- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The West is burning again. As millions of residents can attest, the reddish nighttime glow emanating from the dry hills bracketing towns and cities is a seasonal occurrence in a region known for its hot and dry summers. In its ponderous way, Congress is attempting to assemble an array of remedies. Thus far, though, the wits of Washington have proved to be no match for the wildfires.

Nearly 40,000 blazes have already consumed more than 5.8 million acres this summer season, the greatest acreage since 2015 and well above the annual average of 3.7 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Despite forming the nation’s western rim, wildfire-prone California is always the center of attention. Four blazes are currently scorching the Golden State, including one that at one point threatened the majestic giant sequoia trees of Yosemite National Park. Surprisingly though, the state currently suffering the greatest number of large wildfires is chilly and remote Alaska with 27, following a spring that was both warmer and wetter than usual.



About half the nation, including California, is suffering from drought this summer, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Such weather extremes are routinely chalked up to climate change, but they are only truly recognizable as symptoms of climatic shifts when they persist over lengthy time periods. Counterintuitively, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that every region of the 48 contiguous states — except one — has experienced an average per-decade increase in precipitation during the period of 1901 to 2019.

The outlier is the Southwest, which has recorded a one-hundredth of an inch per decade drop in precipitation over that time span. Accordingly, New Mexico has suffered a massive, 340,000-acre blaze in its Santa Fe National Forest that is now almost contained, thankfully.

In late July, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act, 218-199. Among other things, it authorizes $1.2 billion for firefighter salaries. The package was largely opposed by Republicans who argued the inclusion of a $20 minimum wage could result in firefighter layoffs if the funds were not fully appropriated in later legislation. The GOP also contended another $500 million for the thinning of trees and removal of dry underbrush was insufficient after years of forest management neglect. As the West chars, the Act awaits attention in accordance with the Senate’s deliberate time schedule.

Meanwhile, the wilderness environment faces immediate challenges posed by crazy human behavior on top of any related to climate. In Utah, authorities arrested a hiker recently and charged him with reckless burning. The man set a wildfire unintentionally, according to news reports, when he spotted a spider and attempted to burn it with his lighter.

And another man was similarly charged for allegedly setting blazes in a remote southwest Oregon forest. He was caught by locals who, in an act of poetic justice, tied him snuggly to one of the trees that he might have otherwise incinerated.

While Washington fiddles and wildfires burn, Mother Nature undertakes matchless ways of managing forests on her own terms.

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