The Sept. 30 issue of DCI included a letter to the editor blaming environmentalists for the unprecedented forest fires that scorched over 4 million acres, destroyed several small towns, and killed nearly three dozen people. The letter blamed environmentalists for shutting down logging and letting fuel loads accumulate. These accusations echo President Trump’s, who blamed the fires on Western state governors who needed to manage their forests more effectively.
While forest management played a role in some of the conflagrations engulfing the west, this narrative ignores the fact that much of the fuel load is due to a prolonged drought that killed almost 150 million trees in California alone, and that these lands are tinder-dry due to a current drought and months of record-breaking temperatures. This past August was the hottest ever recorded in California. Over Labor Day weekend, cities up and down the state shattered temperature records - 121 degrees in LA, 105 degrees in Santa Cruz, 112 degrees in Redding - the list goes on. No amount of forest management can mitigate these extreme conditions.
Unprecedented drought and high temperatures, brought about by climate change, are the driving force behind these fires. Washington Governor Jay Inslee referred to climate change as “a blow torch over our states in the West.” In April, Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, published a study in the prestigious journal Science concluding that climate change has “pushed what would normally have been a moderate drought in southwest North America into megadrought territory,” on par with the worst droughts in the last 1200 years — droughts that forced earlier civilizations off their land. In a recent interview, he said “No matter how hard we try, fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is clear – Climate is really running the show.”