What is Causing the Wildfires on the West Coast?

by Mark15patton on November 6, 2017 - 2:06pm


This article goes into detail about the relation of climate change and the wild fire severity and frequency in Douglas County, Colorado, U.S.A. The article agrees that climate change is happening and is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires in the North East, just not specifically Douglas County. The 2014 report from the U.S. Global Research Program shows evidence that the area Douglas County resides in will have less sensitivity to climate change than other forests on the West coast. This report has aided the one side's ability to disregard climate change as the main culprit of the wildfires. The controversy lies over if the factors of previous fire prevention methods, invasive species and disease have made the forest more vulnerable or if climate change is the main culprit. While these non climate change factors must be considered there are also some strong factors backing up that climate change has played a big role in the wild fires. Factors such as, increased warmer and drier climates, higher winds and less humidity during the day and night. A contribution of all these factors, climate change or not, has increased the wildfire season across the Pacific Northwest by at least two months. According to USDA Forest Service’s Quadrennial Fire Review for 2014 “there are now 2.5 times more fires of 1,000 acres or more, 3.5 times more fires of 10,000 acres or more and 3.6 times more fires of 25,000 acres or more on U.S. Forest Service land across 12 western states”. Regardless of the main cause there has been huge increase of possible wildfires.


Reading this article I couldn’t help but think of the command and control management style and its relation to decreasing an ecosystems natural resilience. Part of the problem Douglas County and the rest of the West coast is facing with wildfires is hugely in part to this management style. The over control of the forest ecosystem in these areas have let the forests build up a massive amount of fuel from the years of fire prevention. The article clearly states that there has a fight against forest fires every year since 1978 all the way to 2012. This method of suppression does not let the forest go through it natural cycle of letting itself burn to restart and get rid of weak trees and dead trees. It does sound that the Douglas County is realizing that there mangement practices might be contributing to the severity and frequency of the wildfires in the area. Hopefully with this knowledge of poor practices they change their style to a more adaptive management style. This style would look more to adapt to the forests natural cycles and then make actions rather trying to control the forests cycle from the start.

I also noticed a certain level of uncertainty associated the topic as a whole. It seemed that both sides of the argument had an incomplete knowledge of the forest and climate systems in play. I believe this is partly because it is impossible to completely understand the climate and forest systems but also because both sides weren't asking the right questions about all the factors. With these facts I believe the situation falls somewhere between uncertainty and indeterminacy on the risk assessment table.

It was clear that the conflict between the two parties was cognitive. There was conflict between the understanding of the scientific reports released in the areas and the community from Douglas Counties own local knowledge of the problem. I think the main cause of this misunderstanding was purely a scale issue.

Hoard, E. (2017). Climate change difficult to link to western Cascades wildfires. NRToday.com. Retrieved 5 November 2017, from https://www.nrtoday.com/news/environment/wildfires/climate-change-diffic...