The Trump Administration Will Not Be Happy About the Forest Service’s New Fire Management Strategy

The strategy emphasizes science and a changing climate.

A U.S. Flag is placed on a wildfire-ravaged property as rain comes down in the the Coffey Park area in Santa Rosa, Calif. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

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As wildfires continue to rage across the West during a brutally hot summer, on Thursday the US Forest Service released its new forest fire management strategy that focuses on science and the changing climate. The report comes at the same time the president has sent out misleading tweets about the causes and solutions of California’s wildfires, and as Donald Trump’s Interior head Ryan Zinke has blamed fires on environmentalists, denied climate change science, and called for more logging.

Zinke has said the forest fires have “nothing to do with climate change” and recently called the left “angry,” “intolerant” and “uninformed” on the environment and public land management, according to the Huffington Post.

But the Department of the Interior disputes this in an email to Mother Jones, saying, “The Secretary addressed the correlation between climate and fires dozens of times over the 48 hours he was in California and all week in interviews since returning. Additionally, in his op-ed, the Secretary directly addressed longer, hotter, drier seasons in the opening paragraphs.” It’s true that Zinke changed his tune—after his earlier comments, Zinke told reporters Thursday that climate change has played a role in the fires and that global temperatures are rising.

Trump weighed in on California’s fires on Twitter earlier this month, with tweets that were immediately described as false and misleading, saying, “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized…Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”

Mother Jones asked an expert to decipher this nonsense, and you can read his analysis here.

But today, the Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, released a new 28-page fire-management strategy. In it, the service writes, “Of particular concern are longer fire seasons and the rising size and severity of wildfires, along with the growing risk to lives, homes, natural resources, and other values.” The report also includes a map of changes in fire weather seasons in the United States between 1979 and 2017, a phenomenon scientists warn is largely due to climate change:

US Forest Service

Though the Forest Service doesn’t mention the words “climate change” specifically (as past versions of the plan have), it points out that “changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and other environmental conditions” are all “driving factors” behind wildfires and other environmental challenges. And in the Appendix, the Forest Service writes, “effects of a changing climate” are a general threat to forest health.

“It’s a breath of fresh air to see science, instead of politics, inserted into forest and fire management,” said Kirin Kennedy, associate legislative director for lands and wildlife at the Sierra Club, in a statement. “The longer Ryan Zinke continues to ignore these facts the greater the risks to homes and families.”

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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