Wildfires a burning question in Senate

Sarah Gardner Sep 24, 2007


Bob Moon: Some lawmakers want to find out whether climate change is causing more wildfires in the American West. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing today on that question. As Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, more scientists are pointing to global warming.

Sarah Gardner: This year, over 8 million acres of U.S. land has been burned up in wildfires. And more of them are “mega-fires.” Those are blazes that cover at least a hundred thousand acres. The firefighting tab now regularly tops a billion dollars a year.

University of Arizona scientist Thomas Swetnam:

Thomas Swetnam: Over the larger landscape of the whole western U.S., and also including Alaska, we’re seeing this relationship between climate change and increasingly large fires.

Swetnam took part in a landmark study last year that suggests a strong link between warmer temperatures and more frequent, longer-burning wildfires.

But Hugh Safford with the Forest Service say another cause is U.S. forest management.

Hugh Safford: Fire suppression still is really the law of the land.

Safford says very few wildfires are allowed to burn out. So now, our forest floors are thick with underbrush that fuels these blazes. And drier conditions from global warming don’t help.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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