Interior Secretary and former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke has blamed "radical environmental groups" for a lack of forest management in California which he says paved the way for tinderbox conditions that led to the recent wildfires which have killed more than 80 people, while over 700 are still missing.
Zinke told reporters on a Tuesday conference call that "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" prevented the state from safely managing its forests.
"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, according to CNN. "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."
In August, Zinke called out "extreme environmentalists" in an interview with KCRA, while he also lambasted "environmental terrorists groups that have not allowed public access, that refuse to allow harvest of timber" in an interview with Breitbart Radio the day before.
The Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch noted in August:
Zinke is taking the conversation away from global warming and bringing it back to land management, including the litigation and environmental laws that keep officials from actively managing the forests.
Instead, activists focus on global warming, arguing human-caused warming has expanded wildfire season due to longer hotter, drier conditions in the western states. At the same time, these groups often oppose efforts to clear forests of debris and dead wood that fuel fires when hot, dry weather sets in every year.
“I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth,” Zinke told the Sacramento-based KCRA. “This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management.”
Wildfire experts tend to see land management and urban growth as prime drivers of wildfires.
Many experts also see global warming as a factor in the rise of fires, but admit the relationship is more complicated than the media lets on.
“The story can’t be a simply that warming is increasing the numbers of wildfires in California because the number of fires is declining. And area burned has not been increasing either,” University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass wrote in a recent blog post.
In fact, the recent National Climate Assessment special report gave “low to medium confidence for a detectable human climate change contribution in the western United States based on existing studies.”
Most wildfires are caused by humans, mostly unintentionally. Sparks from vehicles or equipment, power lines, arson and cigarettes are some of the ways humans cause massive blazes. Lightning is the cause of wildfires humans don’t spark.
In California, for example, humans caused 95 percent of all wildfires, with power lines and utility equipment becoming a growing problem. Research also shows that wildfire season has primarily grown from population growth in fire-prone areas, increasing the chances of a fire-causing spark.