How should the United States prepare for another intense wildfire season? | Climate News


In the unprecedented heat wave sweeping the United States, President Joe Biden will meet with governors, cabinet members and federal emergency management officials from western states on Wednesday to prepare for experts to warn of one of the worst droughts and droughts. Wildfire The season.

The President has promised to increase firefighters’ wages from the current $13 per hour, which he called “an unreasonably low wage”.

Experts are observing whether Biden can prepare the United States for another year of dangerous wildfires and extreme temperatures, while also restoring forest and climate balance in the long term.

But they warned that in the short term, the danger is already there.

On June 7, 2021, wildfires raged in Arizona and smoke rose from the fire. This picture is from social media [File: Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management via Reuters]

“For this year, in addition to ensuring that firefighters have what they need, and FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] As well as the Forest Service and BLM [Bureau of Land Management] We are coordinating as closely as possible with the state government,” explained Michael Walla, director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford University.

Chris Field, director of the Stanford Forest Environmental Research Institute, said: “No matter how hard the government tries to control the risk, it will take several years to solve the problem.”

Why are wildfires getting worse?

Wildfires are already burning in Arizona, California And in other states, the reservoir is at a historical low.

The western United States is experiencing decades of Severe drought Scientists say this has not been seen in 1,000 years. Climate change is accelerating drought by changing the water cycle and increasing evaporation on the basis of already low precipitation.

Experts explained that this means that the wildfire season this year and the next few years will be longer and more intense, because decades of poor planning have resulted in dense forests and plants are now dry and ready to burn.

On June 14, a firefighting helicopter displayed water droplets in Los Alamitos, California [File: Mike Blake/Reuters]

Pure area Land burned According to Reuters, the number of fires caused by wildfires has increased dramatically since the 1970s, and “extraordinary fires” are now frequently occurring in the United States-burning more than 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares). In 2020, wildfires burned a record 10 million acres in the western United States.

Humans are the most common cause of wildfires. The population growth in the west and residential construction in fire-prone areas are causing more dangerous fires. All of this has led to increasingly deadly wildfires and health problems, such as heart disease and asthma caused by heavy smoke.

What should Biden do?

Experts are very clear about this: American Forest Too dense, we must actively use mechanical removal and prescribed burns to dilute them. For this, the US Forest Service needs more funds.

Walla explained that last year, the Forest Service slashed its budget to reduce harmful fuels. Before the pandemic, it spent more than 300 million U.S. dollars per year, but it was reduced to less than 100 million U.S. dollars per year in 2021. Its funding for 2022 has increased, but it is still below pre-pandemic levels.

“We need to think about this issue in a different way, and the Forest Service’s thinking in the 2022 budget is no different,” Walla said. “More is the same.”

Wara said the Forest Service hopes to reduce the amount of hazardous fuel by two to four times the current level, Wara said, but it actually needs to do 10 times the work.

Field said that federal and state governments can invest now to prevent huge economic losses in the future. He took California as an example: in 2019, California suffers The economic losses caused by wildfires exceed US$30 billion, but in the next five years, it is estimated that US$5 to 10 billion may be spent to control wildfires each year. However, California’s spending is still too small; its wildfire budget for 2022 is $1 billion.

Field said: “In general, the investment required to get on a safe and stable track will be less than the loss in a single year of severe wildfire.”

On June 21, 2021, smoke from wildfires droops in the valley of the Uinta Mountains in eastern Utah[File: Jim Urquhart/Reuters]

Experts believe that we need to return to the tactics that Native Americans used before they were forcibly removed from their land. The idea is to reintroduce “good fire”. Hundreds of years ago, less intense fires often raged and crackled in the forest, and indigenous people used planned burning to keep the ecosystem in balance. When settlers occupy land, policies are inconsistent and harmful.

John Bailey, a professor at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, was a firefighter in the 1980s. At that time, firefighters thought they were the right way to put out fires, but their efforts made the forest dangerously dense and turned farmland into forest, paving the way for larger fires.

In the 1990s, policies to protect the habitat of the endangered spotted owl led to a sharp decline in logging and management of the western forest, but Bailey said that we actually need a “good fire” to renew the habitat. “Fire is a Destructive power As well as maintaining the creativity of the old growth, if we want to protect them, this is the path we want to take,” Bailey said.

“There needs to be a fire every ten years or so, a good fire, a low-intensity surface fire, a forest ground fire, and maybe once every 20 years at the longest,” Walla said. “This means that every year we have to deal with 10% of the entire landscape. We are still far away-we are down by about one percent. This was not important in the past because climate change has not exacerbated the fire season, but now , Of course, it is.”

Walla added that the Biden administration should provide funding to reduce more pre-disaster risks of wildfires Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

New forest workforce

Walla said that the wages of Forest Service employees are too low, and many of them are seasonal. “In order to do this work, they actually need a whole new workforce.”

The way the current system works is that in the off-season, people are hired to remove hazardous fuel, and in the fire season, they serve as firefighters. Because the fire season is longer and more violent now, they started firefighting work earlier. After the fire season is over, they need to take a break and heal their injuries physically and mentally. They need to visit their family members. This means that not so many hazardous fuel cleanups are taking place.

“This is not a sustainable model,” Walla said.

Bailey suggested hiring a federal labor force to manage the forest, similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the public work relief program of the 1930s and 1940s.

Walla says there is a “huge opportunity” to get involved Native American In the new model and labor force, because many areas need to treat border reservations. He said that policymakers should consider returning the land to Native Americans for management.

“If we are to protect more land, we need to think about this issue in a different way, taking into account the racial injustice and genocide that led to the federal and private land ownership model we now have,” he said.

“The wildfire problem is something we can control, but we must be proactive and ambitious,” Field said.


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