Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said during a visit to fire-ravaged regions of California this weekend that the Trump administration would seek changes in forestry management policies to reduce the severity of wildfires.
Zinke was in Redding, California, to tour the devastation of the Carr Fire and advocate for President Donald Trump’s plan to restart logging to prevent huge wildfires by thinning forests.
At the Whiskeytown Recreation Area near Redding, Secretary Zinke likened the Carr Fire’s destruction to the type of devastation he saw as a former Navy Seal acting commander during the Iraq War, according to the Redding Searchlight.
As he looked at 180-foot high Pacific Gas and Electric high-voltage power transmission towers that had been mangled by 160-mph winds from the super-heated Carr Fire tornado, Zinke grimaced, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve seen a lot of fires.”
Accompanied by U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, Zinke said that the administration will seek congressional policy changes to expedite post-wildfire environmental reviews for tree thinning and salvage logging operations that currently can take up to two years.
Zinke warned that if burnt trees are not logged within those two years, they lose their commercial lumber value and create a fire hazard. He added that delays ruin timber’s value and the federal government ends up paying people to remove rotting trees.
LaMalfa told the Searchlight that the forests need be thinned in an effort to achieve better fuels management to prevent record-size fires: “In this beautiful place we have, normally we should be welcoming people to be recreating rather than evacuating.”
Secretary Zinke said that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, will soon submit a proposal to streamline environmental review.
Cal Fire reported on Monday morning that the three-week-old Carr Fire has torched 202,976 acres to become the eighth largest fire in the history of California. But at only 61% contained, and with AccuWeather forecasting that high temperatures are expected to rise by about 5 degrees to 104 degrees this weekend, the wildfire could grow substantially.
The Carr Fire has already destroyed 1,077 residences, 22 commercial structures, and 500 outbuildings. It has also damaged hundreds more structures and currently threatens another 528, according to the latest cooperating agency report.
Insurance Information Institute spokesperson Janet Ruiz told CBS News last week that this year’s insured and uninsured California wildfire losses had already topped an estimated $1.5 billion.
Ruiz commented that this year’s losses followed an insurance industry record $10 to $12 billion in losses from wildfires in California last year. That was up to almost triple the state’s prior 2007 record of $4 billion.
Ms. Ruiz estimated that due to the lack of coverage, fire insurance will only pay between half and two-thirds of the total losses.