Fanning a different kind of flame, Republican lawmakers are blaming environmental groups for contributing to the fires that destroyed more than 3.1 million acres of U.S. forests this year by blocking federal projects to thin undergrowth. Thinning removes brush and dead trees from the forest understory, thereby eliminating some of the dry matter and reducing the risk of wildfires, but enviros and timber industry reps have long disagreed on which forests should be thinned. Environmentalists say a minority of federal thinning projects are near homes or other buildings at risk from wildfires, and that many of the projects are just an excuse for logging. They further argue that commercial logging poses just as much of a threat by leaving flammable debris behind. The U.S. Forest Service claims that as many as 50 percent of all thinning projects are challenged in court, but the General Accounting Office found the actual number was less than 2 percent.