‘It is absolutely preventable’; US vows to work more closely with states to fight wildfires

Cal Fire bulldozer 2341 pushes through a mound of burning vegetation due to a wildfire in Grass Valley, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 | Photo by Elias Funez/The Union via The Associated Press, St. George News

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.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, joined at right by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., discuss ways to improve the health of the forests and how to reduce wildfires, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. | Associated Press photo by J. Scott Applewhite, St. George News

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.

Read more: Here’s why St. George firefighters are donning black bands around their badges this week

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 Capitol.

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.

Read more: State and local politicians blame the spread of the Brian Head fire on environmentalists

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.

Higgins Fire Protection District firefighters spread water on smoldering spots of the Wolf Incident that burned vegetation in Grass Valley, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 Photo by Elias Funez/The Union via The Associated Press, St. George News

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 Northwest.

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.

Read more: As Kaibab forest fire burns, officials warn of health issues from smoke

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 the smoke.

“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.

Written by MATTHEW DALY, The Associated Press

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Brian August 17, 2018 at 8:13 am

    It isn’t rocket science: Work hand in hand with the logging industry, giving them access to log in a way that’s appropriate to a given area. Have a program requiring them to replant, reseed, and clean up undergrowth in the areas they log, including burn piles (that must help replenish the forest somehow because the forest service on Cedar Mountain is in love with them… you’d think we were saving the world and earning millions off each and every one with as many as they have up there). This plan will require forethought, you can’t fight against them for decades and then expect them to log dead trees that have been rotten upright for years. This has to be a long-term plan that benefits everyone, including Mother Earth.

    • bikeandfish August 17, 2018 at 10:57 am

      They do actively log on most national forest, just not as aggressively as some like. The Dixie USFS had plans to log many of the areas on Cedar Mt but it xwent into lawsuits which they can’t control; the logging companies backed out.

      The burn piles are actually an example of successful fuels projects. The Dixie succeeded at keeping last year’s fire away from major communities. Fuels projects, ie what burn piles are a sign of, were successful on the mountain. You know some of the worst parts of last year’s fire? SITLA lands where it started.

      What we don’t need are politicians like these two exploiting severe natural disasters for an agenda. Especially given how this administration hamstrung these agencies this winter with hiring freezes and ridiculously low budgets. You can’t complain about fuel densities on one hand and take away the tools the agencies needed on the other. For decades we have underfunded the natural resource agencies and its impacted many things.

      Yes logging helps. Active management helps. But this isn’t a new concept in the BLM and USFS. Let the experts do their jobs.

      • Brian August 18, 2018 at 7:06 am

        While its true there were lawsuits its also true that the person over Dixie USFS at the time was a back-east liberal that didn’t put up much resistance and didn’t want much logging on the mountain anyway and didn’t want to spray for bark beetles. Of course the logging companies backed out, they had no option. And when they left (some moved, some went under) they took the jobs and revenue with them.

        The difference between the Cedar Mountain of 30 years ago and the Cedar Mountain of 10 years ago is staggering. Its starting to come back (yes, the burn piles are doing their job, but at a massive tax-payer expense that was totally avoidable), but it will be many years before it’s back to where it was 30 years ago. That responsibility lies both with those that brought the lawsuits (SEWA, Sierra Club, etc) and those that didn’t really fight against them. Unfortunately much of the BLM and USFS has been taken over by people with a huge agenda that is very contrary to the traditional western way of life (logging, ranging, recreation, etc).

        • bikeandfish August 18, 2018 at 10:19 am

          Who was the regional or district ranger at the time, should be easy to name the person? Also, please show me that they were an “back-east liberal “?

          My point is its not that simple. USFS lands are heavily regulated at the national level and have been for decades. It wasn’t the district or regional ranger who defended the sale in court but the federal lawyers. And the stay/injunction won because the court found the people suing had standing and merit. Environmental law has influenced timber sales since the seventies. I fully believe the environmental lobby has a share of blame in many instances as they use one tool and bludgeon small operations with it (ie the case on Cedar, even if it was a timber sale limited in size and scope). But they often have law on their side. And its the same tools at the disposal of everyone hence why we see cases go forward that many disagree with. If you don’t have standing and merit you can’t win in court.

          Lets also be honest, logging on the Cedar wasn’t going to stop the spread of the bark beetle. It could limit its influence but our mountain was going to change without wholesale clear cuts, which would also radically change the plateau. We’ve had an ecological understanding of the life cycle of these beetles for a while and its spread was almost certain even with active management and aggressive timber sales.

          And no, the regional and district USFS offices were most timber sales happen is not filled with anti-western values employees. Most are well-trained specialist who care about the mission statement of the USFS which hasn’t been changed in ages. The care about multiple-use. Timber sales and projects are constantly green-lighted on the Dixie by these professionals because they know it benefits the forests. You see it happening across every district of the forest. Most staff I know who work for the forest are hunters, harvest wood themselves, fish, etc. And if you think the USFS is against ranching then clearly we recreate in different places on western mountains because I run into sheep and cattle on the regular,

          Zinke et al are using lazy rhetoric and tragedy to further an agenda. Its not going to help anyone in a sustainable manner.

  • Striker4 August 17, 2018 at 10:44 am

    Well then stop sitting there behind your keyboard and pick up a shovel and rake and go clean up the undergrowth

    • Real Life August 17, 2018 at 6:41 pm

      Job: get one. Dope: get off it.

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