Climate change impacts on our wildfires

Climate change impacts on our wildfires

Hello everyone, it’s Hilary Franz,
Commissioner of Public lands for Washington State, and it’s Earth Day, it’s
a really important day here, where we’re raising the value of our
earth and how important our environment is for protecting our communities,
keeping them safe and growing our local sustainable economy ,I’m blessed to have
with me Heidi with the University of Washington Climate Impact Group as well
as Mo McBroom from The Nature Conservancy and we want to talk a bit
about what we’re seeing in the landscape and some of the challenges we face The state is seeing more
significant catastrophic wildfires every year, last year was one of our worst
years on record with 1850 wildfires it started in early
April and went all the way to October and we had a new phenomenon with 40% of our fires west of the Cascades and then just last month in the middle of March,
unprecedented, we have 54 fires in the second week of March with 53 of those
west of the Cascades, something is definitely happening here and tell us
Heidi what you’re seeing based on a changing climate and what its impact is having on
Washington State from wildfires to forest health to droughts. So many of the things
you’re describing are exactly what we anticipate with a warmer hotter planet
so we’ve already warmed Washington State by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900
that’s about the global average so it’s getting warmer but we also think about
fire rate we’ve mentioned lengthening season so fires coming earlier lasting
longer more and bigger fires so as we warm the planet we dry out our forests
in the Pacific Northwest in particular we’re seeing less snowmelt or less
snowpack, earlier spring snowmelt and hotter drier summers and these are all
things that contribute to making our fires more prone to wildfire so when we
think about what happens in the future we’re also living it now but when we
think about the future of the Pacific Northwest we actually expect the area
burned by wildfire to nearly triple by mid-century so this is the 2040s, that’s
not that far away and then when we dig a little deeper, and think about the
connection between wildfires and climate change … It’s certainly a complex topic because humans and land management practices all have to do with with health and status of our
forests and how prone they are to wildfire but there’s some really amazing,
research that’s showing that actually there’s a direct connection between the
amount of forest fires that have burned since even the 1980s in the western US
4.2 million hectares of land across the western US have been can be directly
attributed to human-caused climate change, that’s nearly double the area
burned if we didn’t have human-caused climate change, so we’re seeing impacts
here and now and we’re projecting out to the future where the main take-home is
that even here in the northwest on the east and the west side of the Cascades
were expecting more and bigger wildfire. Yeah so one of the things we are
grateful for our work and our partnership the Climate Impacts Group is
we went out and set out saying we are seeing these changes and we believe the
best thing we can do for Washington State for our communities, for our
economy and our environment is to actually be aware of those changes and
start being able to create more resilient communities, more resilient
landscapes, you’ve been helping us with the climate risk assessment and now the
development of climate risk plan for all six million of our acres which is in
every county of this state and so thank you for your leadership on that and the
University of Washington one of the things that we’ve done in that … We realize people say is this the new normal, is there anything I can
do about this, are we just stuck with this reality, we do believe that we can
make the significant changes in our landscape to actually improve them and
make them more resilient to a changing climate to the wildfire conditions and
one of those that we are taking a lead on is our forest health work thanks to
the partnership with the Nature Conservancy and your leadership we’ve
been looking at how do we make our forests more resilient in the face of
changing climate in the face of fire, Mo can you tell us a bit about what that
means how do we make our forests more resilient? There’s huge opportunity, so we know that for thousands of years
fire is actually part of a healthy forest, it’s a critical part of the landscape, but
for the last hundred years or so we have fought all the fires we’ve suppressed
every fire we can and what that means is our forests have now a lot of unhealthy,
even dangerous, under brush and vegetation so
even as we suppress fires where we need to protect communities we also have
an opportunity to bring fire back onto the landscape in a way that is safe and
this is called prescribed fire, a prescribed fire essentially is when
firefighters go out into the forests and they in a very careful and diligent way
bring fire back onto the landscape to remove the underbrush and so that the
trees then the healthy strong trees remain unharmed it’s a great solution
and we can do this so we’ve identified the nature conservancy’s identified 2.7
million acres across central Eastern Washington that need this treatment and
DNR has really led on coming up with a plan for how do we address this but we
need resources we have huge opportunity it can create a lot of jobs we can get
this done and we need to act now because climate change will only make our fire
season longer smokier and more dangerous. So one of the things that was so
impactful for me is before I came in this position representative Joel Kretz
from the Tonasket area took me out onto the landscape and he said, Hilary
you have to see this with your own eyes to understand it where the fire had come
through the valley in 2015 and had just ravaged this forest area and then all of
a sudden stops literally at a line and that line was where the forest had
already been treated that got in the dead and not dying diseased trees have
been removed through that woody debris on the floor and then brought prescribed
fire in and it literally had made it stronger, more resilient,
and that is how we can actually make our forest more resilient in the face of fire
and changing climate this year, we are right now we’ve got the plan, a wildfire strategic plan and what we need right now is dedicated
funding that will enable us to go into the forest and be able to do this
treatment as I say we’re gonna pay for regardless we’re paying one hundred and
fifty three million annually to fight fires in this state and the question is
do we want to pay to react in the face of smoke and fire and risk and damage to
our communities and potential risks to our firefighters or do we want to be
proactive get in there remove the dead dying, diseased trees, remove the smaller
day right send it to the mill, create local jobs and create more sustainable
wood product for housing and our other build environment, and I think it’s a
huge opportunity for us to get a win that takes care of multiple problems so
please stay tuned, we’re working tirelessly this session to get this
dedicated funding. Happy Earth Day to everyone thank you for your leadership
please know you can also reduce fires

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