US Vows to Work With States Over Fires 08/17 06:16
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As wildfires choke California and other Western states,
the Trump administration pledged Thursday to work more closely with state and
local officials to prevent wildfires from ever starting.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the Forest Service and other
agencies will step up efforts to cut down small trees and underbrush and set
controlled fires to remove trees that serve as fuel for catastrophic blazes,
including a series of deadly fires that have spread through drought-parched
forests and rural communities in California.
Six firefighters have died in those wildfires.
Perdue, who toured the California fires this week, said they were "stark
reminders of the immense forest-fire health crisis in this country, and the
urgent need to dramatically increase our preventative forest treatments."
While officials have boosted forest management efforts in recent years, more
needs to be done, Perdue said.
"To truly protect our forests, we must increase the number and the size of
our (prevention) projects across the local landscape and across boundaries, and
frankly we can't do this by ourselves," Perdue said at a news conference at the
Perdue pledged a "shared stewardship" approach in which the Forest Service,
Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies work with state, local and
tribal officials to fight and prevent wildfires.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, meanwhile, said national forests have
suffered from "gross mismanagement" for decades.
"The fuel loads are up. The density of our forests is historical. We have
dead and dying timber," Zinke said at a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
"This is unacceptable that year after year we're watching our forests burn,
our habitat destroyed and our communities devastated," Zinke added. "And it is
absolutely preventable. Public lands are for everybody to enjoy and not just
held hostage by these special-interest groups."
Zinke has long complained that environmental "extremists" make it difficult
for trees to be logged to reduce fire risk.
"Whether you're a global warmist advocate or denier, it doesn't make a
difference when you have rotting timber, when housing prices are going up ...
yet we are wasting billions of board feet" of timber that could go to local
lumber mills, he said.
The focus on wildfire comes as California and other states face longer and
more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed
to climate change and homes built deeper into forests.
Yosemite National Park's scenic valley in Northern California reopened
Tuesday after a 20-day, smoked-forced closure, and hundreds of people were
evacuated from Glacier National Park in Montana after a wildfire destroyed at
least nine homes and cabins in one of the park's historic districts.
In Washington state, meanwhile, officials have distributed masks to combat
unhealthy air filled with smoke from wildfires that have blanketed the
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the current crisis underscores the importance
of preventing wildfires. "It is unacceptable to me to have Northwest seniors
and young people being afraid to open their doors in the morning because they
are afraid of smoke," he said.
Longer and hotter wildfire seasons are the "new normal," said Sen. Maria
Cantwell, D-Wash., "and we have to meet it with a very, very aggressive
response" that includes drones, satellites and other technology.
Not all efforts will be popular, Cantwell said, noting that some
Seattle-area residents opposed controlled burns this spring because they feared
"I guarantee you now, Seattle would definitely take a little bit of smoke
instead of the eventual, all-summer-long smoke that we're getting," she said.
Perdue and other officials said the focus on prevention could save money,
noting that federal wildfire costs approached a record $3 billion last year.
"There's no quick fix," Perdue said, but increased collaboration could
eventually save money or at least "get more done with the same costs."
Congress earlier this year created a wildfire disaster fund to help combat
increasingly severe wildfires. The law sets aside more than $20 billion over
eight years to allow the Forest Service and other federal agencies to end a
practice of raiding non-fire-related accounts to cover wildfire costs.
The plan takes effect in October 2019.