July 07, 2006

Global Warming Causing More Fires In West

Climate change is the culprit, study concludes:

Rising temperatures throughout the West have stoked an increase in large wildfires over the past 34 years as spring comes earlier, mountain snows melt sooner and forests dry to tinder, scientists reported Thursday.

More than land-use changes or forest- management practices, the researchers concluded, the changing climate was the most important factor driving a quadrupling in the average number of large wildfires in the Western U.S. since 1970.

All told, the average fire season has grown more than two months longer, while fires have become more frequent, longer-burning and harder to extinguish.

They destroy 6.5 times more land than in the 1970s, the researchers found.
Warmer weather=more fires. Hope they got Federal money for that research. They continue--and show their hand regarding their position on global warming:

"I think this is the equivalent for the West of what hurricanes are (elsewhere in the country)," said fire ecologist Steven Running at the University of Montana in Missoula, who was not connected with the research. "This is an illustration of a natural disaster that is accelerating in intensity as a result, I feel, of global warming. This really links fire activity in the West to global warming."

The study doesn't prove that the climate change is human-induced, Westerling said. But it does show that wildfires are likely to increase if the warming trend continues - and the researchers were confident they had documented a broad climate trend at work and not a fluke of weather variability.

"I see this as one of the first big indicators of climate-change impacts in the continental United States," said Thomas Swetnam, an expert on fire history and director of the laboratory of tree- ring research at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who was part of the research team.

. . .

"The most stark conclusion here is that while they do say land use and management has played an important role, the broad-scale increase in wildfire frequency has been driven primarily by recent changes in climate," said wild land fire analyst Tom Wordell at the National Interagency Fire Center. "It does not paint a pretty picture for future fire activity, given the climate model predictions."
So global warming is responsible, but humans might not be the sole contributing factor. Not exactly another notch in Gore's veil of "consensus".

"Not a fluke of weather variability" is an extremely weak argument, given that less than four decades were studied. Warmer periods in the past likely produced an increase in fires, but due to a lack of burning material throught less management and more cyclical fire patterns (fires being allowed to burn, forests being thinner), they too might have not been as large.

Also, still a bit iffy on the "climate model predictions" thing. Anyone who has lived on the Front Range of Colorado can tell you that weather forecasting here is more alchemy than meteorology. They can't tell what the weather will be like in a few hours or days, let alone decades from now. One does not have to be that credulous in order to avoid being labeled a skeptic.

**Note to researchers: less precipitation also increases fire danger. Thought it would save you some time.


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