The alarming western wildfires of 2020 are unprecedented, but not surprising. They are the inarguable, long-predicted outcome of the climate crisis, which has steadily weakened our forests, leaving them dangerously dried out and laced with dead and dying trees. Climate change has doubled wildfire risk across the West in recent decades. By 2050 — just 30 years away — the annual area burned is predicted to increase by up to 600%.
The present infernos are exacerbated by over a century of fire suppression policy, which aims to extinguish all forest fires, even low-intensity, natural burns. Yet many forests have evolved to thrive with frequent, moderate blazes, including prescribed fire managed by foresters. Deprived of sufficient “good fire,” many western forests are overgrown, which makes them less healthy and more vulnerable to damaging extreme fires.
The result is a disaster for all Americans.
American Forests is calling for a two-pronged approach to tackle the crisis in western forests. First, we urge political leaders to pass comprehensive climate policy to slash greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors of our economy. Climate change is the underlying driver of this emergency.
Second, we are calling for public land management agencies in western states to rapidly advance climate-informed forestry to build forests’ resilience to a hotter, drier climate. Roughly two-thirds of western forests are owned by the public, and offer immediate opportunities for boosting forest health.
These opportunities fall into two categories: