Climate change and forest fires
December 27, 2018
Your recent editorial titled, "The Emperor's New Clothes, California Style," is correct in that forest management practices do play a role with regard to California's tragic wildfires. However, climate change also has a profound impact.
It's important to take note of a 2015 issue of the U.S. Forest Service's journal, Fire Management Today, titled "Climate Change: The Future is Here." This publication states that "Increasing temperatures and changes in precipitation and snowmelt patterns are increasing the severity and size of wildfires in the West." Concern is also expressed about "the occurrence of fire that is outside the range of our existing experience" and the danger this poses to firefighters and communities.
Hotter temperatures evaporate soil moisture and dry vegetation, making it more likely to burn. According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, over the last three decades, human-caused climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the Western United States.
Given the devastation caused by these fires, it's not surprising that the Department of Defense calls climate change a national security threat. The U.S. military has expressed concern about climate change since the George W. Bush Administration, and dozens of Defense Department documents on this issue can be accessed at climateandsecurity.org.