I know wildfires are good for a forest, and play a necessary natural role in maintaining our ecosystem. However, as I think about the magnificent Purisima Creek redwoods towering over me during a mountain bike trek last weekend, or a dear friend who lost her family home to the Beaver Creek wildfire last August, I cringe at the destruction caused by wildfires. The recent National Climate Assessment produced by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee and extensively reviewed by the public and experts unambiguously concluded that the planet is warming. Unfortunately, more and bigger wildfires are expected to be among the most severe consequences of climate change in North America according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In May, Governor Brown announced that California has 5,000 firefighters and 600 million dollars appropriated to battling blazes, but that may not be enough. According to an April 2013 study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the area burned by the West’s largest wildfires—those spreading more than 1,000 acres—have increased by 87,700 acres a year since 1984. If the planet continues to heat up, the number of acres burned will no doubt increase.
Specifically, global warming increases wildfire risk because:
- Warmer conditions lead to longer fire seasons as spring runoff occurs earlier and summer heat builds up more quickly;
- Drier conditions increase the probability of fire;
- Insect infestations caused by warmer and drier conditions increase the number of dead or highly combustible trees; and
- More thunderstorms will cause more lightning.
Another big issue: when released by wildfires, carbon stored in trees and forests substantially increases the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor when the Education and the Environment Initiative Curriculum (EEIC) was completed, established California as the pioneering State willing to address climate change. As an Executive Producer and Correspondent in the nine part documentary series Years of Living Dangerously, Schwarzenegger joined an elite team of wild-land firefighters as they battled a forest fire. We all need to similarly roll up our sleeves and join the trenches.
What Can We Do?
- Learn and adopt ways to reduce our carbon footprint
- Support environmental education K-12 so our next generations will know the value of our natural world, and speak up for laws that will help reduce carbon pollution
- Practice fire safety when enjoying our parks, forests, and wilderness areas
 National Wildlife Federation’s 2008 report: Increased Risk of Catastrophic Wildfires: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for the Western United States