‘That’s Stupid!’: Utah State Forester Slams Environmental Policies Making Wildfires Worse

Tim Pearce on August 30, 2018

Utah state forester Brian Cottam had harsh words for those who shy away from forest and land management policies such as thinning that would reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires Thursday.

Cottam joined a panel led by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, at the Utah State Capitol building. The panel, including former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney who is running for Senate in Utah, discussed the effects wildfires have had on the state.

“If you focus purely on suppression — we’re already having longer fire seasons — we’re going to have more fires, we’re going to have bigger fires, we’re going to have more costly fires, we’re going to have more dangerous and, yes, deadly fires,” Cottam told the audience. “That’s stupid!”

Utah is suffering through one of the most destructive years for wildfire in the state’s history. Blazes have razed 370 structures — 363 of those burned in one fire – which dwarfs any count of at least the past 15 years, according to The Associated Press.

Wildfires destroy an average of 49 buildings a year in Utah.

“The conversation has to be about the total cost of fire and what it is we do before fire comes,” Cottam said. “We can’t just wait and react to it and hope to suppress. It’s all about wildfire risk reduction — what do we do up front to avoid the catastrophic wildfires.”

The panel comes after the Trump administration engaged in a policy fight over California’s environmental and water laws, with President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke charging that California’s strict environmental policies have made wildfires worse.

California Gov. Jerry Brown seemed to take some of Trump’s advice. Brown is working with lawmakers on a bill that would expand forest thinning and logging across the state, clearing out some of the fuel that piles up in areas over time and contributes to the size of the next wildfire to burn through that area.

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