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Report: How Can the West Curb Effects of "Mega Fires?"

Crews battle the Diamond Creek Fire, one of the biggest fires this season in Washington state. (Forest Service/Flickr)
Crews battle the Diamond Creek Fire, one of the biggest fires this season in Washington state. (Forest Service/Flickr)
October 19, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. -- SEATTLE -- As the country tallies the many costs of an incredibly active wildfire season, a new report details the growing threat from so-called megafires.

The National Wildlife Federation detailed the risks to forests, communities and wildlife from the unusually large fires that have dominated recent seasons in the West. The report explored multiple causes: the U.S. Forest Service faces a massive forest restoration backlog. Money is shifted from other much-needed programs, such as forest restoration, to fight wildfires.

And according to Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, climate change is making for wetter springs in the Northwest, which increases undergrowth. Hotter and drier summers and autumns then leave that undergrowth dry - prime fuel for a fire event.

"It's a recipe for disaster,” Friedman said. "In the future, we might see the inland Northwest with weather patterns that we tend to think of now as like the Southwest. And when weather changes like that, your landscape is going to change as well."

Friedman and the report also pointed out that forests burn periodically as part of a natural cycle, which can be beneficial for rejuvenating them. But the increase in bigger and hotter blazes poses serious risks to local communities and economies, as well as wildlife.

Report co-author Shannon Heyck-Williams, climate and energy policy advisor at the National Wildlife Federation, said Congress should treat wildfires much like it treats other disasters, and offer disaster funding to the Forest Service. She said the country should also accelerate restoration projects in forests and grasslands to improve their resilience.

"We should do what we can to incorporate the future of climate and this new reality into our development planning, and really adapt to this changing world and develop more smartly, so that we don't put people in jeopardy,” Heyck-Williams said.

In addition to dependable funding for wildfire management and prioritizing restoration projects, the report suggested governments at all levels tackle carbon pollution to curb the effects of climate change.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA