Forest Fires and Climate Change

Photo: Forest Fire/Shutterstock

Over the month of August, a change in the natural environment invaded King County. From the first sunset made more vibrant from hanging smoke, to the loss of our mountain views and air quality, it was impossible to ignore the forest fires burning all around us. When such a noticeable impact on our city lives occurs, it is important to stop and examine what its causes and implications might be. 

Wildfires are a natural occurrence and can even be beneficial to forest and species health. In recent years, however, we have witnessed a large up-swing in the area of forest burned each year, the length of the “burn season,” and the severity of forest fires in the United States. This is due to the hotter, drier summers characteristic of man-made climate change, development encroaching on wildlands, and an overzealous history of fire prevention in our country.  



When forests burn they release the carbon that had been stored in the trees and understory. It can take decades to replace the carbon storage benefits that were lost, which only perpetuates the problem. 

The good news is that a lot of really good scientific work has already been put into addressing this issue! We know of extremely effective preventative measures such as improving ecological resilience through restoration, thinning over crowded stands, prescribed burns, and a focus on watershed management. These measures are proven to be much more cost effective than battling an already raging fire.  

In order to benefit from this knowledge, however, we will need to make the necessary preventative investments. Too often in recent years, the money slotted for prevention is “stolen” to fight the worsening fires.  

Want to learn more about this topic?

King County Firewise

They take a community-based, County-run approach to fire prevention in our Region. 

National Geographic: Wildfires

National Forest Foundation: Wildfires and Climate Change