37,000-acres of land are burning in California, and CBS News is reporting that the weather, including “Blistering Heat, Dry Brush” are to blame for the difficulty in containing the fire, which is rapidly advancing toward the community of Big Bear Lake, and the San Bernardino National Forest, where it would become almost impossible to control. Southwest and central Wyoming are under a red flag warning, and yesterday 167 new wildfires were reported, including 9 new large wildfires.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, over 4 million acres of the United States have been burned by 63,070 separate fires, for both acreage burned and number of fires, that’s well over the ten-year average. By this time last year, there had been 34,282 fires.
Think this increase is just a fluke? Don’t bet on it.
Ben Harder (I know, it’s a terrible name. Couldn’t he just go by the name Benjamin?) of Science News reported earlier this week that it’s part of a trend:
“Major forest fires in the western United States have become more frequent and destructive over the past 2 decades. The trend has occurred in step with rising average temperatures in the region.
“Climate change in the West is a reality,” says Thomas Swetnam of the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Now, we’re starting to see the effects.”
Earlier spring snowmelts, which kick off longer fire seasons, account for the trend, he says. The melt’s timing influences how parchedâ€”and therefore how vulnerable to fireâ€”the landscape gets later in the year.
Western snow packs now typically melt a week to a month earlier than they did half a century ago, recent studies have shown.”
A study organized by Anthony Westerling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography analyzed the timing of wildfires, the dates of snowmelt, and spring and summer temperatures over a 34 year period. The Scripps press release reports that, The researchers determined that year-to-year changes in wildfire frequency appear “to be strongly linked to annual spring and summer” temperatures with “many more wildfires burning in hotter years than in cooler years. There was also found a “strong association” between early spring snowmelt in the Western mountains and the prevalence of large wildfires.
Global climate change is having devastating local effects. It isn’t some science fiction fantasy prediction for the future. People in the United States are being driven out of their homes by the effects of global warming right now.
We need to act now to slow down the destruction. The study finds that changes in fire suppression forestry practices are NOT correlated with increases in wildfires. That means that the Republican Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which in truth was a handout to the logging industry, won’t make American forests healthier at all. Additionally, the Republicans’ new pro-logging bill, HR 4200, which has passed the House of Representatives and has been referred to the United States Senate for consideration, will not help either, and may actually make matters worse.
America needs as many trees as it can get, to take carbon dioxide out of the air in order to slow down global warming and the rampant wildfires that it enables. Constance Millar of the U.S. Forest Service explains, “If we can keep the trees on the stump, then [they're] sponging up carbon from the atmosphere.”
Want to fight forest fires? Fight global warming.
A three-point plan is called for:
1. Reduce logging
2. Energy conservation
3. Transition to alternative, clean energy infrastructure
We know what to do, but the Republicans in government are fighting to prevent a solution from being implemented. The situation is similar to the lack of preparation for Hurricane Katrina, but when disaster comes this time, instead of drowing, American communities will burn.