I was shocked to read in a prominent magazine last week that one of our three rainforests is on fire.

Frank and I spent so many pleasant hours in the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park on the edge of the Pacific in Washington State, gazing at the lush canopy, the variety of lichen and ferns climbing up the 500-year-old spruce trees, and watching large elk grazing and thrashing around in the underbrush.

How could fire have a presence in this place that usually gets more than 160 inches of rain each year, more than almost any other place in the US? The extreme drought in the western states reflecting our changing climate is the acknowledged culprit.

Aghast, I called the park and learned that the fire is in the Queets rainforest and has been going on since May!!  What?!  I was stunned that as one of the most dedicated advocates for the National Park System, I hadn’t seen this information in any of the scores of emails I get each day about the environment.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that the vitally important news is not making it through the din that passes for public discourse in our country right now. Besides excuses for the routine killing of Americans, most of whom are Black, by “law enforcement,” our media is consumed with the gigantic red herring of a presidential campaign and ‘debate’ that amplifies barbarism, racism and misogyny, without ever once touching on climate change.

As someone who’s been focused on nature and the environment for the past 20 years, I can tell you it’s past time to wake up and start paying attention. If you lived in New Orleans ahead of Katrina, and you had a chance to change the outcome before the hurricane struck, would you have been willing to make an effort? That’s where we are now in South Florida, on the edge of the Atlantic, on the leading edge of climate change.

Do a Google search of climate change and South Florida and see what you learn. Our communities are far behind the curve in both knowledge of what’s happening and what we can do to make it work for us instead of against us.

So Frank and I are eternally grateful to Congressman Alcee Hastings, who is hosting us for a session on the environment at the upcoming Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. The session entitled, Public Lands, Climate & conservation: Peril and Opportunity for African Americans, will emphasize the urgency for the CBC’s constituents to become more informed and engaged with our publicly owned lands in the national parks and forests and how they can benefit our communities; the threat posed by climate change that will affect these lands and change our communities and the opportunities we must take now to avert that.

The CBC members helping Congressman Hastings get this information to the public have districts on or near the Atlantic Ocean and include Rep. Corrine Brown, (Jacksonville) Rep. James Clyburn (South Carolina, where the Gullah Geechee people are already adapting to rising seas,) and CBC Chair the Hon. G. K. Butterworth, representing coastal areas of North Carolina.

Ahead of the conference we are gathering signatures for a “sign on” letter to the CBC, asking them to ramp up their communication to their constituents about climate change. According to the League of Conservation Voters, members of the CBC have among the highest pro-environmental voting record in Congress, some over 90%! Compare this to committee leaders in the House and Senate who make decisions about our natural resources and vote for the environment less than 20% of the time.

Our letter asks the CBC to take the environmental message back home in the same way they deal with crime, education, health or jobs, as the environment affects all of these. Specifically we ask them to help pass legislation reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund which, like the Voting Rights Act, marks 50 years old this year and takes a few dollars off the profits from oil and gas exploration to provide parks and recreation space in urban communities.

The Fund expires Sept. 30 and if it is not reauthorized, we will have no way of getting even those few dollars. If you or your organization are interested in supporting this issue and standing up for our environment and our future, please send us a note at Earthws@aol.com and we’ll be happy to share the letter and more details.

Because if a fire in our rainforest won’t spur you to take action, it may be too late by the time you finally wake up. Just ask any displaced or bereaved person from New Orleans.

Audrey Peterman is an author and environmental expert. Audrey@legacyonthelan.com