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A Senate Bipartisan Bill Aims to Prevent Future Wildfires in Western States

The new bill is "firmly rooted in science."

SCIENCE AF STAFF
19 OCT 2017
 

As deadly wildfires continue to spread across California, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that will help communities prepare for and prevent future blazes. 

 

The bill was introduced on Thursday by a group of five senators, including Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Ron Wyden (D-Ore), Mike Crapo (r-Idaho) and Patty Murray (D-Wash). 

The bill directs the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to provide up to $100 million in funding for wildfire prevention. The money will be used to establish wildfire strategies for at-risk communities so they may plan for and prevent future burns. It would also create a pilot program that would "thin" pine forests and promote "controlled burning" in populated areas.

"It's time to create new tools to reduce fire risk and help better protect our communities‎," Cantwell said in a statement

"By targeting our most vulnerable pine forests, this science-based pilot program gives the Forest Service tools to address wildfire in our most vulnerable forests and prioritizes cross-laminated timber."

According to scientists, climate change is already intensifying the wildfires we see today. Rising temperatures are drying out vegetation and turning acres of land into kindling that is ripe for burning. Warmer climates are also associated with an increase in lightning storms, which are one of the most common ways that wildfires are started. 

 

There is even some evidence to suggest that climate change will affect wind patterns in states like California, creating strong, dry winds that could intensify any present flames. 

Scientists predict that these conditions will continue to intensify wildfires and lengthen their season, placing many communities in the western-most states at terrible risk.

"We can't sit by and let devastating wildfires become the new normal," said Senator Patty Murray.

"It's time to invest in proactive measures that will help protect communities in Washington state and around the West and save taxpayer dollars. This legislation is a strong step forward in that effort."

In fact, these hot and dry conditions are already intensifying uncontrolled burns. Fires in western states have been increasing in frequency and duration since the mid-1980s. For the last ten years, the average amount of land in the US ravaged each year by fires was about 6 million acres. This year alone, 50,000 fires have burned nearly 8.8 million acres.

In California, specifically, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests the hot and dry conditions that caused the state's drought were brought about, at least in part, by human-caused climate change.

"There's a clear climate signal in these fires because of the drought conditions connected to climate change," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

The good news is, it's not too late to address these devastating burns. Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Conservation Northwest, believes that mitigation efforts like this common-sense bipartisan bill are a great start.

"This bill does more to address the genuine problems than any bill we've seen to date," said Friedman.

"Its emphasis on using prescribed fire is firmly rooted in science."