Forest Fires & Faulty Evidence for Climate Change

‘The growth of raging forest fires is evidence of worsening climate change.’ But what if that narrative is completely unsupported by the data?

The Union of Concerned Scientists feel comfortable using just about any alarming fact as evidence of climate change. “Since 2015, the United States has experienced, on average, roughly 100 more large wildfires every year than the year before… we’re seeing more wildfires, more acres burned, and longer, more intense fire seasons. Warmer temperatures increase the likelihood that fires will burn more intensely… increased droughts, unusual rain patterns, and insect outbreaks that lead to large stands of dead trees are also connected with climate change—and they all make wildfires more likely.”

The data however, tells a different story. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) focuses on “wildland firefighting” and “share(s) firefighting supplies, equipment, and personnel, which helps ensure efficient and cost-effective incident management.” The NIFC has data going all the way back to 1926. The 7,376,721 acres burned so far in 2020 is unlikely to beat the 10,026,086 burned in 2017.

To spot trends, it helps to look at acres burned over time. From 2010-20, nearly 76 million acres were burned (granted we still have 3 months to go). But from 1930-40 over 417 million acres were burned. That’s more than 5x more than was burned from 2010-20. In fact, more acres were burned every year from 1926-1955 than was burned in 2020. Something tells me any additional acres burned in 2020 is unlikely to reach the levels from 90 years ago. Where was climate change in 1935?

And our friends at the Foundation for Economic Education pointed out that “Texas actually has more forest and higher temperatures than California, but the Lone Star state rarely struggles with fires, perhaps because 95 percent of its land mass is privately owned and these owners act as responsible stewards of the land.” California should consider placing more of its publicly controlled land into private hands to minimize the chance of fires.

Taking a long-term view, Americans have done an admirable job at fighting fires since the mid-1900’s. Some years will be worse than others, but the supposed evidence linking forest fire to climate change is complete bunk.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.




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