What’s to Blame for CA Fires, Forest Management or Climate Change?

As wildfires across the West continue to rage, President Trump has continued to push the message that the cause of the fires is solely due to poor forest management. It’s not a new message for Republicans, but science unequivocally points to the ways in which climate change is supercharging wildfires.

Ezra Romero, an environmental reporter for Capital Public Radio, explained that climate scientists “all say we need to do more in the offseason exponentially [to manage forests], but [they] are clear, if we don’t get the climate crisis under control we’re going to be in this cyclical cycle of having fire on the landscape at this size and scale.”

Why This Matters: As a nation, we’ve suppressed natural wildfires for a century. But the U.S. Forest Service ultimately lacks adequate resources to manage all federally-owned forests and even if we could suddenly clear brush and carry out prescribed burns, the effects of climate change would still exacerbate fires. For instance, since 2010, the state of California has lost an estimated 129 million trees in part due to climate change which are now highly flammable. If we don’t address our greenhouse gas emissions, forest management won’t be enough to prevent the loss of life and property.

As the New York Times noted, Trump’s forest management plan, won’t save us in a more flammable world.

Managing Fires: As NPR wrote, California and Oregon in particular are far behind stated goals of treating millions of acres lands through restoration projects, selective thinning of trees and brush, and prescribed burning.

  • “The treatments they’ve been implementing for years haven’t really been at the scale that they need to be to offset a wind driven climate change exacerbated event,” says Andrew Sánchez Meador, director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University.
  • Experts like Sanchez Meador say state and federal agencies have also faced local opposition toward doing more prescribed burning to manage forests in the off-seasons when they don’t expect to have to endure more smoke.

Running Out of Funding: Forest management isn’t as simple as it sounds and it can be very expensive, which is why agencies tasked with this goal need more funding. As the New York Times explained, “the country’s top fire science budget has been slashed – cuts that began in the last year of the Obama administration and have only accelerated under President Trump, who has twice tried unsuccessfully to eliminate it altogether. States, which are struggling under the coronavirus-induced economic crisis, have run short of funds for the scientific work.”

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