President Donald Trump signed the $867 billion farm bill Thursday, which included provisions that give federal foresters more flexibility to take proactive measures to mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
The provisions, which were spearheaded by Republican Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, would allow foresters to more quickly remove dead and diseased trees that increased fire risks. Federal officials will also be allowed to more easily sign cooperative agreements with states and tribes to manage forests.
“One life lost is too many, let alone 88 like we saw in California’s Camp Fire,” Gosar said in a statement. “Years of mismanagement has left our forests vulnerable to insects and disease and ripe for catastrophic wildfires.”
“This flawed approach causes us to spend billions of dollars on the backend to suppress fire, neglecting hazardous fuels reduction and putting our communities at increasing risk of catastrophic fire,” Gosar said.
Wildfires consumed over 8.5 million acres in 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Among those fires was the deadly Camp Fire that swept through northern California, killing 88 people and destroying thousands of homes.
The Camp Fire caused up to $13 billion worth of damage and could eventually cause California utility rates to spike. The fire, which became the deadliest and most destructive in state history, began on property surrounded by the Plumas National Forest in northern California. (RELATED: Investigation Finds California’s Devastating Wildfire Resulted From Bad Land Management)
Though its cause is unclear, but authorities believe power lines could have sparked the Camp Fire. Democrats and environmentalists argue global warming was making fires worse, but forestry experts and Republicans point to poor forest management.
Outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed “radical environmentalists” for preventing federal and state officials from properly thinning and clearing debris from forests. Activists for years filed lawsuits and lobbied to prevent forests from being thinned, Zinke said.
“We need to go back to prescribed burns late in the season so you don’t have these catastrophic burns, remove the dead and dying timber, sustainable harvests, get the small mom and pop mills back where they’re grazing the forest and return to healthy forests,” Zinke said in a November radio interview.
Trump blamed California’s “poor” forest management for the Camp Fire, which sparked Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown to blame global warming skeptics for the catastrophic blaze.
Brown, however, also came under fire from critics for vetoing 2016 legislation aimed at mitigating wildfire risks.
“While the Forest Service still needs more authorities from Congress, including things like Balance of Harms and Action/No Action policies, I am pleased that we were able to add two more tools to President Trump and his Administration’s toolbox today,” Gosar said.
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