Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday he’s convinced the climate is changing. But he doesn’t necessarily believe it is caused by anything that he or anyone else is doing.
The governor’s comments came after the annual briefing by the Arizona state forester on the outlook for the upcoming fire season.
On one hand, Jeff Whitney said the heavily wooded areas area above the Mogollon Rim into the ponderosa pine forests will have a “fairly standard” fire season.
But much of the rest of the state faces a different – and more dire – situation.
“We anticipate with the spring moisture that we’ve had so far this year, combined with the moisture that we had last growing season, we’re going to see an increased incidence of larger wildfires that are more resistant to control,” Whitney said.
And Whitney is predicting a severe fire potential for much of Southern Arizona, from south and west of Tucson through Santa Cruz County and covering all of Cochise County with the exception of the dry lake near Willcox.
“It all has to do with pervasive climatic conditions and the long-term drought,” he said.
“The drought is still here,” Whitney continued. “It’s not quite as deep or as significant severe as it was, but it’s still very severe.”
The pervasive drought leads to the question of whether any of this is the result of climate change.
“We just went through a great briefing of all the experts,” responded Gov. Doug Ducey who was at Thursday’s event.
“They informed me that the climate is changing,” he said. “It’s going to get warmer here.”
Pushed for specifics, the governor said he does believe in climate change.
“What I am skeptical about is what human activity has to do with it,” Ducey said.
Looking at the Arizona map, Whitney found signs of potential danger elsewhere in the state.
He specifically cited the fast-moving Rio Fire in 1995 which burned through desert brush and the Cave Creek Complex fire a decade later which was very similar, though more extensive, starting in Scottsdale, burning all the way up through Cordes Junction.
“This is year the alignment of conditions is very similar to 1995 in the Rio Fire and 2005 in the Cave Creek Complex,” he said.
“The good news is, we’re aware,” Whitney said. “But it’s fire season.”
Whitney said while some fires are caused by lightning, a good percentage are the result of what people do, either intentionally or negligently. And he stressed that even things that do not appear fire related can cause big problems.
“It could be everything from a trailer chain on your camp trailer as you’re going up Beeline (Highway) dragging on the pavement and creating sparks, lighting up the fine fuels in the Sonoran Desert all the way up into the ponderosa pines,” he said.
Whitney said his agency is ready for whatever happens. And he said he believes there is enough money in his budget to weather the season.