Fire season is bad enough in Alaska and the West that Washington, D.C., must act when it comes to forest management.
Alaska, with nearly 200 wildfires burning this week, has experienced its second biggest fire season on record. This season’s record 5.1 million acres is the equivalent of 8,010 square miles or three and a half times the distance between Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
With rain calming blazes in Alaska, firefighters here — 600 in the past week and several hundred more in coming days — are traveling to the Lower 48 to assist with knocking down fires. They will join thousands of firefighters already on the fire line.
This week about 95 large fires (a large fire burning in timber reaches at least 100 acres; on grassland, it’s 300 acres) burned across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Colorado and Nevada. The fires claimed the lives of three Washington state firefighters. More than 100 homes have been destroyed.
Milder winters and warmer summer temperatures, along with past forest management practices, set conditions for the fire season. Federal law and funds have limited fire prevention practices and allowed the forests to become thick with brush and dead trees (natural fuels), increasing the likelihood and combustibility of both weather and human-caused fires.
All of the smoke creates health and environmental hazards, polluting the air.
Washington state Sen. Maria Cantwell told The Seattle Times this week that the Wildfire Management Act of 2015 is expected to be presented by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources before the end of summer.
The act would change how the federal government handles fighting wildfires and pays for firefighting, says Cantwell.
The Times also quotes Lloyd McGee of the Nature Conservancy: “We need to be proactive in reducing these hazardous fuels,” which would require controlled burns and thinning, the results of which would be taken to a mill. The mill is needed infrastructure, according to Roger Wristen of the Cascadia Conservation District.
Hearing conservationists argue for a mill is a new twist when it comes to forest-management practices. For years in this region, they argued against them and the removal of trees destined to die in the forest. Perhaps practices being contemplated by Cantwell and the Senate Energy Committee should be applied here, too, especially if climate change warms Southeast.
As long as summer temperatures remain warmer than usual and forest overgrowth creates natural fuel, wildfires will be an increasing danger, which will spread to areas hardly touched previously by wildfire. This summer’s fires show that not managing the forests wisely leads to devastation and loss of life.
But it will take those in Congress and the White House recognizing and perhaps seeing the fire aftermath before Cantwell’s act makes it to President Obama’s desk, where, given his concern about global warming (he’s coming to Alaska this month because of his worries), he might sign it.
— Ketchikan Daily News,