Summer is my favorite time of year in the Gallatin valley, perhaps because it is so fleeting (which makes it ever-so precious). I hike, bike, and run about town in the wonderful sunlight, surrounded by blue skies and hot, dry heat. Of course, this weekend, my beloved Bozeman has been choked with smoke from a wildfire out in Three Forks. One of the costs of living in Montana, and the West more generally, is the fire season which is so essential to life and renewal here. Of course, that fire season has been getting worse and longer, which makes it harder on me when I exercise outside due to my asthma, a condition I've learned to manage throughout my life.
Over the weekend, I had time to reflect on forest fires and how sound public policy might help bring them under some control. I revisited Senator Daines’ recent op-ed in the Billings Gazette discussing wildfire and forest reform, which I read with interest. First, Daines hits the nail on the head concerning a critical challenge facing the US Forest Service and other federal agencies responsible for managing healthy forests: money. The US Forest Service’s budget is burdened with ever-increasing fire-fighting costs, which drain its ability to spend on other important activities such as trail, campground, and facility maintenance. Daines’ solution to this problem is his Wildfire Disaster Funding Act “which ensures large forest fires are treated and funded as the true natural disasters they are, similar to hurricanes or tornadoes.” I hope the bill—which Daines is co-sponsoring along with Senator Tester—finds a solid reception among critical allies of both parties, particularly those senators representing East Coast states hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. (Montanans also should hope that they don’t hold then-Congressman Steve Daines’ very first roll calls against him, given that he voted against a bill funding Sandy relief efforts.)
|Total Hectares Burned by Wildfires in Canada, 1970-2013. Source: Canadian National Forestry Database|
|Total Acres Burned in the US (in millions of Acres), 1960-2014. Source: CRS Report, "Federal Funding for Wildfire Control and Management," July 5, 2011 and National Interagency Fire Center.|
The jury is not out. Ninety-seven percent of studies unambiguously endorse the notion that rising carbon dioxide levels, the result of human activity, are an important and substantial contributor to global warming. Check out the information yourself at NASA.