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Trump Administration Falsely Blames Environmental Lawsuits for Forest Fires

Photo by Ervins Strauhmanis | CC BY 2.0

It is clear that the Trump administration is leading on one thing: making stuff up. Ryan Zinke, Sonny Perdue, Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte followed Donald Trump’s lead in using alternative facts in their recent press conference near the Lolo Peak Fire. The Trump administration apparently believes that it is because of lawsuits that we have forest fires during this exceptionally hot, dry and windy summer.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies is a powerful group and we fight hard to preserve forests, but we certainly don’t control the weather or the warming climate. Moreover, there is no lawsuit in the Lolo Peak area, and the Lolo Peak area has already undergone extensive logging.

In the Trump administration’s alternative reality, climate change has nothing to do with forest fires because, as Trump has pronounced, “global warming is a Chinese hoax.” The 2014 National Climate Assessment estimates wildfires in Montana will increase by 400 percent to 700 percent in the next 50 years if climate change is not addressed.

Protecting old growth forests from logging is one way to do this. National forests absorb an astounding 10 percent of the carbon that America creates and unlogged and old growth forests absorb the most.

The politicians at the Lolo Peak Fire press conference could do something about the main driver of wildfire — they could commit to addressing climate change – starting with participation in the Paris Climate Accord. But instead they promote more coal burning and taxpayer-subsidized logging on public lands, which will only exacerbate climate change.

The Trump administration has even complained that our lawsuit temporarily pausing the Stonewall timber sale resulted in the wildfire burning in the northern part of the Stonewall project area. Not surprisingly, their argument is not supported by facts. That wildfire started with a lighting strike outside of the planned treatment units, so the fire would have started regardless of whether the project units were logged. Indeed, natural wildfires regularly burn in this area, as evidenced by the fact that the Park Creek fire is now surrounded on three sides by formerly burned areas, which have mostly stopped the spread of this fire. Significantly, it also does not appear that any of the timber sale’s commercial logging units have burned.

These fact-challenged politicians also claimed that we have shut down half the timber sales in Montana, a contention that even the U.S. Forest Service denied. Instead, our region of the Forest Service has met 89 percent of its timber logging targets over the last 15 years and the target has been increasing almost every year. 2017 is not over yet, but a February Great Falls Tribune article titled “Logging in Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest best in decades” reported that loggers had never seen this much timber available.

These politicians also neglected to mention that the state’s largest wildfire — 270,000 acres that destroyed 16 homes in eastern Montana — burned mostly through grasslands, not forests, which is probably why they held their pro-logging press conference in front of Lolo Peak rather than in eastern Montana.

The Trump administration calls it “frivolous” when citizens prevail in lawsuits forcing the government to comply with its own laws. To the contrary, it is the basis of our democracy and civil justice system that citizens have the power to force the government to follow its own laws. So despite the barrage of lies, insults, fear-mongering and scapegoating directed at us, we will not back down. We will continue to fight to protect and conserve our priceless public lands and the fish and wildlife that depend on them for survival. Join us.

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Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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