Scenes of forests charred by unprecedented wildfires, skies filled with red-black and orange hues and widespread displacement are still appearing in headlines even after a month of fires raging along the west coast. They have produced eerie glimpses of the future climate change is driving us towards. In Wisconsin, the wildfire seasons appear to come and go without much issue. Climate change awareness groups, however, fear the danger is more present than some realize.
For the Badger State, issues with larger fires can be rooted in increasing droughts caused by climate change. The group Climate Power 2020 told Wisconsin Examiner that between 2009 and 2016, two major drought events caused about $45.9 billion in damages. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information database, the events occurred during in 2012 and 2013. From the spring to the fall of 2013, droughts and heatwaves caused $11.7 billion in damage.
Climate Power 2020 also says that wildfire events in Wisconsin are becoming more common. Between 2017 and 2019, over 2,000 individual wildfires in Wisconsin burned 5,768 acres of land. Granted, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fire experts highlight that the vast majority of fires in our state are caused by people. Practicing good habits when burning materials and reporting possible fires in a timely manner to authorities is essential to keeping blazes under control.
Wisconsin has a short fire season, which follows the melting of the snow before everything blooms again. Climate change in Wisconsin is also increasing the average humidity, which helps keep the fire risks down. However, the occurrence of climate-fueled droughts could make our brief fire season longer, or more volatile.
The administration of Gov. Tony Evers has made climate mitigation and adaptation a priority. Evers set a goal to become independent from fossil fuels by 2050, and a state-level task force has been created to address climate issues. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who chairs the task force, is particularly passionate about issues of climate and environmental injustice. Even through the pandemic, Barnes and other Wisconsin officials continue building a climate strategy for the state. Despite inaction and outright denial of climate change federally by the Trump administration.