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Experts throw cold water on Dem claims that Hawaii wildfires caused by climate change

Democrats have been quick to blame devastating wildfires in Hawaii on climate change, though experts have pushed back, saying the fires are likely due to poor management.

Environmental experts are pushing back on claims that the devastating wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, were caused by global warming, instead pointing to poor state land management practices.

Over the last several days, wildfires have spread across western Maui, razing much of the historic Lahaina Town and claiming the lives of more than three dozen people, according to state officials. As first responders continue to battle the devastating fires, some Democratic lawmakers have been quick to blame the event on climate change and global warming.

"Heartbreaking fires in Hawaii! Scientists are clear that climate chaos wreaking havoc on ecosystems everywhere is the new norm," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said in a post on X. "We need to take action immediately or else it will get even worse."

"The wildfires raging across Hawaii are a devastating view of our planet as we fail to adequately address the climate crisis," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., added in a post of his own. "I stand ready to support in any way to make sure Hawaii has the resources to ensure the safety and wellbeing of impacted communities."


And Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who spearheaded a recent congressional investigation into Big Oil, called on President Biden to declare a "climate emergency" in response to the fires.

However, several experts pointed instead to years of poor forest and brush management, in addition to declining agriculture, in Hawaii as the primary cause for the devastating fires this week.


"Blaming this on weather and climate is misleading," said Clay Trauernicht, a University of Hawaii at Manoa professor and environmental management expert. "Hawai'i's fire problem is due to the vast areas of unmanaged, nonnative grasslands from decades of declining agriculture."

"These savannas now cover about a million acres across the main Hawaiian Islands, mostly the legacy of land clearing for plantation agriculture and ranching in the late 1800s/early 1900s," he continued. "The transformation to savanna makes the landscape way more sensitive to bad 'fire weather' - hot, dry, windy conditions. It also means we get huge buildups of fuels during rainy periods."

He added that wildfire risk in Hawaii could be mitigated with "adequate support, planning, and resources for fuel reduction projects, agricultural land use, and restoration and reforestation around communities and the foot of our forests."

In 2019, Trauernicht submitted a letter to a local Maui newspaper, arguing that the island was at serious risk of continued fores fires without proper management. He stated that heavy rainfall causes more vegetation, which is then not tended to and poses fire risk.

"Maui is now firmly in the post-plantation era, and the West Maui fires are only the most recent example of what eventually happens when large, tropical grasslands go untended," he wrote. "But the fuels — all that grass — is the one thing that we can directly change to reduce fire risk."

Peter Vitousek, a professor of earth sciences at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, told USA Today in an interview that drier grasses have spread across Maui.


"There is no doubt that fire-prone grasses have invaded drier Hawaiian ecosystems and brought larger, more intense fires," Vitousek said.

According to the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, a nonprofit that works with communities to mitigate fire risk, a larger percentage of Hawaii burns on an annual basis than any other state. The group notes that the vast majority of the state's fires are caused by dry brush or human activity.

"Over 98% of wildfires are human caused," the group states on its website. "Human ignitions coupled with an increasing amount of nonnative, fire-prone grasses and shrubs and a warming, drying climate have greatly increased the wildfire problem."

Another expert, Jim Steele, the former dean of the College of Science and Engineering at San Francisco State University, said in a post on X that Hawaii has abandoned pineapple and sugar cane fields, which has caused invasive grasses that burn quickly to grow.

"Alarmists are the true deniers avoiding the well established science of wildfires," he said.

The warnings from experts come amid an ongoing push from federal lawmakers to provide more resources to federal and state forest services.


In April, a bipartisan coalition led by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., introduced the Save Our Sequoias Act to accelerate scientific forest management practices that prioritize wildfire risk reduction in an effort to protect the Giant Sequoia tree in California.

"Dealing with some of the climate factors that influence drought and other contributions to wildfire is a long-term step," Jonathan Wood, the vice president of law and policy of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), told Fox News Digital in an interview. 

"But if we want to reduce fires tomorrow, if we want to protect communities this year, next year and over the next five years — the only way to act that quickly is to manage our forests for the climate and other risks they currently face," Wood added. 

According to Wood, who has researched forest management practices in the nation for years, the U.S. Forest Service has a backlog of about 80 million acres of land needing restoration and forest management, while the Bureau of Land Management has another 50 million acres that require management. That land, he said, is filled with dead, dying and diseased trees, which provide fuel for fires.

Wood said that state and federal efforts should be focused on cleaning dead brush, which can cause small ground fires to escalate into high-intensity canopy fires.

"We have tens of millions of acres of lands managed by the federal government that are overstocked and are tinderboxes that are ready to burn severely once that ignition happens," Nick Smith, a spokesperson for the American Forest Resource Council, added in an interview with Fox News Digital. 

"Just assigning it to climate change and attaching that to an agenda of doing nothing will certainly result in more severe wildfires and more carbon emissions," he continued. "Governments at all levels really need to be aggressive in implementing efforts to reduce fuels and overstocked forests, especially in the western United States."

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