Wildfires are becoming bigger, wilder, hotter, and faster, and that’s a big risk to forests. But it’s not the fire itself that’s the latest threat to these forests — but something strange that’s happened as a result of them.
The US Forest Service just released its new Restoration Report, revealing that they have been so occupied with trying to put out the near constant fires, that 65 million acres of forest needing restoration aren’t getting it. And it’s not just the time. The money for fighting wildfires comes out of the Forest Service’s restoration budget. Twenty years ago, that portion of the budget was a relatively slim 16 per cent. Today, it’s consumed over half the entire budget already — and the year isn’t even over yet.
In some ways, this is an understandable development. In the short term, certainly the concern of “My God, a giant, uncontrollable fire is sweeping towards all of your homes right now!” should trump “Yes, but who is going to clear out all of this brush?” But what this means in the long term is that restoration work, much of which is geared towards making that forest less susceptible to wildfire spread in the first place, is simply not getting done.
What that creates is a nightmare feedback loop where all the available time, budget, and resources are funneled into fighting current wildfires, which are made worse and worse by the lack of maintenance, resulting in even more and worse wildfires to fight.
What’s the solution? Well, certainly one is to devote more resources overall to the problem to make up for the huge chunk currently being burned by fire.
But it’s also an important illustration of one of the underlying, recurring problems of climate change: Climate change is going to throw more and more problems at us the worse it gets — and solving those problems is going to require huge amounts of resources. But those resources don’t just appear; they have to come from somewhere else.
In other words, climate change is going to create a lot of weird future problems for us, but some of the worst might be the unintended side-effects of what we’re no longer able to care for while our attention is elsewhere.
Top image: NASA JPL/Caltech