Trump officials cite California fires in renewing call for forest logging policies

The Trump administration is pointing to the deadly California wildfires to renew its call for Congress to boost the administration’s ability to remove more brush and trees from federal forests.

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Major California utility PG&E filing for bankruptcy after wildfires | Zinke hired at investment firm | Barclays to avoid most Arctic drilling financing Zinke takes job at investment firm Trump taps Commerce watchdog to be new Interior inspector general MORE and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueAgency function is tied to how people feel about their job — that's bad news for USDA research Federal workers sue Trump administration over shutdown, allege work without pay violates 13th Amendment USDA extends deadline for farmers hurt by tariffs to seek aid MORE told reporters Tuesday that the fires, which have killed more than 80 people so far, should spur lawmakers to adopt more “active forest management” policies — a term that refers to increased logging, removing brush, conducting planned burns and other activities.

“The issue, really, right now is: What are we going to do about it?” Perdue said. “These are disasters that we can do some things about. We need to be about doing things that we can do, but we need the authority to do that.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“This is fixable,” Zinke added. “It is absolutely a situation that can be mitigated, but we need to act. It’s unsustainable and unacceptable that we have the devastation, the loss of life, the expense.”

Zinke renewed his denunciation of “radical environmentalists.” He blamed them for the extreme fires, claiming greens repeatedly sue to stop forest management activities like prescribed burns.

“When lawsuit after lawsuit, by, yes, the radical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forests,” he said.

A 2010 Government Accountability Office study found that only about 2 percent of Forest Service decisions on fuel reduction went to court, representing about 1.2 percent of the areas that the agency had approved for management projects.

Negotiators from the House and Senate are hashing out a deal to renew federal agricultural programs, which include forestry programs in the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Perdue and Zinke want lawmakers to stick with numerous provisions in the House version providing new exemptions to the National Environmental Policy Act for some activities and allowing for new partnerships with local governments so that they can manage forests, potentially avoiding federal litigation.

“We’re not talking about clear-cutting. We’re talking about good forest management that makes sense for homes and beautifies the forests, for water quality, watershed protection, wildlife and other recreational activities as well,” Perdue said.

The Senate rejected most of the House’s forestry provisions in its version of the farm bill.

The House’s version included multiple controversial provisions, such as expanding opportunities for loggers to remove trees after fires, doubling the size of areas that could be exempt from environmental review for logging, loosening rules protecting imperiled species from forest management practices and letting some roads get built in areas that were previously protected.

To conservation groups, the exclusions from environmental review are the most harmful pieces of the House bill.

“Such ‘categorical exclusions’ prevent public involvement in national forest management, eliminate a thorough review of the effects of government actions, and erode public confidence in public land management,” a green coalition wrote to lead Senate negotiators last month.

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesOvernight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Mont.) welcomed the new push from the administration, saying better forest management can put a significant dent in fires.

"The farm bill is a perfect vehicle to enact strong forest management reforms that will help reduce the risk of severe wildfire and minimize tragedies from happening again," he said in a statement. "I applaud President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Rove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Ann Coulter blasts Trump shutdown compromise: ‘We voted for Trump and got Jeb!’ MORE and the administration for working to press these needed reforms, and I urge negotiators to include them in the final bill."