In a forum convened Tuesday by the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, a panel of experts on climate, wildfires, and forestry met with task force cochairs Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and other lawmakers to discuss the impact of climate change on wildfires.
"We've been experiencing wildfire activity that is different and more dangerous," Waxman said in his opening statement, calling recent fires some of the "largest and most intense ... we've seen."
Panelists cited a number of reasons for wildfire flare-ups, including land-use patterns and insect activity. But the discussion kept circling back to climate change.
"Scientists tell us these changes are not just random variability," Waxman said. "Bigger and more-intense fires are one of the red flags of climate change."
Climate-change expert William Sommers, a researcher at George Mason University's EastFIRE Laboratory, agreed. Sommers cautioned that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will only worsen wildfires in decades to come. "If current greenhouse-gas emission trends are not sharply reversed in the immediate future, we will see observed trends in wildfire risk accelerate," he warned.
Waxman and Whitehouse asked firefighting and forestry experts for policy recommendations to help mitigate the situation.