2007 fire conditions are off the charts

Officials are finding it difficult to predict fire behavior because this year’s data don’t fit any model. Experts say climate change is a big part of this season’s extremes. By Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman.

Busy Week for Fires in Northern Rockies. Record-Breaking Fire Season? New West. By David Nolt.

New fire threatens home in Southeast Idaho [near Preston]; 14 other fires rage. By Tessa Schweiger. Idaho Statesman.

My view is that a century of bad grazing practice, suppression of forest fires, logging with little consideration of its effects (positive or negative) on future fuel conditions are major factors, but number one is the drying and warming climate. This makes the fight against cheatgrass, the need to restore native grasses and forbs, conservation of large trees in unlogged areas, and judicious thinning (not just any kind of thinning) of forests more important than ever.

Another restorative change, too little discussed, is the need to restore beaver to those streams lucky enough to have willows, aspen, cottonwoods, and other brushes available for beaver ponds. This will raise the humidity and increase the size of the riparian (streamside) green zone, serving to stop fires in years that are not extreme.

We have to face the fact that irreversible change is underway in many places and some, maybe a lot, of forest will change to brush (the ideal would be sagebrush steppe), and sagebrush steppe to pure desert. The latter will be intensified by continued “traditional” livestock grazing and projects such as Nevada’s to mine the aquifers under the valleys of the Great Basin to provide water for Las Vegas.

Continuing sprawl of recreational homes into forests is very harmful because fire fighters divert the fires (by lighting backfires) in directions that often burn more, rather than less, to save the homes.

 
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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.

7 Responses to More on this year's Western fires

  1. avatar Mikeh says:

    Interesting stuff, Ralph. A couple weeks ago, I head out for a two month work/vacation trip to the northern rockies. For the first time ever, after a couple weeks, I had to head back home and leave the great rockies. The fire and air quality there was the worst I had ever seen. It was just not a dolis experience. Recently you recommended “not worth making the trip” when discussing your Yellowstone visit. You couldn’t have been more right. It was sad to see all the fires around Glacier NP, and the horrible air quality and experience that came from them. I know fires are a natural part of the forest/mountain ecosystem, but this seems extreme.

    Even more disturbing to me was the firefighters forced to abandon fighting fires in headwaters of rare trout fisheries, and instead forced to defend the second homes of out of staters built right next to the forests – large, rarely used “shacks”. At some point, these people are going to have to be put into the same category as the flood plainers by insurance companies. There’s no difference. I really have to give a round of applause to all the firefighters busting their tails and risking lives out there. I witnessed several big fire camps in my travels and was amazed at the size and complexity of these things. I wish their efforts could be put more on putting out fires and less on saving the homes of people who knowingly built Mcmansions on the fire/wildland interface.

    Anyway,what I did experience was still great, but obviously the fact that I returned home meant it was just much less of an experience. I think I will take your advice in another thread and do a May/June trip.

  2. avatar BobCaesar says:

    Can you believe it? The Bridger Teton Natl Forest has LIFTED the fire ban! A couple of thunderstorms (lightning from which started a number of fires) and the Forest Svc sez it is OK for campers to fire up, up and away. They don’t seem to understand the “fire season” around here dosan’t even start until august! This is far and away the driest summer we’ve had since 1988. Right now we’ve got three fires they know about!

    What a foolish thing to do! And, just so a few campers can have firees when during the day it has been almost 90*. The ship is being run by fools!

  3. avatar kim kaiser says:

    the fire next to mill creek in the paradise valley blew up today, looked like a nuclear bomb cloud just east of chico springs,,

  4. The plume was dramatic on the satellite photos!

  5. avatar Mikeh says:

    Some sad news…

    A fire has started in the main Boulder Canyon in the Gallatin National Forest. This is probably the prettiest trout stream in all the west, absolutely fantastic country – a one way dead end road bordered on either side by the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. It’s also grizzly, wolverine and goshawk country. I really hope they can get this one out.

    http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2007/08/13/news/state/20-fires.txt

  6. avatar Mikeh says:

    I should add this place received a ton of rain when I was there. Hopefully it slows things down a bit.

  7. To Bob Caesar,

    Yes, they sound three times stupid. The fires in the Greater Yellowstone have just started.

    Isn’t there a fire 10 miles above you near Mocassin Basin and a new fire on Middle Ridge near Alpine, WY?

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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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