Over the past three decades, man-made climate change has doubled the total area burned by forest fires in the Western US. A new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the difference from 1985 to now is staggering. 30 years ago, just 2.9 million total acres burned, but in 2015 10.1 million acres were destroyed during fire season.
The researchers pointed most of the blame on man-made climate change – which is responsible for warmer, drier weather which allows fires to thrive. However, there are also other factors at play – including natural climate shifts and changes in how humans are using the land. The amount of land burned by fires is only expected to increase over the coming years as global temperatures continue to rise.
In a disturbing statement, Columbia University researcher and study author Park Williams told Time, “No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear. “We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations.”
While the exact scope of the issue is startling, the general trend itself should come as no surprise: every year in recent memory has gone down as the hottest on record. In the years to come, we will likely have to adapt and find new ways to prevent and extinguish forest fires if we want to preserve our forests and protect nearby communities. Unfortunately, that could prove difficult given the fact that cataclysmic fires in recent years have drained the Forest Service’s budget in the hardest-hit states.