Days after touring the damage of the Camp fire, the deadliest in California’s history, Zinke went on Breitbart News Sunday and declared “it’s not the time for finger-pointing” on the causes of the fires.
But minutes later, he put the blame squarely on environmentalists, contending that they stood in the way of clearing brush, doing prescribed burns and other actions.
“We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices,” he continued. “But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it’s not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged.”
The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental group, criticized Zinke for his remarks, saying he should instead focus on recovery and the victims of the fires.
“Perhaps it’s the numerous investigations, the potential criminal charges eating at him, or the fact that he still doesn’t even know what department the Forest Service is under, but Ryan Zinke would best be served by focusing on the people rather than making disgusting and dangerous accusations,” Athan Manuel, the group’s public lands director, said in a statement.
“You’ve got to take care of the floors. You know, the floors of the forest, very important,” he told reporters.
“I was with the president of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different — we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things,” he said. “And they don’t have any problem.”
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö later said that he brought up forest management and wildfires with Trump, but didn’t mention raking as a prevention technique.
Zinke used his Breitbart interview also to defend himself against multiple accusations that he violated ethics policies, including by participating in a land deal with Halliburton Co. Chairman David Lesar — a deal that the Justice Department is investigating for potential prosecution.
“The left is so angry,” he told the conservative news outlet. “The allegations against me are outrageous. They’re false. Everyone knows they’re false. And they get more outrageous as you get close to October. I follow all rules, regulations, procedures, and most importantly law. I love my job.”
Zinke said the allegations have resulted in threats against him and his family.
“My wife’s been threatened, my kids have been threatened. Our property’s been trespassed upon,” he said.
“This is how angry the resistance movement is.