Wildfires on Pacific Islands isnʻt so much a story of climate change but rather, how human actions (and inaction) have created highly flammable landscapes. The good news? If human activity can be altered, so can landscapes – and restored to be less vulnerable to fire.
“What is unique about fire on Pacific Islands is how clearly it is linked to people,” writes Extension Specialist Clay Traurnicht of the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Management in an opinion-editorial article published in The Hill. “Lightning is rare on small islands, restricting “natural” fires to volcanic events. When Pacific Islands were first settled, the ignition switch was flipped on, as fire was used for many purposes like clearing land for farming, maintaining access to forested areas, and controlling pests.”
Clay adds, “Even now, nearly all fires on Pacific Islands are started by people, with ignitions tightly correlated with population. This also means that forest-dwelling plants and animals of Pacific Islands, many of which are found nowhere else, are poorly adapted to fire. However, it is important to understand that the negative impacts of fire on Pacific island ecosystems radically increased with colonization and militarization that brought in weeds, many of which promote fire.”
Read Clay's op-ed article in The Hill.