Preventing Catastrophic Wildfire Under Climate Change

Author: Patrick Gonzalez


Wildfires, damages, and deaths are increasing because of unnatural accumulations of wood from outdated forest policies and intensifying heat from human-caused climate change. Preventing catastrophic wildfires requires improved, science-based policies that will shift the government from after-the-fact firefighting to proactive controlled burning. This would improve the lives of Americans and the health of our ecosystems by reducing deaths and damage due to wildfire, restoring damaged forests that naturally require fire, and decreasing the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

This proposal outlines a policy approach to achieve these outcomes. Executive action will establish a national strategy for proactive fire management. Legislation will ensure revenue neutral implementation by reallocating funds currently used for firefighting to less expensive and more effective fire prevention. Finally, fire managers will increase prescribed burning and use of natural fires, relying on scientific analyses to target areas at greatest risk under climate change.

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About the Author

Patrick Gonzalez, Ph.D. is a forest ecologist, climate change scientist, and an Associate Adjunct Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served as the Principal Climate Change Scientist of the U.S. National Park Service and contributed science to policy in positions in Washington, DC. Dr. Gonzalez has conducted field research in Africa, Latin America, and the United States and published in numerous journals, including Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. He has served as a lead author on four reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the organization awarded a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.