Climate focus is undermining the ability to act on healthy forests

Sep 15, 2020

Since the explosion in wildfire activity a few weeks ago, there has been a rush to use them to promote a climate agenda, including calling them “climate fires.” ABC News even went so far as to downplay the role of forest health, saying the claim that it played a primary role in fires of recent years as “contrary to evidence.”

In reality, there is little disagreement about the serious threat posed by unhealthy and fire-prone forests. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources puts it this way:

We have a forest health crisis in our state. And because of our forest health crisis, we are seeing more catastrophic wildfires. Hot, dry conditions coupled with diseased and dying forests are leading to explosive wildfires, which threaten our communities and fill our summer skies with smoke.

Many of the fires this year are in grasslands, so forest health is certainly not the whole story. But, even if climate change is playing a role in exacerbating these fires, the focus on climate change is more about politics than science.

First, even if we did everything we could to reduce CO2 emissions across the entire country, temperatures will still be warmer in 2100 than they are today. An aggressive – and expensive – climate policy would not reduce risk of wildfires even eighty years from now.

Second, putting all the political capital on aggressive climate policy is one reason Washington state has failed to take the steps to improve forest health. Washington state has more than one million acres in need of forest health treatments, ranging from small controlled burns to timber harvests that remove virtually everything and start over. Despite that, virtually all the environmental effort in the legislature and at the ballot box has been on (failed) attempts to pass climate policy.

Additionally, we need increased commercial harvesting to help fund the work that needs to be done. Relying on the state or federal government to provide the money hasn’t worked and isn’t likely to work in the future. Only a sustainable source of revenue like commercial harvests can provide the funds in the magnitude necessary.

To prevent more smoky summers, we need to put our policy focus on things that will make a difference in the near term.

Here is a short video about the fires, climate, and our policy going forward.