What’s causing the wildfires?
Senate hopefuls Mitt Romney and Jenny Wilson sparred about how much of a role global warming has versus forest management in the many devastating wildfires in Utah and across our nation, while Rob Bishop wrote a scathing critique of Senate inaction on forest management. The truth is that this summer’s wildfires are caused by a myriad of factors, including both global warming and forest management — and both are interlinked.
Rising temperatures have been undeniable this summer in the U.S. and across the globe. July was so hot that record temperatures were set all over the world, including daytime, night time and even record high low temperatures. Even without the wildfires, warmer and record high temperatures alone are deeply concerning, particularly as nights prove to be warming even faster than days. Warm nights fail to cool our bodies, creating particularly lethal conditions. In fact, heat waves kill more Americans than any other kind of natural disaster. The warming temperatures we are experiencing have been predicted by climate models for decades.
Warmer temperatures not only lead to increased wildfire risks from drier conditions and drought, but also from bark beetle infestations , which have ravaged tree populations in western states, leaving our forests riddled with dry, dead trees. Bark beetles exist in the first place because there have not been enough consecutive cold days to kill them off due to rising temps. The beetles tend to target weaker, dying (mostly older) trees that are more prolific in warmer, dryer conditions. If forest management fails to clear out these target trees, bark beetles use them as breeding grounds from which to infiltrate entire forests — healthy trees and all — killing sometimes hundreds of thousands of acres of trees and leaving them at great risk of fires. Logging is an oversimplified proposed solution, as logging of healthy trees does not eliminate the problem, and clearing of dying and dead trees does not end the cycle of warming temperatures and drought.
Risks from wildfires
Wildfires in turn contribute to climate change by releasing carbon emissions and stored carbon from the burned trees into the atmosphere and eliminating a forest’s ability to store more carbon. They also pose threats to recreation, wildlife and watersheds and cost billions in firefighting services and property loss. Both climate solutions and forest management are needed to address the increased risk of wildfires in Utah.
This year, the Utah State Legislature passed HCR007 House Concurrent Resolution on Environmental and Economic Stewardship acknowledging a changing climate and calling for viable solutions. This victory was hard-won using conversations — not accusations — that allowed space for people with different beliefs and with questions about climate variability. We need to keep up the spirit of these climate conversations and encourage our legislators to push for climate solutions. But many of our legislators are waiting to gauge constituent support before pursuing policies that could mitigate the risks and address climate variability.
That’s why Utahns across the state must speak up and ask for climate solutions!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Commend your legislators for voting yes on HCR007. Ask them to support and initiate economically viable environmental stewardship policies that proactively assess and mitigate the impacts of a warming climate, like increased wildfire risk. Find out who represents you here. Check how your state representative and state senator voted below.
- Did your legislator vote no on HCR007? Refrain from judgement and condemnation, but rather encourage them to join more climate conversations and remain open to economically viable solutions. We want to invite more people into the conversation, not to push them further away. Choose your words wisely.
How your legislators voted on HCR007
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES – FLOOR VOTE: The House voted to pass HCR007 and move it on to the Senate. Here is the tally of their votes.
Yeas – 46
Nays – 24
Absent or not voting – 5
|Chew, S.||Hemingway, L.||Last, B.||Quinn, T.||Schultz, M.|
SENATE – FLOOR VOTE: Here is the vote tally for the third and final vote to pass HCR007 in the Senate.
Yeas – 23
Nays – 3
|Dabakis, J.||Escamilla, L.||Mayne, K.|
Absent or not voting – 3
|Niederhauser, W.||Okerlund, R.||Stevenson, J.|
HOUSE – CONCURRENCE VOTE: Changes were made in the Senate that had to be agreed to by the House. Here is how the House of Representatives voted on the Senate amendments.
Yeas – 51
Nays – 21
|Acton, C.K.||Albrecht, C.||Brooks, W.||Coleman, K.||Greene, B.|
|Kennedy, M.||Lisonbee, K.||Maloy, A.C.||McCay, D.||McKell, M.|
|Moss, J.||Noel, M.||Owens, D.||Peterson, V.||Quinn, T.|
|Roberts, M.||Robertson, A.||Seegmiller, T.||Stratton, K.||Thurston, N.|
Absent or not voting – 3
|Hemingway, L.||Ivory, K.||Last, B.|