Megafires: Climate change or land management?

Prescribed fire

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In the Western U.S., the 2020 fire season is setting new records in terms of geographic scale, fire intensity, and rates of spread. Tens of millions of people are currently being forced to breathe beneath a dense layer of smoke, as others have lost their lives and property.

With each new record-setting fire, the same question comes up again and again: is this due to climate change, or is this due to forest mismanagement? After dueling appearances on Monday, this question now appears to be a matter of debate in the Presidential campaign.

The climate change vs. management question ignores nuance that is crucial for finding scientific answers and policy solutions. The factors influencing wildfire behavior are complex, and the dominant drivers vary between different locations and events. Below are five key things to know about the causes of the current wildfire problem. Understanding them can help us navigate the question of what is driving increased fire activity and what can be done to reduce such large fires in the future.

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