Energy & Environment

Zinke to visit California to address wildfires

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is making an impromptu stop in California this week to tour two of the sites ravaged by recent wildfires, the department announced Tuesday. 

Zinke on Wednesday will visit Paradise, Calif., the site of the still-burning Camp Fire that has killed at least 42 people in the northern part of the state. The secretary will then visit a community devastated by the Woolsey Fire that has burned more than 100,000 acres spanning across Malibu, Thousand Oaks and Calabasas in Southern California. He also plans to meet with California Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Interior secretary canceled a previously planned official visit to Asia at the behest of the White House to address the ongoing California wildfire, an Interior spokesperson told The Hill.

Zinke’s plans to visit the state comes days after President Trump tweeted Saturday that California’s wildfires were caused by poor forest management and threatened to withhold emergency funding. The comments created a cascade of negative reactions from state and federal lawmakers, who in turn argued the fires were a result of increased drought caused by climate change.

“Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change, and those who deny that definitely are contributing to the tragedies that we are witnessing and will continue to witness,” Brown said in remarks directed toward the president Sunday.

The trip will be Zinke’s second to California since the summer to address the issue of wildfires. In August, the secretary traveled to Redwood, Calif., with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to preach increased forest management — a word often used to describe logging. Perdue oversees the U.S. Forest Service.

At the time Zinke said California’s fires were not an effect of climate change, but rather of a state afraid to cut down trees.

“I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth. This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management,” Zinke told Sacramento station KCRA at the time.

In an USA Today op-ed that coincided with the trip, Zinke blamed “radical environmentalists” who would “rather see forests and communities burn than see a logger in the woods.”

President Trump voiced similar thoughts over the weekend when he blamed California for failing to managed its forests.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted late Friday, threatening to withhold federal funds even as firefighters in the state grappled with the blazes.

“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” Trump tweeted.

Politicians and experts were quick to counter that many of the state’s fires don’t occur in wooded areas, including the Woolsey Fire, which has burned in valleys growing more shrubs than trees and through communities located mere miles from the ocean.

Updated at 3:09 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Ryan Zinke Sonny Perdue
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