April 24, 2019 – Late last year, Northern California was ravaged by a wildfire that became the deadliest and most destructive fire on record in the state. At least 85 people died and 14,000 residences were destroyed. Now, months later, reports warn that the water in Paradise, California is tainted with cancer-causing chemicals that may be a result of the fire.
President Trump’s response to the fire? An executive order issued on December 21, 2018 that advocates for cutting down trees across millions of acres of federal forest lands. The order calls for a 31 percent increase in logging, as compared to 2017.
Trump’s assertion that cutting down trees may curb forest fires is not only misleading, it’s dangerous. While projects to thin forests can help prevent fires, large-scale industrial timber harvesting has actually been associated with worse fires in states like Montana and the Pacific Northwest, according to Pacific Standard.
Climate change is a huge factor in the worsening of forest fires. The excessive drought California faces leads to dry, timber-like underbrush which serves as the perfect fuel for fires. High winds and heat are also contributing factors.
Scientists, experts and governors have pleaded with the federal government and called for a cut in greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the potential of forest fires.
“We can’t log our way out of the fire problem — thinning all the forests is not possible,” said University of Colorado Boulder professor Jennifer Balch to the Washington Post. “And even if it were, it won’t stop fires in the extreme weather that is happening more frequently, and will in the future.”
Instead, Trump appears to be using this opportunity to expand the logging industry and increase timber sales, instead of saving the dwindling number of trees and forests we have left. Also notable is that his executive order makes no mention of climate change.
Former Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke shifted blame onto environmentalists who have used courts to block forest thinning projects that he said could reduce the risk of fires – even going so far as to call them “environmental terrorist groups”.
Trump himself suggested that the US should follow the Finnish example of combating forest fires, what he claimed to be “raking and cleaning and doing things.” Sauli Niinisto, president of Finland, later clarified he had never used raking as a method to curb forest fires.
These forest fires have devasted the lives of countless Americans and should not be taken lightly – rather a comprehensive approach is needed. Trump’s ill-informed assertions further damage fragile ecosystems within forests, rather than prevent devastating fires.
“All the fire ecologists are saying the same thing: You can’t log your way out of this situation,” said Denise Boggs, a member of Conservation Congress, to the Sacramento Bee. “Logging in the back country is just a gift to the timber industry.”
The American people deserve to know if the President and his administration are making decisions based on industry wishes. The country deserves a President who will make the environment cleaner and safer – our lives depend on it.
Global Witness campaigns to end environmental and human rights abuses driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. www.globalwitness.org