Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, in a press briefing Tuesday on California’s raging forest fires, called for more management of federal forest lands to be shifted to local authorities, arguing that this would help prevent fires.
Forest Service chief Vicki Christiansen, who took office on Thursday after six months as interim chief, said the USDA agency would spend $2.6 billion on fire suppression “for this historic fire season,” roughly the same as in 2017.
After a record-setting fire season in 2017, this year “is showing all signs of another historic year,” said interim Forest Service chief Vicki Christiansen on Thursday. “I will say above normal is our new normal.”
An area the size of New Zealand, some 29.7 million hectares (73.4 million acres), was stripped of tree cover during 2016, says data on Global Forest Watch, an increase of 51 percent from the previous year. "Forest fires seem to be a primary cause for this year's spike, including dramatic fire-related degradation in Brazil," wrote two World Resources Institute analysts in a blog.
The national forests are frequently judged on two criteria: How many board feet of timber they produce and how much the government spends to fight wildfires, says the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute. In a report, it says the 2018 farm bill could create rural jobs, protect drinking water and wildlife, and reduce fire risks by doubling forest restoration work.
An additional 16,000 square miles — larger than the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined — burned in forest fires since 1984 due to climate change, nearly double the area that would have burned otherwise, says a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger and the reason [rising temperatures] is really clear," said bioclimatologist Park Williams, a co-author of the study.
More than 100,000 people died prematurely because of smoke and haze created by vast forest fires, mainly in Indonesia, last year, said the New York Times, pointing to research by two U.S. universities. The blazes destroyed more than 10,000 square miles of forests and began with fires intended "to clear land for palm oil plantations and other uses," said the newspaper.
Some 26 million trees in the southern Sierra Nevada region of California have died since last October due to drought, insect damage and hotter-than-normal weather, according to an aerial survey by the Forest Service, bringing the state total to 66 million dead trees. "Tree die-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
"In a smoldering letter to lawmakers," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Congress failed to enact a long-term plan to pay the cost of fighting forest fires, despite giving the Forest Service a healthy increase in funding this year, reports the Washington Post.
The Forest Service spends 42 percent of its money to fight forest fires, a share that has nearly tripled in size since 1995, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in calling for a new approach to wildfire funding. To help pay for fire-fighting, the Forest Service, a USDA agency, routinely has …