Interior Secretary Zinke rips environmentalists for holding forest ‘hostage’

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday blamed “radical” environmental groups that have not allowed public access to federal forests and opposed the removal of dead trees from forests for the California wildfires.

“It used to be that there was an advantage to be next to federal property, but now it means you’re at greater risk for fires, because federal property by and large over the last decade has not been managed,” he told FOX Business’ Neil Cavuto in an exclusive interview.

“We have been held hostage by environmental groups that sue and sue, lawsuit after lawsuit, that prevent us from managing our forests. Public lands belong to everyone, not just these special interest groups.”

Zinke also said that while “there’s no dispute” that climate is changing, fewer trees would restore health to the forest.

"In the case of the forest fires it’s clear temperatures are higher, the seasons longer, the drought conditions has elevated it," he said. "But you can’t ignore that the condition of the fire itself — too many dead and dying trees, too much fuel. Active management is a better stewardship responsibility and action rather than sitting there year after year wasting billions of dollars.”

Zinke toured some of the neighborhoods hit hard by the wildfire. He described the devastation as the “worst” he’s ever seen and compared it to a war zone.

“The devastation in these communities again — it’s on par with what I’ve seen in Iraq — absolute total devastation,” he said.