Two House Democrats have accused the U.S. Forest Service of cooking its books in order to blame environmentalists for the fires that raged across much of the West this summer. Reps. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) spoke out yesterday against a recent USFS report in which the agency claimed that environmental appeals delayed 48 percent of projects designed to remove trees from forests to reduce fire danger. The report was used by House Republicans to blame enviros for the severity of this fire season, the worst in half a century. Udall and Inslee cited a different analysis by the environmental group Forest Trust, which found that the USFS report examined only a portion of forest projects — those using chain saws or other mechanical means to remove trees, instead of prescribed burns and other thinning methods. Mechanical thinning projects represent just 15 percent of the total acreage of thinning projects on USFS lands, and are the ones most likely to be opposed by environmentalists. “I think they cooked the books, and they were trying to drive an agenda that I’m not so sure the public supports,” Udall said.
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