Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke moved Tuesday to combat the spread of catastrophic wildfires by clearing more trees, a policy switch that represents a dramatic departure from nearly three decades of hands-off management in the federal forests.
He released a department-wide memo calling on supervisors and managers to “think about fire in a new and aggressive way” by clearing the dead and dying trees and vegetation that have overrun the federal forests and heightened wildfire danger.
“This Administration will take a serious turn from the past and will proactively work to prevent forest fires through aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management to save lives, homes, and wildlife habitat,” said Mr. Zinke in a statement.
His policy directive comes with Western states battling one of the more destructive wildfire seasons in recent years. Currently, 62 large wildfires are burning in nine states, led by 20 in Montana, with more than 48,000 blazes searing 8.1 million acres so far this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Mr. Zinke said recent damaging wildfire seasons have been described as “the new normal,” but that it was “unacceptable that we should be satisfied with the status quo.”
“It is well settled that the steady accumulation and thickening of vegetation in areas that have historically burned at frequent intervals exacerbates fuel conditions and often leads to larger and higher-intensity fires,” said Mr. Zinke. “These fires are more damaging, more costly, and threaten the safety and security of both the public and firefighters.”
Mr. Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have expressed frustration with the thicket of federal regulations and environmental appeals that have snarled efforts to thin the forests, including those under the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
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