Under some of the foulest skies I have ever witnessed in the Garden City, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke arrived at Missoula International Airport.
His government jet was parked a couple hundred yards from two refueling Neptune Aviation airtankers, having just returned from dumping their 3000 gallon payloads of fire retardant on the 34,184 acre Lolo Peak blaze.
About 30 protesters were there to greet Zinke, reminding him that public lands should stay in public hands and that, obviously, climate change is real.
The line of five Chevy Tahoes and Suburbans took a quick detour down the Frontage Road, avoiding the demonstration gathered on Highway 12 in front of the Smokejumper Center. Protesters were able to glimpse Zinke through his rolled-down window, smiling and waving back at them.
The Twitter photo below is of Zinke, Sen. Steve Daines, Rep. Greg Gianforte and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. They’re in Western Montana to view the many wildfires consuming thousands of acres of forests and grasslands, which is ironic since the new role of the Department of the Interior is to deny science, reduce public lands and expand fossil fuel extraction (and you can add undermining Indian sovereignty and slashing the budgets of the Forest Service and National Parks Service to the list).
You should be able to see Blue Mountain behind them but it’s obscured by smoke. Take a deep breath, guys.
UPDATE: In the good news, bad news department, like the surgeon who says you probably won’t die but he’ll have to amputate a few of your limbs, the Interior Department has announced that no National Monuments will be eliminated.
But there would be changes to a “handful,” he (Zinke) said… he declined to say whether portions of the monuments would be opened up to oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other industries for which Trump has advocated.
So there’s that.
UPDATE II: Now the boys are blaming the fires on “environmental extremists.” I was up on Flathead Lake a few days ago and watched a fire burning above Blue Bay. This was in extremely steep terrain that would be close to impossible to thin or log, yet there was a fire approaching 500 acres, caused by lightning. Now I’m no fire scientist, but neither are they. Those who are have a different take than Zinke, Daines and Gianforte:
“There’s no reduction in wildfire from past logging. We haven’t seen it,” said Leon Neuenschwander, a fire ecologist who taught for 25 years at the University of Idaho.
Many experts say that by removing the largest and most fire-resistant trees and replacing them with dense young growth, conventional logging and tree planting practices helped create the conditions that stoke wildfires.
“Partial cutting done historically typically aggravated the fire hazard and made things worse when fire came along,” said C. Phillip Weatherspoon, an emeritus research forester with the Forest Service who has written extensively on fire.
Please quit pandering and work toward real solutions to these earlier, larger and more intense wildfires. Image below courtesy of MTPR.