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This is how much U.S. Congressman Ryan Zinke doesn’t know about forests in Montana and the wildlife that live there.

Recently, Zinke claimed that we have spotted owls in Montana and that logging somehow prevents forest fires. His solution to hot, dry summers was to introduce a radical bill to greatly increase logging while simultaneously reducing public review and comment and nullifying our First Amendment right in the Constitution to challenge federal government actions.

Zinke is completely wrong about both. Spotted owl habitat is on the Washington-Oregon-northern California coast, not Montana. He is also wrong on forest fires, their causes, and what logging will or won’t do to prevent wildfires. Both experience and the latest scientific studies refute his position entirely.

Forests are made of wood and when we have hot, dry summers, they burn, just like they have since time immemorial. Fire is a natural and vital part of forest ecosystems and all the existing native species of plants and animals have evolved with fire over eons.

Almost every day new studies come out revealing that, contrary to Zinke’s contention, logging in the backcountry does not improve homeowner safety, nor does it stop large, weather-driven fires. The U.S. Forest Service's own research, from Jack Cohen at the Fire Lab in Missoula, among others, shows your home is likely to survive a wildfire if you use metal roofs and non-flammable exterior decks, and take precautions to reduce fuels within 200 feet of your home. Further away than that does nothing to stop wildfires, nor save homes from burning.

What logging in the backcountry actually does is cost taxpayers millions of dollars to subsidize timber corporations, spread noxious weeds and destroy the valuable hunting and fishing habitat that Montanans love. If Zinke’s inaccurate claims on logging stopping forest fires were correct, wildfire wouldn't have burned through the heavily clearcut former Plum Creek Timber Co. land west of Seeley Lake a few years ago – which they did, while the clearcuts burned even hotter than many of the unlogged areas.

Zinke is playing the victim card as an excuse to gut the Constitution, hire more federal bureaucrats and spend millions more on corporate welfare for the timber industry while trying to claim the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a small grassroots conservation group, is somehow shutting down the forests. Someone should inform Zinke that the Forest Service says they are meeting their logging targets. Hence there’s no need to hack the law and Constitution to increase logging exponentially.

Besides learning where spotted owls live, Zinke should also learn something about climate change. Scientists almost universally agree that our warming global climate and the associated impacts are major causes of increased wildfires. All Zinke has to do is take a trip through northwest Montana right now to see just how unbelievably dry the unusual drought in this formerly wet area have left the forests, where major rivers are now flowing at less than half their normal average. It’s scientifically non-debatable that the more coal we burn, the more forests fires we will have, yet Zinke can’t seem to make that connection in his ongoing support for more coal mining and burning.

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Obviously Zinke doesn’t like it when Americans point out that the federal government is not following the law and ignoring the recommendations of its own scientists, which have clearly found logging doesn’t reduce wildfires. The only difference more logging makes is more roads will be built, more streams will be filled with mud, more elk habitat will be clearcut, and timber corporations will get hundreds of millions more in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

If the Forest Service keeps getting in trouble by proposing illegal clearcuts, why doesn’t Zinke take the Obama administration to task for breaking the law instead of making citizens post a several-hundred-thousand-dollar bond to challenge the government? Can you imagine if you had to post a bond to file a complaint if somebody tried to break into your house?

Being way short of actual science and facts, this is exactly what Zinke wants to make Americans do when the federal government tries to illegally clearcut our favorite watersheds or hunting habitats.

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Mike Garrity is the executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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