In a quietly-dropped executive order, Donald Trump just authorized a radical increase in logging on federally-owned land in the West. He says it will decrease fire risks.
But scientists disagree.
This proposal will benefit members of the Trump administration who receive support from the timber industry, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has pushed hard on increasing timber extraction from public forests. This land may be managed by the federal government, but it is owned by the public — and we won't see the proceeds from any logging activities on it.
We also won't see the promised benefit of reduced fire risks, because research indicates logging won't reduce fire risk and could in fact make it worse. Logged land tends to burn more frequently and heavily than natural forests, while logging packs the soil, making it harder for new trees to grow. It generates flammable waste products that have to be managed.
The reason we're having more frequent and destructive fires is climate change, and growing construction close to land covered in flammable brush. Fire is a natural part of the environment and can even be beneficial. Practices like thinning (selected removal of trees) can help reduce the intensity of fires, but this executive order isn't promoting thinning: It's promoting getting as much wood as possible, as fast as possible, for corporations that benefit from favorable deals with the federal government.
Donald Trump should rescind this executive order and meet with the scientific community to discuss evidence-based ways to reduce the damages caused by fires in the West. The public lands he wants to turn into cash cows for the timber industry are being held in trust for future generations, and it's time to take that responsibility seriously.
Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture