Over the past 40 years, Utah has seen a steady increase in the number and intensity of wildfires. There are many reasons as to why they start, but warmer temperatures, combined with steady and persistent drought means that we will only be seeing bigger fires more often. As an example, in August of last year, the Deseret News reported that more than $50 million was spent as of mid-August to fight more than 1,000 fires across the state. Of that $50 million, roughly $16 million of that was directly from the state (the rest coming from federal aid). This figure does not include private damage, reseeding efforts, and the long term economic impact that wildfires have on the state – these are just raw numbers generated from fighting the fires themselves.
The article also points out that the Legislature only budgeted $3 million for fighting fires.
It goes without saying that our state’s firefighters are being forced to do more with less – and because of this, wildfire fighters need to be creative and forward thinking.
It is a fact that, over the last decade, temperatures in Utah were “higher than observed during any comparable period in the past century and roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 100 year average,” according to a 2007 report published by scientists from the University of Utah, Utah State University, Brigham Young University, and the US Department of Agriculture. Looking forward, The Nature Conservancy warns that Utah may face an additional 9.4 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase over the next century. When we take into account that adapted data from the National Research Council that states that for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of temperature increase, the estimated area of land that burns during any given season could increase up to four times in size, it is easy to see that our firefighters, and the state budget, have much to prepare for.
This is where HB 77 – Wildfire Suppression Amendments from Representative Kraig Powell (R – Heber City) steps in. The bill would provide the Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands to put together a long range fire suppression plan that takes into account the changing climate – I climate that makes large, costly fires not only possible, but probable.
What makes this bill groundbreaking is that, if it were to pass, it appears this would be the first time “climate change” is recognized in Utah code. The language itself is somewhat straightforward, saying that climate change is an average annual temperature increase that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity and poses risks to fire management, including an extended fire season, increase in the occurrence of fire, and an increase in the areas burned.
By inserting this language, the state will better be able to plan for, and prevent wildfires. Regardless of one’s feelings towards the science behind climate change, this language should be allowed, if only to help prevent expenses to the state in the future.
To contact Rep. Powell, Click Here
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Great Bill 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 . -1 . -2 . -3 . -4 . -5 Poor Bill