WASHINGTON — As if Smokey Bear didn’t have enough to worry about with drought, lightning strikes and bug infestations turning trees into forest fire tinder, now global warming is being blamed for the deadly blazes throughout the west.
President Barack Obama has made the link a key part of his climate change agenda, along with too much rain, not enough rain, too much heat in the summer, and not enough snow in the winter.
And his presidential campaign committee that now acts as a social welfare organization is targeting members of Congress including three Colorado Republicans who disagree with him.
“The potential impacts go beyond rising sea levels,” Obama said during his recent keynote climate change address.
“Here at home, 2012 was the warmest year in our history. Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and then drenched by the wettest spring on record. Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland. Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s,” Obama said.
“Firefighters are braving longer wildfire seasons, and states and federal governments have to figure out how to budget for that,” Obama said.
“I had to sit on a meeting with the Department of Interior and Agriculture and some of the rest of my team just to figure out how we’re going to pay for more and more expensive fire seasons. Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction in insurance premiums, state and local taxes, and the costs of rebuilding and disaster relief,” Obama said.
A recent fatal wildfire in Arizona that resulted from a lightning strike and killed 19 firefighters is the latest natural disaster to be blamed on climate change.
Top Obama administration officials told Congress last week during a hearing on forest fires that a significant focus of their future efforts to prevent forest fires would reflect that shift of priorities.
“The largest issue is how we adapt our management to anticipate climate change impacts and begin to mitigate their potential effects,” said James Hubbard, Forest Service deputy chief.
As the Obama administration proposes multiple new projects to prevent climate change, they want Congress to cut millions in spending next year to clear downed trees and other fire hazards on federal lands that are fueling the wildfires.
The budget cut amounts to 37 percent in 2014, down to $115 million in spending nationwide. Meanwhile, Colorado has spent $30 million since 2007 for fuel mitigation projects.
Joseph Duda, Colorado deputy state forester, also appeared before the House Resources Committee hearing and said that nearly seven million acres of trees in the state are at risk from forest fires, having been severely impacted by bark beetles since 1996.
“Drought and climate change have contributed to this scenario, but the condition of the forests is the primary underlying factor, with nearly homogenous landscapes of mature, single-age stands that are overly dense and stressed from competing for nutrients and water. In other words, they are ripe for insect attacks and destructive wildfires,” Duda said.
While Obama focuses on carbon emissions as the cause of wildfires, Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton says wildfires are the cause of significant carbon emissions.
If Obama is truly interested in reducing carbon emissions, the focus should remain on fire prevention, not just lamenting the cause, Tipton said.
“Wildfire can often emit more carbon in a few weeks than all of the cars in that state do in a year,” Tipton said.
“This was the case with the Hayman Fire in Colorado, and will likely be the case with the West Fork Complex Fire,” Tipton said.
Carbon emissions from wildfires are expected to increase 50 percent by the year 2050, according to a report from Auburn University and George Mason University.
“When trees grow they absorb carbon, but when a tree dies, like the thousands of acres of dead bark beetle trees that cover our hillsides, it starts to release carbon slowly as it decomposes, or rapidly when it burns,” Tipton said.
“The failure to address responsible forest management for the health, the natural environment, and for the safety of our communities simply defies logic,” Tipton said.
Even though extreme weather has plagued mankind since the dawn of time, Obama ridicules anyone who questions his claims and an offshoot of his presidential campaign, Organizing for Action, is targeting lawmakers who disagree with him.
The campaign is urging followers to “call out” certain members of Congress on Twitter, including Reps. Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn, and Tipton.
“Scott Tipton conceded that climate change exists, but argued that it’s caused by natural climate cycles rather than humans,” the campaign says on its webpage.
Gardner and Lamborn also made the list for questioning the causes of global warming and the long-term effects.
Another arm of the Democratic Party, Media Matters, is criticizing western newspapers that do not blame climate change on devastating wildfires.
“A survey of papers in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah found that coverage of recent wildfires only mentioned the role of climate change about 4.5 percent of the time — less than half as often as major national papers (9.4 percent),” Media Matters said last week.