Climate change is making it harder and costlier to deal with wildfire on state lands, so land managers should take up the proper tools, according to a bill headed for the 2013 Utah Legislature.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, is proposing legislation, HB77, that urges the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands to adopt pre-suppression strategies with an eye on the how climate change is already affecting wildfire in the Utah.
"This will give the division the tools it needs to respond to challenges over and above the challenges it is already facing," said Powell, whose bill responds to concerns raised by constituents.
Scientists say climate change is already driving an increase in extreme weather-related events, such as the record-setting 2012 fire season. Higher temperatures, coupled with early spring snowmelt, dry out the soil, vegetation and trees, and fuels more and bigger wildfires.
Powell's bill would assist the forestry and state lands office in planning for and tackling the growing wildfire activity.
Lauren Johnson, a college student and Powell constituent, applauded the bill.
"Everyone thinks climate change is our generation's problem to solve later," she said, "but the data shows that it's real, and it's happening now."
Mitchell Power, assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah and a Powell constituent, noted that wildfires impose high costs on Utah taxpayers and stress state agencies.
In 2012, 1,453 wildfires in Utah burned nearly 500,000 acres. Fighting the fires cost an estimated $50 million, and Utah taxpayers paid $16 million of that, advocates for the bill said.
"Climate is changing in a direction that is not good in terms of wildfire," Power said.
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