Does Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Want to Log America’s National Parks?

It sure sort of, kind of, sounds that way.

Check out this piece from Outdoor Life:

The Sprague Fire that burned the [Sperry] chalet was part of a wider trend last summer that saw the worst fire season in Montana in 30 years. As we walk, Zinke points to the dense stand of Douglas fir on the slopes above [Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald]. It’s an uninviting desert of same-aged trees, too thick to hike through, a monoculture unbroken by a larch or an aspen.

“Those trees are a fire waiting to happen. We spent $2 billion on fire suppression this year. We can’t afford to keep doing that. The first step in fire management has got to be prevention. The reality is that our climate is changing. We are having longer fire seasons, and fires are bigger and burn hotter. So we need to reduce the fuel load. We need proactive timber management, including using prescribed burns in times of the year when it makes sense.”

“Are you recommending that we log our national parks?” I ask Zinke. National parks are among the most restrictive of the many designations of land use in the Department of Interior’s 500-million-acre real-estate portfolio, a fifth of the nation’s land mass. You can’t hunt in national parks, there’s no resource development, and many other activities are categorically prohibited, including commercial logging.

His answer — I think — is contained in a looping, obtuse answer that characterizes much of our day-long conversation. The Secretary of the Interior tells me that in his meeting with Glacier’s administrators, he raised the question of timber management inside the park. Zinke wants to see more cutting and thinning, both to reduce the intensity of wildfire and to boost biodiversity in critical ecosystems.

“I had a parks administrator tell me that timber management wasn’t his priority, that his priority was managing visitors. I told him, ‘Then what do I need you for? If managing visitors is your only job, then all I need is a ticket-taker at the entrance gate.’ So many people get into park management because they’re preservationists. I’m a conservationist, and that means actually managing what we’re stewards of.”

13 Comments

  1. Very interesting especially to hear Zinke on the record saying “The reality is that our climate is changing.” (in paragraph 2 above)

    In some parks the NPS has a pretty active prescribed fire program but I have no info about Glacier NP. As a former timber forester and NPS employee I can’t accept the premise that our parks need to be logged. Fire is the appropriate tool to use.

    What happens to park managers when the incentive to produce revenue via a timber sale program begins to override biological objectives? Sounds like a slippery slope…

    Zinke shows his complete ignorance when he says all he needs is a ticket taker. There’s much more to managing people in natural landscapes than collecting money. Obviously, the secretary is another one of Trump’s “gems” that we’re stuck with – for now.

    • Yosemite’s track record in fire management has been spotty, at best. They even admitted it, and that, in itself, is the beginning of better management, than strictly hands-off. There has been “logging” in Yosemite several times, already, even as recent as the Obama Administration.

      • There is a significant difference between not being “hands-off” in managing parks and believing that “timber management” has a place in national parks (hint: it does not). There may be some places where the equivalent of pre-commercial thinning needs to be done because it’s unsafe or impractical to burn it out, but that ought to be done on a holistic *ecosystem management* basis, not on any principle of managing for specific timber harvest goals.

        • A National Parks-wide commercial timber program? No, of course not. Cut and sell timber in situations where it makes sense? Sure, why not? The best example I can think of is in and around the giant sequoia groves in the Sierras in California, where some of the sequoias are stressed by drought, and that stress that is exacerbated in overcrowded stands. Thinning, including cutting white fir trees larger than the 30-inch diameter limit, would help. And if logs are sold to pay for the work, good.

          • Rocky Mountain National Park roadside hazard tree burnpiles Of course, the National Parks do cut trees! See RMNP photo. They can’t sell them as far as I know.
            Should they do fuel breaks around buildings? Should they cut trees to protect other trees/owl nests? I think most people would agree that some tree cutting in Parks is fine. If they are cut and valuable, should they be sold or used for personal firewood or burned in piles? It would be interesting to have a more in-depth discussion with Zinke.

          • Tree removal does not mean timber management in this case. Nor does logging mean timber management. Tree removal or management to achieve objectives of protecting historic sites from fire? To protect the public or allow ingress/egress for fire fighting resources and the public? That is a far cry from timber management…

        • I agree that this was confusing when the author wrote:
          “His answer — I think — is contained in a looping, obtuse answer that characterizes much of our day-long conversation. The Secretary of the Interior tells me that in his meeting with Glacier’s administrators, he raised the question of timber management inside the park. Zinke wants to see more cutting and thinning, both to reduce the intensity of wildfire and to boost biodiversity in critical ecosystems.”
          We don’t know if Zinke used the expression “timber management” nor exactly what he meant (other than reducing wildfire intensities and boosting biodiversity). Maybe he meant cutting trees- maybe he meant cutting trees for these reasons.

  2. I would rather see a thinned forest than fire ravaged dead forest. I rather be able to see Crater lake without smoke obscuring the view or the roads closed. I rather use our resources than spend billions burning them up.
    Letting the forest burn and not logging it is not always the answer.

  3. The growth of (our) federal deficit is unsustainable. It is situations like this that get to the thrux of the problem. With no accountability in the decision making process when it comes to the debt the end result will be a financial “firestorm”. Who is going to take the blame? Every day I witness the irresponsible spending by federal land managers while at the same time spouting “we don’t have the funds”. Nobody that I know runs their business this way. I don’t think other countries manage their Parks the way we do.
    That said, why don’t we keep managing the Parks the way we are now, so that we have an example of what no management looks like and start managing the rest of our forests the way they deserve to be managed.

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