Ideology was on display at a grandstanding event on the Lolo Peak Fire.
Secretary Sonny Perdue, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Congressman Greg Gianforte and Senator Steve Daines got a briefing from the fire management team, and then held a short press conference.
Senator Daines repeated a refrain that Montana Republicans have been saying for years: That lawsuits from extreme environmental groups are preventing the U.S. Forest Service from carrying out logging and thinning projects that would remove trees and prevent wildfires… “It is the lawyers who are – funding for these extreme environmental groups — who are having a tremendous impact, devastating impact on allowing us to move forward here on some common sense timber projects,” Daines said.
Both Perdue and Congressman Greg Gianforte pointed to a 5,000 acre logging project called the Stonewall that was approved by the Helena Lewis and Clark National Forest outside Lincoln in 2016. That was then put on hold in January by a judge responding to a lawsuit from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council. That area is now burning as part of the Park Creek fire sparked by lightning this summer.
But, after listening to audio of the press conference this afternoon, the dean of the Forestry School at the University of Montana, Tom DeLuca, cautioned against expecting too much from a timber sale or wildfire fuel management projects… On a windy, hot day, a fire will carry right through that understory or in those crowns regardless of whether it’s been thinned or not. It does change the behavior… There are also studies that try to quantify how much more severe wildfires are in recent years due to climate change. DeLuca says it’s clear that human-caused climate change from burning fossil fuels is making fire seasons longer and more intense.
Sen. Daines says, “We go through warmer cycles, cooler cycles, droughts, excessive precipitation. We are in a warm cycle right now, we are in drought conditions here in Montana consequently we’re having a severe fire season.”
(Climate scientist Steve) Running says.., “”What I heard is the kind of evasive response, ‘yeah weather’s always changing and we’ve had dry seasons and fire seasons before,’ and so the implication that there’s nothing really new and this is just part of natural cycles. Of course in the climate change research community we’ve well documented in dozens and dozens of peer reviews papers that the fire season’s getting longer and overall we’re burning more acres than in the past and that we’re on a trend of longer fire seasons and bigger fires,” Running says… It’s always the case that if you pick any one year out you can say there’s been other years like this, but when we study climate, we’re studying decades, multi-decadal trends, and we clearly document multi-decadal trends of longer, warmer summers and more, bigger fires.”
At least Perdue agreed, “There obviously is climate change …”