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Scientists, Walden weigh in on climate debate amid massive Oregon wildfires

BEND,Ore (KTVZ)-- The current wildfire devastation in Oregon might be the worst many in the state will see in their lifetimes.

With many homes lost, businesses destroyed and devastating loss of life, now many across the state are asking why this happened, and how to keep it from happening again.

Leading the topic of discussion -- and a long-time subject of intense debate -- is climate change.

Gov. Kate Brown recently touched on the matter, expressing her concerns: "I think there's no question that the changing climate is exacerbating what we see on the ground."

However, some say otherwise, like Dr. Bob Zybach, a forest scientist with a PhD in environmental studies. He's been observing the situation for years, and said Monday these fires were the result of poor forest management, and had little to do with climate change at all.

"Fuel buildups are what caused these fires. They've been predicted for several decades. It's not climate change -- it's management. The lands were actively managed by Native Americans, Oregon Indians for thousands of years with prescribed burning.

"We use logging, road-building, prescribed burning -- and for 35 years, from 1952 to 1986, we only had one major fire in Western Oregon. Right now, we've got four or five catastrophic scale fires going on at the same time. And this has been happening a lot since 1987."

However, research climatologist and Linfield University professor Greg Jones said climate was a factor in leading to the conditions that fueled these fires.

"The whole issue is that our ramping up of warming atmosphere over the past 100-plus years, and especially the past 30, 40 years has really put us in a situation in which the temperatures in the year are much warmer, were typically having more wide variability within our rainfall patterns," Jones said.

"And so all of this has been really driven or eventuated by the fact that we have climate change."

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., was with President Trump during his visit to Sacramento on Monday.

Walden touched on the issues in an exclusive NewsChannel 21 interview as well, taking a two-sided approach.

"Part of it is we have a changing climate, we have drier conditions," the congressman said. "Part of it is we've had 100 years of suppressing fire and 50 years of not managing forests, so we have enormous fuel build-ups in the forest."

Walden also weighed in on possible congressional action to curb wildfires.

"There's a lot of work we've done -- there's a lot more to do," he said. "The Healthy Forest Restoration Act I helped write more than a decade ago is law. It's being used in and around our wildland-urban interfaces, doing a lot of the thinning you see around the highways and the critical infrastructure."

Article Topic Follows: Central Oregon

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Blake Allen

Blake Allen is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.


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