News Release

Experts detail links between wildfires in Colorado and climate change

[DENVER, COLORADO] -- Today, Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center hosted a telephone press conference featuring expert speakers who detailed links between the wildfire season Colorado is experiencing this summer and a changing climate.

“Climate change is no longer an issue that is happening somewhere else to someone else some time in the future,” said Emily Struzenberg, climate organizer with Environment Colorado. “It is here, happening right now, and it exacerbates drought and wildfire both of which acutely affect Colorado communities.”

This summer, wildfires have burned upwards of 175,000 acres of land across Colorado. So far, the state has witnessed two of its largest wildfires, and several fires still burn despite how late it is in the season.

Dr. Heidi Steltzer a professor of Biology at Fort Lewis College and expert on early snowmelt discussed how warmer, drier winters leave the door wide open for wildfire.

“Since the 1950’s, snowpack across Colorado has decreased by at least 20%,” said Dr. Steltzer. “Over the next 50 years, we’re expected to see a staggering 60% further decline in snowpack. With shorter and more chaotic winters, we’re seeing our snow melt earlier and faster, leaving dry earth primed for wildfire.”

Dr. Deborah Kennard professor of Environmental Science at Colorado Mesa University teaches courses on fire management and fire ecology; she is concerned about fire spreading to high elevation forests and ecosystems.

"While many factors interact to influence wildfires, research shows that climate change has already increased the area of forests burned in the western United States, and that trend is likely to continue," said Dr. Kennard.

Dr. Julie Korb, professor of Biology at Fort Lewis College and fire ecologist has long worked to improve fuels management, but she said that improper management techniques are not the only factor in changing wildfire behaviors, climate change is a compounds them.

“Climate change has lengthened the fire season by drying fuels earlier in spring and delaying fuel moisture increases in fall,” said Dr. Korb. “Leadership at the national level is required to address the link between climate change and wildland fire. Denying that climate change plays a role in wildland fire is irresponsible and doesn’t allow the public to understand the complexities we face regarding future wildland fires in a warmer, drier climate.”

There was a resounding call to address climate change at the federal level. “Climate change is a big problem with a simple solution: tackling carbon pollution. Luckily we have policies that our entire Congressional delegation should support, like Clean Car Standards that would significantly decrease carbon pollution from transportation, Colorado’s second largest carbon emitting sector.” 

Dr. Steltzer echoed that sentiment:  “We need to think anew, challenging ourselves to see climate change as a non-partisan issue that we can solve.”