You don’t have to read too many papers or online sources to see that funders of various ilks influencing people through media campaigns is a topic of some discussion.
What would we see if we were looking for that fingerprint in our own topic area?
We’ve seen the Gazette article from yesterday. It carefully laid out a variety of reasons for fires but ended on a climate change note.
The same topic could be coordinated. For example the Denver Post published this op-ed last Sunday. The theme is the New Normal.
Here in the West, we can respond to the predicted drastic increase in wildfires by adopting policies that limit further development in the “wildland-urban interface.” Such developments will require huge expenditures to defend from fire, and they will likely ultimately burn no matter what we do.
And yesterday the AP weighed in with this piece.
“Far more wildfires rage.”
And then there’s the effect on wildfires. Veteran Salida firefighter Mike Sugaski used to think a fire of 10,000 acres was big. Now he fights fires 10 times as large. “You kind of keep saying ‘How can they get much worse?’ But they do,” said Sugaski, who was riding his mountain bike on what usually are ski trails in January this year. In fact, wildfires in the United States now consume more than twice the acreage they did 30 years ago.
Which scientists are quoted in this article? Climate scientists.. and they know about trends in other explanatory factors.. how?
Now all of us who have been following this know that there are several ways of thinking about “bad fires” but that those are all human constructs. Acres? Acres including burn intensity above x? Houses and infrastructure? Numbers of individual fires regardless of acreage? If you use acres, it seems like it could be influenced by fire policy changes in terms of WFU. Numbers of fires could be a function of more people in the woods not being careful. Here’s what a piece in the Daily Caller says..
The AP reports that “wildfires in the United States now consume more than twice the acreage they did 30 years ago.”
While this is true, the AP’s narrowing of its analysis to just the past 30 years leaves presents a misleading picture. Wildfires may be burning more acreage today than the 1980s, but that pales in comparison to the great fires of the early 20th Century.
The scale of U.S. wildfires has decreased dramatically since 1930, according to government estimates. That year, wildfires burned more than four times the amount of acreage burned in 2012.
In 1930, for example, wildfires consumed more than 50 million acres of land, but in 2012 wildfires only burnt up 9.2 million acres.
Roger Pielke also wrote in the same piece about hurricanes, and it’s pretty simple. You can look at landfalls or costs of destruction. But wildfires can’t work the same way because people suppress them, they change how they suppress them through time and they didn’t used to suppress them at all..prior to 100 years ago. Remember the piece here when we looked at Leiburg’s forest condition reports from the early 1900s. So there’s almost complete overlap between when we would expect to see the signal for climate change and suppression which leads to more fuels and so on..
Here’s another thought from where I sit in Colorado. In dry western forests, fires can’t keep getting worse and increasing acres through time, because at some point they are already burned and don’t have time to grow back to a point where fuel loadings are enough to have a serious out of control fire. See the photo above 13 years after the Hayman. Certainly this is not true in parts of the old timber basket country, but as a person who used to spend time measuring seedling growth in south-Central Oregon, I think it will take a while. Plus the fact that burned areas can provide handy points for suppression efforts. In fact, they may grow more slowly due to climate change, or trees may not come back at all (due to lack of seed? changes in soil characteristics? competition from shrubs? or climate change?) and future fires may be less of a problem. My point is that regardless of climate attribution, we all agree on a solution (better county planning, prescribed burning, living with fire) so why wouldn’t we focus on something we know how to do (and is a heavy lift)? Even if we stopped climate change now tomorrow, we would still have wildfires and pretty much the same conditions We don’t know how or if conditions will stabilize or reverse, and they can’t really reverse- time’s arrow goes in one direction.