In case you missed it, on December 21, President Trump issued an executive order: “EO on Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk.” This should answer all of our questions about what the agency’s priorities are for the duration of his administration. It’s a short read, but here’s my take.
The problem: ” For decades, dense trees and undergrowth have amassed in these lands, fueling catastrophic wildfires.” (No mention of climate change of course.)
The cause: “Active management of vegetation is needed to treat these dangerous conditions on Federal lands but is often delayed due to challenges associated with regulatory analysis and current consultation requirements. In addition, land designations and policies can reduce emergency responder access to Federal land and restrict management practices that can promote wildfire-resistant landscapes.” (In other words, the laws and the public.)
The solution: “Post-fire assessments show that reducing vegetation through hazardous fuel management and strategic forest health treatments is effective in reducing wildfire severity and loss.” “To protect communities and watersheds, to better prevent catastrophic wildfires, and to improve the health of America’s forests, rangelands, and other Federal lands, the Secretaries shall each develop goals and implementation plans for wildfire prevention activities and programs in their respective departments.” This includes, “Reducing vegetation giving rise to wildfire conditions through forest health treatments by increasing health treatments as part of USDA’s offering for sale at least 3.8 billion board feet of timber from USDA FS lands…,” and, “the Secretaries shall identify salvage and log recovery options from lands damaged by fire during the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons, insects, or disease.” (I’m looking forward to a definition of “health treatments” so that we can tell if they are increasing that share of the volume targets.)
The EO “promotes” this solution by calling for the kind of coordination, streamlining and speeding up the legally required processes that has been ongoing in the agency, and for a new “wildfire strategy” by the end of the Trump Administration. For the most part it sounds to me like the traditional charge of “cut corners to get the cut out” “consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.” That last part usually doesn’t seem to get the same priority, which typically leads to more litigation. Interesting that there is no mention of the wildland urban interface (which is where pretty much everyone agrees should be the priority).
Producing the wildfire strategy does include a requirement to “Review land designations and policies that may limit active forest management and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires…” That seems to implicate forest plans, but it doesn’t suggest changing them, and if there are such limits they are probably there for a good, publicly supported reason.
Oh, and no mention of science.