President Trump issued an Executive Order late last year directing the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to increase logging on lands under their agencies’ control by 31% above levels of timber harvest in 2017. The Washington Post reported that the President had been itching to sign this Order — he wanted to do it during his trip to California in mid-November, an inside source told The Post, but it wasn’t ready for his signature. The order only became public earlier this week. The Order is worded in a way that makes clear the President was trying to use the fires last year in California as the rationale for the order’s directives.
- It states that “reducing vegetation through hazardous fuel management and strategic forest health treatments is effective in reducing wildfire severity and loss.”
- Then it goes on to state that “[actions must be taken across landscapes to prioritize treatments in order to enhance fuel reduction and forest-restoration projects that protect life and property, and to benefit rural economies through encouraging utilization of the by-products of forest restoration.”
- It then directs the Secretaries to “give all due consideration to establishing the following objectives for 2019, as feasible and appropriate” and then directs the agencies to offer millions of board feet of timber for sale in 2019.
Moreover, according to The Post, these agencies have given their permission for logging on federal lands to continue during the shutdown — something that was not allowed during the prior long lasting shutdowns in 2013 and 1995. Apparently, these agencies are even considering calling furloughed workers from these agencies back to conduct timber sales, but not to do the kind of land management that would actually prevent fires.
Why This Matters: Experts say that the timber sales directed by the President are unlikely to reduce fire risk since there is so much land at risk of fire due to climate change. The Post explained that “fires have increased fivefold since the 1970s as temperatures have risen and snowpack has shrunk. Just 2 percent of lands treated by the Forest Service between 2004 and 2013 experienced a wildfire.” In short, fire experts say we cannot “groom” our way out of our fire problems – the forces of climate change are too great. So the only winners will be the timber companies who get to harvest more timber, even as the government’s effective fire prevention efforts remain halted by the government shutdown.