his country has an excellent “monitoring system” to guard against fires in a far colder, wetter region than California.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) blamed climate change earlier this month for the “new abnormal” of an ever-worsening California fire season amid relentlessly mounting temperatures and drought.
Brown said that while forest management is one element of preventing fires, “managing all the forests everywhere ... does not stop climate change — and those that deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedy. The chickens are coming home to roost. This is real here.” On “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Brown said that in “less than five years, even the worst skeptics are going to be believers” in climate change.
Trump has called climate change a “hoax.” When reporters asked him about his attitude during his visit Saturday to fire-ravaged Paradise, California, the president responded: “I have a strong opinion: I want great climate. We’re going to have that.”
Trump tweeted early on that the fires were the result of “gross mismanagement of the forests.” The federal government owns nearly 60 percent of the forests in California, while the state controls only 3 percent. Paradise, the scene of the deadliest fire in California history with at least 77 killed and close to 1,000 still listed as missing, is surrounded by federal forests.
Fire officials in Southern California said the blazes there had “nothing to do with forest management” but erupted and spread in urban and suburban communities, including areas in Los Angeles County like Malibu and Calabasas.
Critics saw Trump’s comments as an attempt to pave the way for opening more public land to private logging interests, but there’s little commercial interest in the scrub trees, dry brush and grasslands that greatly contribute to fires.
“We need strong, science-based leadership from our elected leaders — not factless tweets and unfounded theories from Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke — to limit the damage from fires fueled by climate change and to protect vulnerable people, places, and wildlife,” the Sierra Club said in a statement last week before Zinke’s latest comments.
“The long-term safety of our communities depends on science-based action and dedicated funding that adequately supports firefighting and forest management efforts.”