Firestorm: 1,500 Structures Destroyed as Massive Wildfires Blaze Through Northern California

GR: Now begins the age of extremes that everyone can see. No longer just statistical trends in numbers and sizes of floods and fires, global warming-spurred events are moving on stage and the lights are coming up.

Here are Robert Scribbler’s thoughts on the current California fires.

“Heat and drought and fire. A common litany these days for California — a state that has, year after year, been wracked by a series of unprecedented climate extremes.

“After a brief respite this winter, northern parts of a state reeling from woes related to human-caused climate change again settled into drought this summer. Having received near record amounts of rain during winter — enough to wreck the spillway at the Lake Oroville Dam — vegetation sprang anew. This rain-spurred growth then subsequently dried — developing widespread fuels for fires.” –Robert Scribbler (Firestorm: 1,500 Structures Destroyed as Massive Wildfires Blaze Through Northern California | robertscribbler).

OMB Director Mulvaney Responds to Western Caucus Calls for Forestry Action | Congressional Western Caucus

GR: There is a misconception in Congress that managing hazardous fuels means that we should remove restrictions that prevent timber companies from clear-cutting the forest. True, clear-cutting eliminates forest fires, but it does not remove the fuels. Perhaps our Congresspeople see themselves as wise Walruses, but instead of asking “. . . why the sea is boiling hot–and whether pigs have wings”, they wish to ask if they can stop the forest from burning by insuring there is no forest to burn.

The Western Caucus should leave the few restrictions the pro-business Forest Service has been able to scrape together alone and focus their attention on future budget problems. As our climate warms, fires will grow larger and more frequent. Perhaps now is the time to start thinking about diverting some of our military spending to protecting our land.

“Today, 17 Congressional Western Caucus Members released statements applauding Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s October 4, 2017 letter to Speaker Paul Ryan requesting that Congress pass forestry management reform and disaster relief packages.” Source: Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ),  OMB Director Mulvaney Responds to Western Caucus Calls for Forestry Action | Congressional Western Caucus. 

GR: Here’s a better informed discussion of logging and wildfire:

Forest Fire, Bonner, Montana

“Montana GOP Senator Daines recently published a simplistic and misleading guest commentary on a wildfire in the Washington Post.
In that editorial, Daines, like many other misinformed logging proponents claims more logging would reduce large wildfires and he blames “environmental extremists” for delaying the forest reduction projects.

“Most of the wildfires burning under low to moderate fire weather conditions either self-extinguish or are easily controlled.

“The majority of all acreage burned in any summer is the result of very few wildfires that are burning under extreme fire weather.

“Indeed, the bulk of all wildfire acreage burned is the result of less than 1% of all fires, and indeed, in a typical year, 0.1% of fires are responsible for half or more of the acres reinvigorated by wildfire. These wildfires burn under what is termed “extreme fire weather” conditions.

“Many studies show a correlation between extreme fire weather and extreme wildfires. When you have high temperatures, low humidity, drought, and in particular wind, you cannot stop a blaze. And they will burn through any forest reduction, prescribed burning, and other forms of “active forest management” that are designed to slow or halt such blazes.” –George Wuerthner (Continue reading:   http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2017/09/24/response-to-senator-daines-washington-post-commentary-on-wildfires/

Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires

GR: When it’s warmer, there is greater possibility of fires starting, spreading, and intensifying. As the climate system strives to reach a new equilibrium, droughts, heatwaves, and fires will become more frequent.

As burned areas grow, weeds will spread. As fire frequency increases, fire-tolerant ecosystems dominated by weeds will become persistent. This will occur when there is not enough time between fires for trees to replace the weeds. We’ve already seen this happening in the western U. S. as fire tolerant cheatgrass has replaced much of the sagebrush ecosystem. New hyperactive fire regimes are in the global forecast for nature’s shift to a new equilibrium in the warmer Earth of the Anthropocene. Fires added to farms, domestic livestock, and all the other human impacts will shift the land from forests to weedlands of reduced diversity, stability, and carrying capacity. More about weeds.

Wildfire near Mariposa, California. JOSH EDELSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The increase in forest fires, seen this summer from North America to the Mediterranean to Siberia, is directly linked to climate change, scientists say. And as the world continues to warm, there will be greater risk for fires on nearly every continent.

“On a single hot, dry day this summer, an astonishing 140 wildfires leapt to life across British Columbia. “Friday, July 7 was just crazy,” says Mike Flannigan, director of the wildland fire partnership at the University of Alberta. A state of emergency was declared. By the end of summer, more than 1,000 fires had been triggered across the Canadian province, burning a record nearly 3 million acres of forest—nearly 10 times the average in British Columbia over the last decade. As the fires got bigger and hotter, even aerial attacks became useless. “It’s like spitting on a campfire,” says Flannigan. “It doesn’t do much other than making a pretty picture for the newspapers.”

“Forest fires are natural. But the number and extent of the fires being seen today are not. These fires are man-made, or at least man-worsened.

“Evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming,” says Flannigan, that climate change is spreading fires around the world. Globally, the length of the fire weather season increased by nearly 19 percent between 1978 and 2013, thanks to longer seasons of warm, dry weather in one-quarter of the planet’s forests. In the western United States, for example, the wildfire season has grown from five months in the 1970s to seven months today.

“The number-crunching now shows an increased risk for fire on nearly every continent, says Flannigan, though most of the work has focused on North America, where there is a larger pot of funding for such research. In the western U.S., where fires ravaged Oregon this summer, the annual burned area has, on average, gone from less than 250,000 acres in 1985 to more than 1.2 million acres in 2015; human-caused climate change has been blamed for doubling the total area burned over that time.

“Similarly, for fire-ravaged British Columbia, an analysis from this July estimates that climate change has made extreme fire events in western Canada 1.5-6 times more likely.

“So how much worse are things set to get? Scientists are getting far better at untangling the relationship between extreme weather and climate change.

“Pinning any specific environmental event on climate change is a tricky business, though the science of weather attribution has grown in leaps and bounds over the past decades. Individual wildfires are still near the bottom of the list of things that can easily be pegged to a changing climate, thanks to all the other factors in the mix. If people break up forests into smaller chunks through logging or agriculture, that can limit the spread of forest fires; on the other hand, some trees burn faster than others (younger trees are greener, so burn slower), and shrubs under a tree canopy can make fire more intense. A particularly rainy year can paradoxically increase fire risk if the rain comes in springtime, by boosting the volume of vegetation available to burn later in the season. Natural weather patterns like El Niño can have a dramatic effect on precipitation, and so on fire.”

“If we have higher temps, we have a greater probability of fire starting, fire spreading, and fire intensifying.”

Nicola Jones: Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires – Yale E360

Dead trees stoke wildfire fears

Climate Change and Fires Replace Forests with Weeds

GR: Climate-change droughts are killing trees and shrubs in dry lands around the world. For many years, forest ecologists argued that some vegetation requires periodic fires to stay healthy. The fires clear out underbrush and open areas where trees are tightly packed.

As climate change advances, the ‘let it burn’ philosophy has taken on a new meaning. Across the western U. S. and other drying regions, trees are dying. Human-caused climate change with fire as its agent, is sweeping away the forests and shrublands. Fire-prone weeds are taking their place. Weedlands, sometimes called ‘annual grasslands’ have lower biodiversity, productivity, and ability to absorb heavy rains. The process is known as desertification. Today, firefighters have little choice but to ‘let it burn,’ Perhaps they are unconsciously aware that the magnificent conifer forests of the world will never return.

“Since 2010, more than one hundred million trees have died in California. Falling trees and limbs are not the only hazard. These dead trees could provide the fuel to turn a normal wildfire into an inferno.

“Fire is as much a part of California as mudslides and winter snowpack.

“Van Mantgem: “The Sierras are always going to burn. So we’re never going to be able to exclude fire – and I don’t think we’d want to exclude fire – it’s a fire-adapted system.”

“That’s Phil Van Mantgem, with the U.S.G.S. Western Ecological Research Center. He says that although fire is a natural part of the system, the long-term drought has made it more likely that wildfires will burn out of control. But there’s no easy solution.” –Bruce Lieberman (Dead trees stoke wildfire fears » Yale Climate Connections)