USA — Climate change has altered wildlife fire behavior over the past decade, and natural resource managers are trying to develop a plan to meet those new challenges.
U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell, in Reno last week to discuss national fire policy, said a warming climate adds urgency to an already extensive danger posed by fire.
“Fires are burning hotter, and they are more intense,” said Tidwell. “We see it both in the forests and on the rangeland habitat.”
The Wildland Fire Leadership Council, a committee of federal, state, tribal, county and municipal officials, is to come up with a wildfire management plan by next October.
The plan ordered by Congress is to address climate change, effects of invasive species and prioritizing areas where brush and timber should be thinned to reduce fire danger.
Mountain snowpacks are melting earlier, and fire seasons are lasting 30 to 45 days longer across many areas of the West, Tidwell said.
“The type of fire behavior is very different from what we had even 10 years ago,” Tidwell said.
So far this year, the nation has experienced a relatively mild fire season. As of last week, about 1.9 million acres had burned across the country, compared to 3 million acres by this time last year. In 2007, more than 4.3 million acres was charred by fire by this time of year.
Earlier this year, Tidwell said the more than 9 million acres that burned in 2007 could soon be far surpassed, with fire seasons consuming 12 million to 15 million acres becoming commonplace.
Lake Tahoe’s Angora Fire, which destroyed 254 homes in a single afternoon in June 2007, showed the danger posed by fire and the benefits of proactive measures. The fire roared out of overgrown forest to raze blocks of homes, but at the same time, it calmed when it reached areas of timber that had previously been thinned to reduce fire hazards, Tidwell said.
Officials said expanding such efforts is critical not only in national forests, but anywhere the risk of fire poses a serious threat.
“Key to this is undertaking projects on a larger scale,” said Jay Jensen, a USDA deputy undersecretary also in Reno last week for the wildfire meeting.