By Jon Stewart

Do you have a point you’d like to make or an issue you feel strongly about? Submit a letter to the editor or a guest column.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, a detailed 1,600-page report compiled by 13 federal agencies, has little good to say about the future impacts of climate change for America.

Released by the Trump administration on Black Friday in the hopes of being overlooked in the holiday news cycle, it clearly contradicts those who still deny man-made climate change.

But there is a bit of good news for firefighters hidden among the report’s details of collapsing crop yields, fiercer hurricanes and rising sea levels: if we are willing to wait half a century, wildfires will cause far less devastation here in the West.

This is because those forests prone to wildfires will have burned to a crisp by then.

I just completed hiking the 800-mile length of the Arizona Trail where I had a disturbing glimpse of this future.

This national scenic trail is designed to showcase some of the finest scenery of the Grand Canyon State from the Mexican border to Utah. It traverses half a dozen wilderness areas, four national forests and three national park service units.

But today much of Arizona’s once cool, forested wilderness areas towering in sky islands above its sprawling cities and golf courses are little more than burned-over desert scrub.

Over the past two decades much of its high elevation pine, oak and fir forests have gone up in smoke, and many of the trees that survived the fires have since succumbed to insects and disease.

Over the past 21 years five of the largest wildfires in Arizona’s history, the death of 19 firefighters and the charring of over 3,000 square miles of public and private land have resulted from long-term drought.

Arizona’s megafires have burned with such intensity and over such large areas that its forests cannot recover, but are completely destroyed.

Wildfire experts no longer refer to fire seasons anymore but fire years.

From 1980 to 2010, there was a fourfold increase in the number of wildfires in the West as the length of the wildfire season expanded by 2½ months and the size of wildfires increased severalfold.

A little over a month ago the Camp Fire torched over 31 square miles in less than 24 hours, killed over 85 residents and destroyed over 2,000 homes in Paradise, California.

Wildfires burned over 8.5 million acres in the U.S. this past year, 34 percent above the total devastated a decade ago.

For those who have climbed to the top of South Sister recently it is easy to see the same thing is happening in our backyard.

Wildfires over the past few decades have burned off vast tracts of forests in and around the Three Sisters Wilderness. This past year’s extended drought made our local fire season longer, hotter and drier than ever before. Although smoke may not have canceled events and impacted tourism in Central Oregon like it did in Southern Oregon this past summer, over 365,000 acres did burn in the Central Oregon Fire Management coverage area this past year. This was more than five times the 10-year-average for our area.

Last month voters in the state of Washington turned down a carbon tax on companies using or selling fossil fuels. Proceeds would have been used to mitigate climate change. Big oil and energy companies spent over $25 million to defeat the measure, more than doubling the amount raised by supporters of the initiative.

We in Oregon can do better. We had one of the first bottle bills in the nation and are famous for preserving our public beaches.

In the upcoming legislative session there is an opportunity to pass a carbon tax, a first step to mitigating climate change in our state. Big oil is already mobilizing lobbyists and spending money to fight the measure.

It is time for us to stand up to help save our local homes and forests before it is too late.

— Jon Stewart is a local author and a retired Forest Service fire management officer.

21934932