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US Vows to Work With States Over Fires 08/17 06:16

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- As wildfires choke California and other Western states, 
the Trump administration pledged Thursday to work more closely with state and 
local officials to prevent wildfires from ever starting.

   Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the Forest Service and other 
agencies will step up efforts to cut down small trees and underbrush and set 
controlled fires to remove trees that serve as fuel for catastrophic blazes, 
including a series of deadly fires that have spread through drought-parched 
forests and rural communities in California.

   Six firefighters have died in those wildfires.

   Perdue, who toured the California fires this week, said they were "stark 
reminders of the immense forest-fire health crisis in this country, and the 
urgent need to dramatically increase our preventative forest treatments."

   While officials have boosted forest management efforts in recent years, more 
needs to be done, Perdue said.

   "To truly protect our forests, we must increase the number and the size of 
our (prevention) projects across the local landscape and across boundaries, and 
frankly we can't do this by ourselves," Perdue said at a news conference at the 
Capitol.

   Perdue pledged a "shared stewardship" approach in which the Forest Service, 
Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies work with state, local and 
tribal officials to fight and prevent wildfires.

   Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, meanwhile, said national forests have 
suffered from "gross mismanagement" for decades.

   "The fuel loads are up. The density of our forests is historical. We have 
dead and dying timber," Zinke said at a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

   "This is unacceptable that year after year we're watching our forests burn, 
our habitat destroyed and our communities devastated," Zinke added. "And it is 
absolutely preventable. Public lands are for everybody to enjoy and not just 
held hostage by these special-interest groups."

   Zinke has long complained that environmental "extremists" make it difficult 
for trees to be logged to reduce fire risk.

   "Whether you're a global warmist advocate or denier, it doesn't make a 
difference when you have rotting timber, when housing prices are going up ... 
yet we are wasting billions of board feet" of timber that could go to local 
lumber mills, he said.

   The focus on wildfire comes as California and other states face longer and 
more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed 
to climate change and homes built deeper into forests.

   Yosemite National Park's scenic valley in Northern California reopened 
Tuesday after a 20-day, smoked-forced closure, and hundreds of people were 
evacuated from Glacier National Park in Montana after a wildfire destroyed at 
least nine homes and cabins in one of the park's historic districts.

   In Washington state, meanwhile, officials have distributed masks to combat 
unhealthy air filled with smoke from wildfires that have blanketed the 
Northwest.

   Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the current crisis underscores the importance 
of preventing wildfires. "It is unacceptable to me to have Northwest seniors 
and young people being afraid to open their doors in the morning because they 
are afraid of smoke," he said.

   Longer and hotter wildfire seasons are the "new normal," said Sen. Maria 
Cantwell, D-Wash., "and we have to meet it with a very, very aggressive 
response" that includes drones, satellites and other technology.

   Not all efforts will be popular, Cantwell said, noting that some 
Seattle-area residents opposed controlled burns this spring because they feared 
the smoke.

   "I guarantee you now, Seattle would definitely take a little bit of smoke 
instead of the eventual, all-summer-long smoke that we're getting," she said.

   Perdue and other officials said the focus on prevention could save money, 
noting that federal wildfire costs approached a record $3 billion last year. 
"There's no quick fix," Perdue said, but increased collaboration could 
eventually save money or at least "get more done with the same costs."

   Congress earlier this year created a wildfire disaster fund to help combat 
increasingly severe wildfires. The law sets aside more than $20 billion over 
eight years to allow the Forest Service and other federal agencies to end a 
practice of raiding non-fire-related accounts to cover wildfire costs.

   The plan takes effect in October 2019.


(KA)

 
 
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