Dominik Kulakowski, assistant professor of geography at Clark University, recently testified before the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation of the Committee on Natural Resources of the United States House of Representatives. He spoke about the Depleting Risk from Insect Infestation, Soil Erosion, and Catastrophic Fire Act of 2013.
Professor Kulakowski has been researching insect outbreaks and fires in Rocky Mountain forests for 15 years, and has authored numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers on these topics.
“In recent decades wildfires have burned millions of acres of forests and insect outbreaks have killed trees over an even larger area. My research, as well as that of many other scientists, indicates that both of these disturbances are being driven by climate,” he said.
Professor Kulakowski explained that a critical issue in this context is whether, and to what degree, outbreaks may heighten the risk of active crown fires, which are particularly dangerous due to their high intensity and rate of speed. He said that the influence of insect outbreaks on fire risk is small compared to the overarching influence of weather.
Professor Kulakowki’s research group recently completed a study in which they examined the occurrence of severe wildfires in lodgepole pine forests in Colorado over the past century.
Professor Kulakowski stated that a major concern is that, as a nation, we have built and continue to build homes, communities, ski resorts, and other infrastructure in inherently flammable ecosystems.
“There is a need to take effective steps to protect public safety and especially to protect homes and communities from fire risk that is associated with drought conditions,” he said.
Professor Kulakowski suggested the most effective way of doing this is by removing flammable material from the immediate vicinity of homes and communities and by using fire resistant building materials. He also suggested we should “reduce the number of structures that are being built in harm’s way.”
Professor Kulakowski also recommended that any comprehensive forest management plan will eventually need to address housing development in the wild land-urban interface as well as trends in climate.
His full testimony is available online.