(SALT LAKE CITY) — Insisting that logging could have cleaned up dead, bug-infested trees that are fueling a Utah wildfire, a Republican state lawmaker blamed federal mismanagement and lawsuits by “tree hugger” environmentalists for the blaze that has burned 13 homes and forced the evacuation of 1,500 people.
A conservation group called that contention “shameful” and misleading, saying it fails to take into account climate change and drought.
In addition, a U.S. Forest Service researcher said logging probably would not have made a big difference in the high-altitude fire that is sending embers from tree-to-tree over long distances — normal for the ecosystem.
Utah state Rep. Mike Noel said Tuesday he wants to use the fire near the ski town of Brian Head and a popular fishing lake to highlight the imbalance of power afforded environmental groups under previous presidents and to ease bureaucratic and legal blockades for logging companies. He believes the Trump administration will provide a more receptive audience for his plea.
The blaze is one of several in the West. Crews in California were making gains against two new fires that spread quickly, and firefighters in Idaho battled five lightning-sparked wildfires burning in grass and brush.
Crews dealt with windy conditions as they battled a northern Arizona wildfire that has burned nearly 7 square miles.
Authorities say the Utah fire was started on June 17 by someone using a torch tool to burn weeds on private land.
Noel contends it wouldn’t have spread as fast if federal forest lands had been cleared of dead trees.
A video of his Monday rant against environmentalists generated social media buzz and sparked new debate about whether logging could help prevent Western wildfires. He joined several other state and county officials in speaking out.
“When we turn the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny lovers and the tree huggers and the rock lickers, we’ve turned our history over,” Noel said. “We are going to lose our wildlife and we are going to lose our scenery, the very thing you people wanted…