Trump Admin Manipulated Wildfire Science to Encourage Logging
Respecting scientists has never been a priority for the Trump Administration. Now, a new investigation from The Guardian revealed that Department of the Interior political appointees sought to play up carbon emissions from California's wildfires while hiding emissions from fossil fuels as a way to encourage more logging in the national forests controlled by the Interior department.
The appointees looked to frame a story around the fires that would encourage a thinning of the forest through logging, which President Trump has said would help prevent forest fires. Experts have refuted his assertion.
The trove of emails that The Guardian uncovered show a coordinated effort to frame the carbon emissions from the 2018 wildfires as a blight that could be remedied by cutting down trees for logging.
The Trump administration has tried to make it appear that over-regulation, mismanagement, and forest protection are responsible for the severity of recent wildfires. However, a recent review published two weeks ago has concluded that the changing climate is the main culprit behind the sharp increase in wildfire risk.
"Overall, the 57 papers reviewed clearly show human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire," said Matthew Jones, senior research associate at University of East Anglia's Tyndall Centre and lead author of the review, in a statement. "This has been seen in many regions, including the western US and Canada, southern Europe, Scandinavia and Amazonia. Human-induced warming is also increasing fire risks in other regions, including Siberia and Australia."
In the same statement, Professor Iain Colin Prentice, Chair of Biosphere and Climate Impacts and Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society at the Imperial College London, added: "Wildfires can't be prevented, and the risks are increasing because of climate change. This makes it urgent to consider ways of reducing the risks to people."
The Trump administration decided not to follow that science and to use the wildfires as a way to promote industry. James Reilly, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) who was once a geologist for the oil and gas industry, asked scientists to "gin up" emissions figures for him, according to The Guardian. Reilly also claimed the numbers would make a "decent sound bite," and decided to discuss only the trees that produced outsized emissions to make "a good story."
"Gin-up is an unfortunate phrase to be sure, but it might have been a very imprecise way to ask for an estimate. It certainly does not inspire confidence," said Mark Harmon, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University's College of Forestry, to The Guardian.
The Guardian presented the emails to scientists who concluded that Reilly either used misleading language or cherry-picked the data, or he intentionally exploited a disaster and manipulated the data for pro-industry purposes.
One expert told The Guardian that the numbers the interior department came up with are significant overestimates and that logging would not help prevent or lessen wildfires. In fact, logging could be deleterious as it negates the ability of forests to trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
A USGS spokesperson, however, replied to The Guardian that Reilly's emails were "intended to instruct the subject matter expert to do the calculations as quickly as possible based on the best available data at the time and provide results in clear understandable language that the Secretary could use to effectively communicate to a variety of audiences." The secretary at the time of the emails was Ryan Zinke who had to resign under an ethics scandal.
Chad Hanson, an ecologist and co-founder of the John Muir Project, called the strategizing revealed in the emails a "blatant political manipulation of science," as The Guardian reported.
- California Burns Because of the Climate Crisis While Trump ... ›
- Trump Admin. Takes Advantage of California Fires to Funnel More ... ›
- Zinke Announces Plan to Fight Wildfires With More Logging ... ›
- NOAA Chief Violated Ethics and Scientific Integrity in 'Sharpiegate' Scandal - EcoWatch ›
- 'Sharpiegate': Commerce Department Blocks Release of Inspector General's Report - EcoWatch ›
- California, Washington and British Columbia Unite to Prevent Wildfires - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Devastating Photos of Wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington ›
- Latest Trump Rollback Allows Increased Logging in National Forests ›
England's Somerset county can now boast its first beaver dam in more than 400 years.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alex McInturff, Christine Wilkinson and Wenjing Xu
What is the most common form of human infrastructure in the world? It may well be the fence. Recent estimates suggest that the total length of all fencing around the globe is 10 times greater than the total length of roads. If our planet's fences were stretched end to end, they would likely bridge the distance from Earth to the Sun multiple times.
Early advertisement for barbed wire fencing, 1880-1889. The advent of barbed wire dramatically changed ranching and land use in the American West by ending the open range system. Kansas Historical Society / CC BY-ND
The authors assembled a conservative data set of potential fence lines across the U.S. West. They calculated the nearest distance to any given fence to be less than 31 miles (50 kilometers), with a mean of about 2 miles (3.1 kilometers). McInturff et al,. 2020 / CC BY-ND
- 'This Is Not Like a Fence in a Backyard' — Trump's Border Wall vs ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
Climate change is making ancient Hopi farming nearly impossible, threatening not just the Tribe's staple food source, but a pillar of its culture and religion, the Arizona Republic reports.
- These Are the Challenges Facing India's Most Sacred River ... ›
- Oil Spill Causes 'Major Disaster' for Ganges River Dolphins ... ›
By Kenny Stancil
An expert panel of top international and environmental lawyers have begun working this month on a legal definition of "ecocide" with the goal of making mass ecological damage an enforceable international crime on par with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
- Are the Amazon Fires a Crime Against Humanity? - EcoWatch ›
- 'Her Work Will Live On': Climate Movement Mourns Loss of Ecocide ... ›