When considering the negative impacts of climate change, people often cite wildfires, and for good reason. Over the past few years in the United States the damage from wildfires, in terms of acres burned, has increased. In 2021, California saw the single largest fire in the state’s recorded history, the Dixie Fire. It consumed an area that is nearly the size of Rhode Island. Recently in Colorado, wildfires raged, causing at least $513 million worth of damage.
To address the issue of wildfires, conservatives in Congress are finding pragmatic ways to improve the health of America’s forests and limit the impact that climate change and poor management have on our natural resources and communities. One such conservative leader is Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, who leads Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee. Yesterday Rep. Westerman joined John Hart on the Right Voices interview series.
When tragedy strikes and wildfires impact the United States, the Left is quick to blame climate change. However, they often fail to mention the lack of proper forest management. Westerman, who is a forest engineer by trade and graduate of Yale’s School of the Environment, says we should instead look to a variety of factors, including forest management. Bad management strategies such as fire suppression have created tinderboxes that make forest fires far more damaging.
“When a forest closes the growing space, you get competition for minerals and nutrients and water and sunlight, it just stops growing. And actually, that’s when it goes the other way and is subject to catastrophic wildfire through disease and insect infestations.”
Indeed, research from the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) finds that climate change accounts for just 14% of the influence on destructive wildfires. Fuel load is the biggest factor, accounting for 53% of the influence.
This is not to say that reducing carbon emissions and climate change’s impacts is not a noble goal to pursue. In fact, Rep. Westerman has looked to improve America’s environmental health and reduce atmospheric CO2 by way of his Trillion Trees Act. As Westerman explains:
“[The] Trillion Trees [Act] came from an idea sparked by a research paper that was presented at the World Economic Forum that said if we planted a trillion trees globally we would reduce 205 gigatons of carbon out of the atmosphere. Nothing even comes anywhere close to that scale at addressing carbon in the atmosphere.”
If enacted, the legislation would pave the way for massive investments in regrowing America’s forests and advancing sustainable forestry and building practices through public-private partnerships.
If the GOP retakes the majority in the House of Representatives next year Congressman Westerman says that conservation efforts such as Trillion Trees would be his top priority as Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.
“My focus would really be on conservation… the data tells [us] that a free market approach to conservation is the best way to go. We have this abundance of resources in the U.S. that can be beneficial for the environment, beneficial for the economy—especially in rural areas, but you have to let those market factors work and you have to have access to those resources.”
“There’s so much that we deal with on the Natural Resources Committee, but in a broad sense I want to look at it through the lens of conservation and being good stewards with what we have, growing the economy, and making the environment healthy at the same time.”
On the progressive push to include universal pre-K and government-run healthcare in climate legislation, Rep. Westerman had this to say:
“Climate change is being used as the tool to pass a socialist agenda, which is unfortunate. If we wanted to address carbon in the atmosphere, climate change all comes down to carbon in the atmosphere. There’s nothing that takes carbon out of the atmosphere like a tree.”
As the issues of climate and the environment continue to shape the GOP’s vision for 2022, it is important and encouraging to have conservative leadership from members such as Congressman Westerman. He is offering durable and pragmatic solutions that bolster our natural and economic environment.
Watch the full interview here.