With so much media and political attention focused on wildfires – and in some cases public lands management and calls to greatly increase logging on national forests by reducing public input and environmental analysis – it may be helpful to take a look at this year’s wildfire stats to see what’s burned and where.
Here’s a copy of the National Interagency Coordinator Center’s ‘Incident Management Situation Report’ from Tuesday, September 1, 2015.
• As of today, a total of 8,202,557 acres have burned in U.S. wildfires. In 1930 and 1931, over 50 million acres burned each year and during the 10 year (hot and dry) period from the late 1920’s to the late 1930’s an AVERAGE of 30 million acres burned every year in the United States. Additionally, the 2001 National Fire Plan update indicates that an average of 145 million acres burned annually in the pre-industrial, conterminous United States.
[NOTE: Under the George W. Bush Administration, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal government agencies largely purged all records and information about wildfire acre burned stats from before the period of 1960].
• This year, 63% of ALL wildfire acres burned in the U.S. burned in Alaska, much of it over remote tundra ecosystems. According to federal records, since 1959 the average temperature in Alaska has jumped 3.3 degrees and the average winter temperature has spiked 5 degrees.
• Less than 8% of ALL wildfires that have burned this year in the U.S. have burned in the northern Rockies.
• National Forests account for ONLY 15% of all wildfire acres burned in U.S. this year.
• 88% of all BLM (Bureau of Land Management) acres burned in wildfires this year were in Alaska, again much of tundra, not forests.
This information is not meant to discount specific experiences communities, homeowners or citizens have had with wildfires this year, but just serves as a bit of important, fact-based information and context regarding what land ownerships have burned and where they are located.
Again, this information is especially important in the context of recent statements (and pending federal legislation) from certain politicians blaming wildfires on a lack of national forest logging or a handful of timber sale lawsuits.
If politicians are going to predictably use another wildfire season to yet again weaken our nation’s key environmental or public lands laws by increasing logging (including calls by politicians like Montana’s Rep Ryan Zinke for logging within Wilderness Areas) then the public should at least have some facts and statistics available to help put the wildfires in context.
Finally, please keep in mind that right now the U.S. Forest Service has the ability to conduct an unlimited number of ‘fast-track’ logging projects on over 45 MILLION acres of National Forest nationally – and on 5 MILLION acres of National Forests in Montana. This public lands logging would all be ‘categorically excluded from the requirements of NEPA.’
UPDATE: Below is a chart showing annual hectares burned in 11 western states from 1916-2012 showing a very strong correlation between wildfire and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which is a robust, recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centered over the mid-latitude Pacific basin.