Coconino Voices: State must take action to protect against wildfires

Coconino Voices: State must take action to protect against wildfires

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As wildfires continue to burn across Arizona this summer, including in my own home county, it’s hard not to think about climate change.

As Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick said in a recent statement to The Arizona Republic, the arid Grand Canyon State “will suffer more than most of the country” at the hands of climate change, which is bringing us more extreme and frequent wildfires, drought and elevated flood risks.

I can speak from experience: in July, Coconino County and the city of Flagstaff declared a state of emergency due to the Museum Fire, which threatened homes and businesses, forced evacuations, and destroyed nests and habitat of the endangered Mexican spotted owl in my community. Though the fire was declared 100 percent contained on Aug. 15, the financial and environmental impacts to our community are far from over.

Fire-related expenses are expected to cost the U.S. Forest Service and local governments more than $12 million, including almost $1.5 million that Coconino County must spend on flood mitigation measures.

As we see these disasters becoming more extreme and frequent, I commend the action some federal officials within my state and neighboring states are taking to protect our children’s future and address the issue of climate change.

Rep. Kirkpatrick recently signed on as a co-sponsor of House legislation that recognizes climate change as a human-caused “emergency which demands a massive-scale mobilization to halt, reverse, and address its consequences and causes.” The resolution, also co-sponsored by Congressman Raúl Grijalva, calls on the federal government to collaborate with state and local governments to work toward more green jobs and infrastructure, and reverse the impacts of climate change by transitioning away from nonrenewable resources.

It is also heartening to see our neighbor New Mexico making major strides to address climate change and hold the oil and gas industry accountable for unnecessary waste and pollution. Through an initiative launched this year by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to reduce the emission of heat-trapping gases by 45 percent by 2030, the state of New Mexico has begun the process of developing a set of standards and regulations to reduce methane waste – a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Regulating methane and toxic byproducts of oil and gas production will improve air quality not only in New Mexico, but the entire Four Corners region.

The state of Colorado is also in the process of strengthening its air pollution standards.

We need to see more proactive and decisive action like this from our federal leadership in Arizona, as our wildfires, our droughts, our floods are not going away — and the impacts are long-lasting. For example, in 2018, eight years after the Schultz Fire that destroyed more than 15,000 acres in and around the Coconino National Forest, record rainfall flooded communities below the burn scar.

Climate change is here, and it is only through collaboration at all levels of government and across party lines that we have a chance of fighting it. That will take recognition that this is not a partisan issue, but a human issue that affects us all. We need members of Congress to act to protect our environment for future generations. I urge our U.S. Senators and Representatives to engage with local leaders on climate change, so together we can begin working toward solutions.

Lena Fowler is Chair of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. Fowler is a contributor to Western Leaders Voices, a program of Western Leaders Network that helps amplify the voices of local and tribal elected leaders on conservation issues in the West.


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