On fires, smoke, and the changing prime time for outdoor recreation in the Intermountain West.
By Ralph Maughan
I’ve been posting a lot of stories about wildfires, but that seems like the dominant factor in the outdoors to me right now in Montana, Utah, Idaho, and Western Wyoming. Everyday about 9 am to as late as noon, the sky at Pocatello, Idaho becomes covered by high smoke, visibility decreases. Everything is hot and washed out in appearance.

I started seriously exploring the backcountry in these states when I was 25 years old, and some of you might have noticed the newstories about my recent retirement (age 62). One of the biggest changes over 35 years is the months for the best “summer” recreation. Back in the late 70s and early 1980s, it was mid-June until about mid-August. Prior to mid-June there was too much snow in the mountains. Now the prime time is early May to July. Early May snowpack is similar to mid-June snowpack of 30 years ago.

Before 1980, a large forest fire was an unusual event and in most Augusts, the air was quite clean in skies of Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Now is it dirty almost every year from mid-July on due to the smoke from fires, near and and hundreds of miles away.

By late September the foul air is replaced by the clean and cool air of autumn.

Some people might take serious exception to what I have just written.

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Wildfire Location viewer. USGS. This looks like a very good way of keeping up with the location of the major fires.

Posted in Wildfires, The Great Outdoors. No Comments »

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

4 Responses to On fires, smoke, and the changing prime time for outdoor recreation in the Intermountain West.

  1. avatar Dean Malencik says:

    Ralph,

    I agree with you and I have even a longer perspective than you. Fires start earlier and go longer. In 50 years the trend would indicate that forests and range will be completely changed.

  2. avatar Eric says:

    That of course is not a good trend. Thanks for sharing guys. I presume this ‘early fire season’ caused you to cancel some of your summer activities Ralph. I’m learning a lot from this blog. Cheat grass, and on and on. I’m just a cabdriver from Chicago, but I’m also an avid lover of the outdoors and I make trips west when I can. I am actually looking forward to relocating when my girlfriend finishes school in a year, but sometimes I think maybe I should not. Why? Because that’s what everybody else seems to want to do and it will eventually have a big impact on those wonderful places out west. I’m thinking the change in fire regime has a lot to do with us humans.

  3. avatar Mike Wolf says:

    Summers in Northern Idaho are much worse. Not only do we have to deal with the normal forest fires up here, but we have lazy, stupid farmers who burn their fields. It’s one thing to burn bluegrass; but even though that practice is burned in WA state, they still burn wheat stubble there, and just about everything here. The EPA monitors the situation; but not carefully enough. It’s a horrible situation.

    I came from Southern California, where the smell of smoke, where I lived, brought an immediate rush of adrenaline and a drive to make sure if I needed to evacuate, I was able to. While that fire I feared didn’t come while I lived there, it did two years later, and vaporized my old place. I moved up here, and couldn’t believe how complacent people are to the smell of smoke. Not a month after arriving, a fire swept part of Moscow Mountain, destroying several homes. It wasn’t started by field burning, but I have to wonder how much faster the response time would have been had people not been accustomed to field burning at that time of year.

    Field burning lasts well into late fall up here. So our air is befould far longer. It’s my least favorite of the “four seasons of the Palouse” (green, brown, white, and on-fire.)

  4. avatar Mikeh says:

    Eric wrote:

    “I am actually looking forward to relocating when my girlfriend finishes school in a year, but sometimes I think maybe I should not. Why? Because that’s what everybody else seems to want to do and it will eventually have a big impact on those wonderful places out west. ”

    I hear you loud and clear on that. It seems if you are against sprawl in the rockies, the truly conservation-minded thing to do would be not to move to them unless you are talking Denver or Salt Lake.

    This mass migration towards the national forest boundaries is really negatively affecting the land. Even more disturbing are the second homes.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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