I think former Interior Secretary Zinke was definitely a lightning rod for many folks. We don’t know why, nor if the new Secretary be equally controversial. Looking back, we can ask questions like “why him? and why not Secretary Perdue?”. Part of it may well be his personality (which I don’t actually know), but plenty of politicians can be irritating. My biases and personal experience would tend to be along the lines of “Congressfolk aren’t necessarily good at governing, more at playing partisan football.”
So let’s talk about four things he’s said that people disagree with (two in this post):
- Fires and Climate
From a story in The Hill here: “It doesn’t matter whether you believe or don’t believe in climate change. What is important is we manage our forests,” Zinke told reporters while visiting the Whisteytown National Recreation Area on Sunday. “This is not a debate about climate change. There’s no doubt the [fire] season is getting longer, the temperatures are getting hotter.” (I think it’s Whiskeytown, but the Hill spelled it that way).
I was mildly surprised when I read this article because the top quote was “I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth. This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management,” Zinke told Sacramento station KCRA.
(my italics). So in two sentences he said 1) fire season is getting longer and temps hotter so yes to climate change but 2) framing this debate as being about climate change does not help people managing fires deal with them.
I agree with 2) . We can’t throw up our hands and say “let’s not do fuel treatments, we just need to stop putting carbon in the atmosphere”. Because we had fires before climate change, and we’ll have fires after climate change. Not only that, but as the IPCC says, it’s unlikely that we will be as successful as we would like in the short run. So we’re stuck with this problem either way. No matter how complicated pundits or academics try to make this, the records show that this is, was, and will be fire country.
So I would say, climate is part of the problem, but only part, and we honestly can’t say how big a part. What we do know is what we can do to help the wildfire problem (many things).
2. Role of Litigation
This is probably the least popular in many circles:
From CNN Politics here “lawsuit after lawsuit by, yes, the radical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forest.” Remember, Zinke is from Montana, where in fact a high proportion of appeals and litigation occur. So I certainly can understand how he would get that impression (for some reason, it seems like passions run higher in Montana about the same issues that other western states deal with). According to some folks in California, not only litigation, appeals and objections, but also fear of litigation, appeals and objections have made some FS folks less enthusiastic about doing fuel treatments or other vegetation management. Litigation is indeed one element of not being able to do fuel treatments (in addition to lack of money and lack of trained people).
Here are more quotes from the same article,
“This is where America stands. It’s not time for finger-pointing. We know the problem: it’s been years of neglect, and in many cases, it’s been these radical environmentalists that want nature to take its course,” Zinke said in the Sunday interview. “We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable.”
Interestingly, Perdue is also quoted: