Opinion: Nevada cannot survive another smoke season

Russell Kuhlman | www.rgj.com | February 15, 2022

This opinion column was submitted by Russell Kuhlman, executive director of the Nevada Wildlife Federation.

This past year Northern Nevada saw firsthand the impacts that frequent wildfires had on our communities. Schools were closed, families were forced inside, and many Nevadans suffered serious health impacts from the worst air quality in the country. Not only did these fires threaten the health of our communities, but also the pristine landscapes that make Northern Nevada so special.  

In 2021, Nevada was affected by three weather events called “billion-dollar” disasters. These events included the historic wildfires along the California-Nevada border, causing several Nevada counties to record their worst air quality index in decades. Dangerous drought conditions impacted 95% of the state, and half of the state suffered extreme drought conditions. Additionally, 2021 was the driest year in Nevada since 1895, leading to significant low water levels in Lake Mead. These extreme weather events do not seem to be slowing down either. In December of 2021, the Tahoe region of Nevada received record-breaking snowfall followed by another record-breaking event: zero precipitation in Reno a month later — a first in the city’s history

From July:Air quality in Reno-Sparks declines as wildfires burn

With wildfires, drought and other environmental crises on the rise, it is good to see President Biden announce his plan to address climate change and curb the dangerous fires that threaten so many. Thanks to funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, championed by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, President Biden’s 10-year plan includes prescribed burns, removal of invasive grasses and a dramatic scaling-up of other forestry work to improve forest health and prevent the large megafires that threaten communities. Funding will be used to support impacted communities to rebuild and become more resilient to future climate-fueled events. Significant investments also will be made in the training and hiring of additional wildland firefighters and in technology that will enable faster detection and response to fires. 

Having a healthy forest ecosystem directly benefits Nevadans by providing clean water to drink and clean air to breathe — basic necessities that all Nevadans deserve. It provides healthy habitat so our state’s iconic wildlife can survive and thrive. Investing in forest restoration also saves our state money in the long run. The combined cost to fight fires and then recover from recurring climate-driven wildfires is expensive. The recent Tamarack Fire in Northern Nevada that burned over 68,000 acres will take $850,000 to restore. 

While the president’s wildfire plan is a great start, we need our leaders in Congress to make additional investments in clean energy and restoration of natural infrastructure to fight against climate change. Nevada families deserve to breathe clean air and enjoy the beauty of the place they call home.  

Russell Kuhlman is the executive director for the Nevada Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit that envisions a Nevada with abundant wildlife freely roaming across a healthy sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, and all Nevadans having equitable access to outdoor opportunities.