Don’t blame wildfires on climate change – it’s environmentalists’ fault, says Zinke

US interior secretary Ryan Zinke blames environmentalists for the devastation in California and calls for an increase in logging

a wildfire burns near yosemite national park
A wildfire burns near Yosemite national park. Photograph: US forest service/Reuters

— The US interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has blamed environmentalists for California’s ferocious wildfires and claimed, contrary to scientific research, that climate change had “nothing to do” with them. Instead, he said the fires were worsened because of limits on logging.

“America is better than letting these radical groups control the dialogue about climate change,” Zinke told KCRA, a TV station in northern California, on Sunday. “Extreme environmentalists have shut down public access. They talk about habitat and yet they are willing to burn it up.”

His remarks come on the heels of a USA Today op-ed, published last week, where he held environmentalists partly responsible for the fires because of a stance some have taken against logging. Zinke described it as a responsible means of forest management and called for an increase in timber harvesting, adding that this would also be a boon for the economy.

“This is not a debate about climate change,” he said on a trip to the affected area, the Sacramento Bee reported. “There’s no doubt the [fire] season is getting longer, the temperatures are getting hotter.”

 

Zinke’s statements echoed sentiments expressed by President Trump – a 5 August tweet suggested the fires were “made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized”. The claim, referencing decades-long disputes over California water rights, was met with immediate backlash and confusion because firefighters are not struggling with a water shortage. The White House has yet to offer a response or explanation.

More than 1,000 square miles (2,590 sq km) have burned across California in the 2018 fire season and at least eight people have been killed in what is now considered the most destructive fire season on record for the state – several months ahead of when fire season is expected to end.

The Ranch Fire, which continues to scorch swaths of land in northern California has officially taken the record as the largest ever observed in the state, burning close to 469 sq miles (1,214 sq km) alone.

Governor Jerry Brown has called the devastating situation “the new normal” as dry conditions and rising temperatures have elongated the fire season, and has joined climate scientists who attribute the shift to climate change.

Writing in the Guardian last week, climate scientists Daniel Swain, Crystal Kolden and John Abatzoglou said California had entered an “era of megafires” that is linked to “the long-term warming trend”.

Researchers do attribute the recent fires in part to forest management strategies, and moves to inhibit naturally occurring wildfires that previously helped maintain an ecological balance in forests. Fire suppression has left forests dense, dry and primed to burn. Such policies, Swain and his colleagues write, were put in place to protect the timber industry.

Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the science showing a link between worsening wildfires and rising temperatures is well established. “Specifically for the western states,” she said, “we know that the wildfire activity in recent decades – at least half of it – is attributable to human-caused climate change.”

“This is a reality that we have created and that we are living with, but this is an evolving situation. Where we are right now is just one point on a trajectory that is headed in a worsening direction.”


by Gabrielle Canon | The Guardian