Forests afire as far as the eye can see have become a common, heartbreaking occurrence in the American West when summer fades into autumn. The devastation hits hardest those residents who must breathe in smoke for months on end and, sometimes, face fleeing the infernos. Some are quick to blame the flames on human-caused climate change, but the destruction will persist without recognition of human-caused failure to manage the wilderness environment.
The wildfires of 2020 are setting records. Currently, dozens upon dozens of blazes are burning, with millions of acres consumed, mostly in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. While dry and windy conditions are clearly fanning the flames in the Golden State, the correlation between temperature, precipitation data and wildfire occurrence is not always so glaring.
In eastern Washington state, for example, temperatures averaged 3 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in 2017 while wildfires consumed only 20,500 acres, a small fraction of the annual average of 300,000, writes Center for the Environment director Todd Myers. In contrast, 107,100 acres burned the following year during typically cooler temperatures.
In his 2019 book “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change,” iconoclast Marc Morano points to congressional testimony by Auburn University forestry professor David South refuting the notion that wildfires are directly linked to temperatures influenced by human activity: “Data suggest that extremely large megafires were four-times more common before 1940. we cannot reasonably say that anthropogenic global warming causes extremely large wildfires.”
The worsening fire threat should not stand uncoupled from the fact that growing populations are living in proximity to the Western forests, which cover 360 million acres. With billions of trees aging through their natural life cycle, there are always millions of dead timbers resembling tinderboxes when conditions are dry.
President Trump made the point when visiting a California emergency operations center last week to survey the disaster: “When trees fall down, after a short period of time — about 18 months — they become very dry. They become, really, like a matchstick.”
Putting away the matches, or removing dead wood, is a reasonable forest management measure. Rather than watch millions of trees go up in smoke, the businessman in Mr. Trump would likely opt for a more productive use — like recyclable cardboard for shipping the billions of Amazon orders Americans are placing during the coronavirus sequester.
For urging states to spruce up their forests rather attempt to regulate the entire planet’s HVAC system, Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden named Mr. Trump “a climate arsonist.” The actual “climate arsonist,” though, is Mother Nature. When human beings fail to clean their forests, she takes care of it the old-fashioned way: She burns them.