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Fire concerns drive foresters to CongressFire concerns drive foresters to Congress

In testimony recently, state foresters shared their concerns, which were echoed by at least one major environmental group.

October 3, 2018

3 Min Read
SPREADING PROBLEM: The Carr fire near Redding, Calif., is just one example of events that torched more than 7 million acres this year. State foresters are calling on Congress to support efforts to use science-based approaches to manage the problem.Terray Sylvester/Getty Images

It’s not every day that you see testimony from disparate groups saying the same thing, but it happened in the U.S. House a few weeks ago. State foresters from Montana and Texas testified on the need for more hazardous fuel treatments; and in reviewing testimonies, it turns out the National Wildlife Federation is on board for many of the same tactics. The state foresters were on hand representing the National Association of State Foresters.

The key is that lack of forest management in the past few years has led to a critical buildup of fuel to support fires if they start. Solving the problem means getting more targeted with science-based tactics, including controlled burns and mechanical fuel reduction methods to reduce the threat of fires.

In testimony before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Tom Boggus, the Texas state forester, shared that there is no area in the country immune from wildfire and wildfire smoke. “Large cities, often far from forests on fire, have experienced significantly reduced air quality, impacting human health, tourism and … more. Our forests will inevitably burn; the task is to figure out how this phenomenon can occur with the least impact.”

Added Sonya Germann, Montana state forester: “When we can, we employ thinnings to manage wildfire fuels. In other circumstances, it’s best to use prescribed fire. What we’ve found through decades of research and experience is that prescribed fires are radically different from wildfires. For starters, the smoke from prescribed fires is more manageable and much less severe.”

Germann noted that prescribed burns happen only when every detail — including wind, temperature, humidity, location, fuels and ignition — is just right. She said that in Montana, advanced weather forecasting and smoke modeling systems, coupled with the cooperation and expertise of the state’s natural resource and environmental protection agencies, have allowed fire managers to tailor ignition locations and times to meet specific smoke management objectives.

Talking pollution
Collin O’Mara, president and CEO, National Wildlife Federation, shared that a healthy forest can help protect clean water, clean air, climate and essential ecosystems. “Yet, the ability of our national forests to do so has been jeopardized by inadequate restoration and management and escalating climate impacts, both of which exacerbate the threat and consequences of increasingly intense wildfires.”

The big challenge is that wildfires, as Boggus pointed out, are not local problems. The smoke is creating new pollution problems that impact large parts of the country. O’Mara said that in some cases, the increase in air pollution due to wildfires “is undermining years of progress reducing air pollution from power plants, industrial facilities and vehicles.” He added that studies show annual carbon emissions from wildfires can range from 160 million to 290 million tons, which equals 34 to 63 million passenger vehicles, or 2% to 4% of U.S. carbon emissions.

Boggus testified that the beneficial impact of managed prescribed fire on air quality emissions has been recognized by EPA in its rule-making. “In both the updating of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard and the Exceptional Events Rule, EPA clearly addresses the role of wildfire as an emissions source, and the relevance of prescribed fire use and fuels management in reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire.”

Improving funding for forest management is a key need, according to the association.

Source: National Association of State Foresters, National Wildlife Federation

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