Ryan Zinke Suggested Cutting Trees To Stop California Fires

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There's an obvious cause to the forest fires ravaging California this summer: the trees. That's what Donald Trump's Interior Secretary said on Sunday, when he blamed environmentalists for the fires and suggested that the forests need to be cleared to reduce the "fuel." Yes, Ryan Zinke suggested cutting down trees to stop fires in the forests of California.

Zinke made the argument from Whiskeytown Lake National Recreation Area, near where the Carr Fire began in July. He's on a two-day tour of the Redding neighborhoods devastated by the burning, The Sacramento Bee reported. Thus far, the fire has killed eight, burned 191,211 acres, and required 40,000 people evacuate their homes; it's about 61 percent contained as of Monday morning.

"We have to actively manage our forests. The density of our forests is too high, the fuel load is too great,” Zinke told reporters.

He later went on to blame environmentalists. "The public lands belong to everybody, not just the special interest groups," Zinke said. "It doesn’t matter whether you believe or don’t believe in climate change. What is important is we manage our forests.”

Zinke acknowledged that he was taking the point from President Donald Trump, who wrote in tweets last week that water that's being "diverted" to the Pacific Ocean could be used to fight fires, seemingly in rivers, as nature intended. "Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!" Trump tweeted.

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"This is an example, the president’s right. This is an example of we have to actively manage our forests," Zinke said on his visit.

Environmentalists agree that forests need to be managed, Sacramento local news channel KCRA reported. But there seems to be a disagreement on what management means, and whose responsibility it is. "About 40 percent of our wildlands are controlled by the federal government,” Kathryn Phillips of Sierra Club California told KCRA. "But they haven’t put nearly enough, not nearly enough money into proper management of those wildlands."

And to environmentalists, "manage" does not mean strip. Dan Jacobson of Environment California told KCRA, "Business groups come in and say, ‘Oh we need to manage the forests.' And that’s their code word for, 'We need to cut everything down.'"

Trump has attacked the California state government and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown as the one to blame for many of the state's woes — including the fires. "Governor Jerry Brown must allow the Free Flow of the vast amounts of water coming from the North and foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean," Trump tweeted on Monday, Aug. 6. "Can be used for fires, farming and everything else. Think of California with plenty of Water - Nice! Fast Federal govt. approvals."

Cal Fire officials have countered that they don't need more water. "We have plenty of water for the firefight," Cal Fire said in a statement. "The Mendocino complex is next to Clear Lake and the Carr fire has the Whiskeytown Lake and Lake Shasta."

And, though Zinke claims the climate change argument doesn't matter while out touring the damage, he later clarified that he doesn't think it plays a roll. "I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth," Zinke told KCRA. "This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management."

On the ground, climate change is a winning argument. California fire officials have blamed climate change, even if the Interior Department does not.