President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday that calls for expanding logging on millions of acres of federal forest lands as part of a plan to reduce wildfire risks.
“For decades, dense trees and undergrowth have amassed in these lands, fueling catastrophic wildfires,” Trump wrote in the order, released as Congress haggled over funding for Trump’s border wall with a government shutdown looming. “These conditions, along with insect infestation, invasive species, disease, and drought, have weakened our forests, rangelands, and other federal lands, and have placed communities and homes at risk of damage from catastrophic wildfires. Active management of vegetation is needed to treat these dangerous conditions on Federal lands but is often delayed.”
Trump’s order calls for easing regulatory burdens that would allow for the harvest of least 3.8 billion board feet of timber from lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and another 600 million board feet of timber on Bureau of Land Management property.
Those figures represent a substantial increase in timber sales over recent years.
In 2017, the Forest Service harvested more than 2.9 billion board feet of timber, according to a summary the agency released last year. In 2016, the BLM had more than 233.2 million board feet of timber for sale.
Environmental groups blasted Trump’s order.
Denise Boggs of the the Northern California environmental group Conservation Congress said it ignored climate change, and didn’t address the need to thin areas directly around communities to prevent them from catching fire.
“It won’t work, and we know that ... All the fire ecologists are saying the same thing: You can’t log your way out of this situation,” Boggs said. “Logging in the back country is just a gift to the timber industry.”
Boggs said environmentalists will certainly sue if Trump tries to ramp up logging.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has advocated for more aggressive timber management to boost struggling rural economies and to proactively fight fires. This year, Northern California’s devastating Carr and Camp fires became the backdrop as Trump and administration officials made their case.
“We have to do management, maintenance,” Trump said while touring Camp Fire-scorched Paradise neighborhoods last month. “We’ll be working also with environmental groups. I think everybody’s seen the light.”
He cited the “forest nation” of Finland, which Trump said spends “a lot of time raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem.”
Touring Redding neighborhoods burned by the Carr Fire this summer, Trump’s outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed “special interest” environmentalists for using the courts to block thinning projects that he said would reduce fire risk.
“We have been held hostage by these environmental terrorist groups ... that have refused to allow harvest of timber,” Zinke earlier told conservative news outlet Breitbart News.
While state officials are less likely to use the word “logging” to describe the work, California has vowed to become more aggressive when it comes to forest management.
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown secured $96 million from the Legislature this year to pay for more forest management projects.
He also signed Senate Bill 901, which attempts to shield electric utilities from certain wildfire costs but also relaxes logging restrictions for larger trees on small parcels of privately owned land.
The new law allocates $1 billion over five years, generated by proceeds from the state’s “cap and trade” carbon emissions program, to ramp up forest thinning.