Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed so-called "radical environmentalists" for wildfires like the one that recently became the largest in California's history. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

Exploiting Climate-Fueled Disasters on Behalf of Logging Industry, Zinke Pilloried for Blaming Wildfires on 'Radical Environmentalists'

"Climate change, longer fire seasons, and way more people in the West all play a part" in increased wildfires, according to experts—but not an absence of timber industry clear-cutting

Julia Conley

Instead of addressing the root causes that scientists and experts say are fueling some of the unprecedented wildfires now ravaging communities in California and other western states, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is himself under fire on Wednesday after penning an op-ed that critics argue shows the top Trump official exploiting the ongoing infernos as a way to push the business interests of logging companies and other extractive industries.

"Radical environmentalists," he argued on USA Today's opinion page, are to blame for blazes like the Mendocino Complex Fire, which became the largest in the state's history this week, due to their calls to protect federal lands and national monuments instead of opening them up to loggers, ranchers, and the fossil fuel industry.

"Every year we watch our forests burn, and every year there is a call for action," Zinke wrote. "Yet, when action comes, and we try to thin forests of dead and dying timber, or we try to sustainably harvest timber from dense and fire-prone areas, we are attacked with frivolous litigation from radical environmentalists who would rather see forests and communities burn than see a logger in the woods."

The former Montana congressman's op-ed was slammed by critics on social media—as was CNN's interpretation of Zinke's proposal. The cable network published its own article describing the Interior Secretary's aim to clear forests as a "proactive approach."

While containing wildfires and stopping them from forming may require multi-pronged efforts, Zinke's idea of "forest management"—which includes  allowing logging companies to clear more forests—would do little to help, according to wildfire expert Michael Kodas.

"A logging company would like to come in and remove the big, granddaddy trees that are really valuable as timber," Kodas told Wyoming Public Media on Tuesday. "Most of what needs to be removed from these forests are brush, scrub, small, spindly trees that have been sick that have almost no economic value.”

Instead, Nate Hegyi wrote, "according to Kodas, climate change, longer fire seasons, and way more people in the West all play a part."

Three scientists writing at the Guardian also focused on the climate crisis as the major cause of wildfires which Zinke and President Donald Trump have failed to mention as the Mendocino Complex and other fires have raged.

"Declining spring snowpack and increased evaporation have reduced the moisture available to plants later in summer and autumn," wrote Daniel Swain, Crystal Kolden, and John Abatzoglou. "The fire season itself is lengthening: not only have autumn and spring temperatures risen, but there are signs that California's already short rainy season is becoming further compressed into the winter months. We are truly burning the candle at both ends."

Zinke's op-ed is just the latest sign that the Interior Secretary is pushing to give favorable treatment to industries at the expense of public lands. The piece was published two weeks after the Washington Post reported on "thousands of pages of email correspondence" which showed how Zinke and his aides "tailored their survey of protected sites to emphasize the value of logging, ranching, and energy development that would be unlocked if they were not designated national monuments."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Amnesty Scorecard Finds Twitter Failing to Protect Women From Online Abuse

"As our world has become increasingly dependent on digital spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic, it's critical that Twitter meet this moment with demonstrated commitment to improving the online experiences of all users, regardless of their identity."

Jessica Corbett ·


Filibuster Reform for Debt Ceiling Fight But Not Voting Rights or Reproductive Freedom?

"If our senators are willing to suspend the filibuster to protect our economy, they should be willing to suspend it to protect our democracy and our freedom to vote."

Jessica Corbett ·


As Senate Holds Guantánamo Hearing, Biden Urged to 'Finally End This Chapter of Injustice'

"Guantánamo is a centerpiece of the forever wars. It is a shameful symbol of racial injustice, torture, and violations of the Constitution and international law."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Unbreakable Solidarity': Kellogg's Workers Reject Contract That Would Leave New Employees Out of Benefits

"We're not willing to sell our souls for our future employees that are going to work side by side with us but not get the same pay or benefits."

Julia Conley ·


Trump-Appointed Judge Suspends Biden's Vaccine Mandate for Federal Contractors

"The reason that we proposed these requirements is that we know they work, and we are confident in our ability, legally, to make these happen across the country," the White House said in response.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo