Bingaman on Climate Change and Wildfires

September 24, 2007
06:40 PM

“The likelihood that global warming would result in increased wildfire activity and fire-suppression costs was discussed at a hearing of this Committee more than 27 years ago. Since then, we have held numerous hearings to consider the science on global climate change and the science on wildfire, but this is the first to consider the impacts of global warming specifically on wildfire activity.

“A report released earlier this month by the Government Accountability Office reported that a group of experts convened by it and the National Academies of Sciences ‘generally agreed that the scientific community has reached consensus that climate change will . . . cause forest fires to grow in size and severity.’

“That consensus is reflected in the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concludes that ‘an intensification and expansion of wildfires is likely globally,’ along ‘with an extended period of high fire risk and large increases in area burned’ in North America as a result of global warming.

“Despite the enormous efforts of our firefighters, wildfires have become larger, more intense, more difficult, and more expensive to control in recent years. We have often discussed the role that past wildfire suppression and other land-uses have had in fueling wildfire activity in some areas in recent years.

“But it is clear from the science that climate change is driving the dramatic growth in wildfire activity, and that it is likely to get worse. A number of studies predict that global warming will increase the number of acres-burned by wildfires in the United States by 25-75 percent by the middle of this century. Alaska, the Southeast, the Southwest and the Northern Rockies appear to be at particularly high-risk.

“This information is important to this Committee’s work on global warming and wildfire policies. For example, the wildfire situation is a stark reminder of the enormous current and potential costs of not acting on global warming -- a point that was made in the Stern Report that recently was considered by this Committee.

“Along with rising temperatures, Federal wildland fire spending has more than tripled in less than 10 years, rising from less than $800 million in 1996 to $3 billion.

“It also is a reminder that, while the Forest Service’s work to contain its wildland firefighting costs is critical, those efforts will not solve the growing budget crisis that it faces.”

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