Western forest fire already!

Lory State Park west of Fort Collins, CO, burns-

Drought conditions across the U.S. have not changed much since last year’s near record. This is especially true in  the mid-West and the Western U.S.  There have already been several. One was in Idaho near Boise. It threatened homes. Now a thousand acre wildfire has burned much of popular Lory State Park, Colorado, a much valued, scenic and diverse park with grassland, shrubland, and forest. The fire is still burning. Story. Galena Fire scorches Lory State Park, smoke billows over Fort Collins. Trevor Hughes. Coloradoan.com.

The early fire came on a day that reached over 70 degrees with mild winds to fan it a bit.

In the last several years a number of nearby areas, popular for recreation have burned. These burns will regenerate, unless invasive weeds reproduce faster than native vegetation.

Although late winter storms have moistened parts of the Southwestern U.S., the continuing drought raises the probability of many more range and forest fires like 2012 when record breaking fires burned in almost every Western state.  Smoky skies covered much of the West. Wood smoke is particularly harmful to breathe because of the small size of smoke particles. Recent scientific papers make it clear the large fires play an important, but complicated role in climate change, serving to both accelerate it and retard it.

This year, matters could be complicated by continuing partisan dysfunction over budgets in Washington.  Fire workers will be available in lower numbers. Already a different fire containment strategy has been adopted by the U.S. Forest Service. Last year they tried to snuff every fire right at the start. This in itself was a new policy.  It obviously did not work to prevent huge forest fires such as those in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana.  Even larger range fires burned in Nevada and Oregon, mostly on U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.  The Forest Service also ended up far over their fire budget. It appears the plan this year will be more to try to control a fire’s direction.

Some politicians blame the recent large forest fires on the plainly obvious huge swathes of dead pine trees from the Yukon down the entire Rocky Mountains.  Recent studies generally show they are wrong. Dead forests, with a few exceptions, are less flammable than droughty green forests.  Every year a dead forest does not burn, the likelihood that it ever will burn declines. This is because fires burn poorly among dead trees. Crown fires are unlikely and the flammable chemicals disappear from dead trees, leaving cellulose.





  1. Larry Avatar

    This response does not have to do with this fire story and Ralph may opt to cut it. However, I feel these thoughts are important to the environmental effort. If you read what Newt Gingrich has said recently about how the republican party is stuck in a rut doing the same things and expecting different outcomes. He calls it, “mired in stupidity.” I’m no fan of Gingrich and his pilfer and burn policies, however, I believe there is a parallel to what he said with regard to the environmental fight for national recognition and change. We keep explaining the scientific facts that support proper environmental decisions for this country but keep getting the same results. People just are not attuned to making unselfish decisions about the environment when they themselves do not wear well worn hiking boots. In other words the vast majority do not have a compulsion to give a ____ about the environment if there is nothing in it for them. The wallet trumps every time. Those of us that will change our uses of the environment for the good we see it needs have that internal fire that will always drive us to make the right choice for the land. But we are in the minority.

    I think it is time to have some really tough discussions about how to stop sending the same messages and keep expecting people to join our ranks. How many endangered species can we ask people to sponsor or tree hugger clubs to join when the bucket full of supporters are the same ones that were in the bucket last year? Does anyone know how we can change our message or actions to reach more people, those without a predisposition to the natural world to join us? I love science and read new facts everyday. But the average person on the street of Chicago doesn’t have a clue as to the fate of the soils in the Alberta tar sands or the war on predators or even know they should care about such things. I’m not the sharpest tack in the box and getting duller every year, there are some brilliant minds out there and we need help to move our message into the hearts of those that can’t see the need for giving the environment the attention it desires to be saved from zealots that would, “Burn the furniture to keep warm.” Thanks for listening.

    1. Lyn McCormick Avatar
      Lyn McCormick

      Thank you Larry. I’ve been talking with friends about the frustrations, the perceived futility of our efforts. I’ve been to DC to protest, had guns pointed at us in front of the DOI, and stood on the steps of the Capitol with a grocery bag full of literature to personally deliver to the “Committee” representatives. Did you play outside when you were a kid ? I sure did, in the forest down by the creek every chance I could get. We weren’t allowed to watch TV, except Sat.am cartoons. I notice nowadays that there are no children outside playing, except in organized sports. I just moved to a small town ranching community but I never see kids out riding horses, if they are outside its on ATV’S. I wintered this year in the Uintahs in a mountain community near Flaming Gorge Reservoir. I backcountry skied everyday but never saw another soul, except on snowmobiles towing kids on tobaggans around the neighborhood. I signed a Petition on Change.org sponsored by a 12 yr.old boy advocating for Chimpanzees and I felt for the first time a little hopefull. But I’ve signed more Petitions for kids suffering life threatening illnesses. The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was enacted because Wild Horse Annie endeared thousands of children to the cause and they inundated Congress with letters. I don’t know, except I keep thinking to myself, “who but saves one life saves the world,” and I should be sharing the natural world with a kid.

      1. Larry Avatar

        Thanks Lyn, how futile it does seem at times. I have decided there are only two avenues that give the biggest bang for the shot. (1) is money we donate to legal action groups like WWP, etc. The power of the gavel is absolute. Groups that focus primarily on the power of the gavel rather than the futile efforts of broadcasting facts and examples hoping the public will see the ways of their errors tend to spend a lot of money spinning wheels. And (2) any inside the classroom action we as individuals can give. It is with the new generation that great yields can be made if they are taught with science rather than “it’s all mine, mine, to use.”

        The news I read the other day concerning Utah legislature allocating or proposing money for anti-predator groups to come into the classroom to perpetuate the big bad wolf fairy tales shows the opposition can get a leg up with programs like that.

        I’m impressed with the Aldo Leopold Foundation and Green Fire with regard to their education outreach. Don’t know much about it yet but seems to me that with some big guns behind it there could be some effective chapters around the country made with a focus for outreach to schools and augmenting activities for certain youth groups.

        I believe though that effective change won’t happen unless a large core of us are sounding ideas on the screen and encouraging respected people to give a hand. Just look at how effective Senator Gaylord Nelson was establishing Earth Day. Effective lobbying of the main media is another avenue that has not been used effectively.

        The change that is needed is too big for just one person to envision. What I do know is that the way we’re going we are losing ground. It’s a feel good to read self supporting blogs and keep up on environmental news and such but the choir is already part of the congregation.

        1. Wolfy Avatar

          Great posts, Larry and Lyn. I agree with the concepts that that you are saying. I’ve been involved with many organizations as well. One underlying truth seems to ring true with most organizations: 10 % of the group does 90% of the work. “Igniting the base” is always a struggle. I don’t have any easy answers, but folks need to de-factionalize and put aside petty differences to be successful. It can be a very difficult thing for passionate folks to swallow their pride and focus on the group needs. Outreach to the young is probably the most important thing we can do. Yet, it is the first thing that we cut in lean budgets. Outreach to the “base” is probably the second most important thing. Members can often feel left out. Sometimes they only hear from the group once a year during membership drives. It is a lot of work to keep a group focused, programs functioning, and really making an impact, but has to be done. No matter how futile it seems to be. Just look at the big money hook-and-bullet orgs; they put a lot into promotion among their members and youth. (This post would probably be better placed in another topic area.)

          1. Larry Avatar

            Wolfy, I certainly agree this post may be more appropriate for another subject heading but I was self compelled to get it out. My apologies to those offended.

            With regard to your comments re getting outreach to the young generation. Let’s look at the math; our one vote per devoted environmental advocate right now isn’t getting the job done. We must expand our vote to bring in 10 fold or much more to turn this around. Teaching is the most effective. Apple box grandstanding isn’t effective. I believe I will continue to put my money into two catagories, Green Fire and WWP and a couple of other outfits that focus on litigation. I have a personalized plate on my vehicle that is “WLDRNSS”. All that gets me is logging trucks tailgating so close all I see is their grill. Trying to teach adults is not very productive.

            Well this post is not on topic with the first forest fire of the season but neither is steelheading on the North Fork. Would welcome an invite to a concentrated effort with posts from those wiser than I.

        2. Lyn McCormick Avatar
          Lyn McCormick

          Thank you for putting a practical perspective on this. May I post this to a private advocacy page ?

          1. Larry Avatar

            Lyn, anything I write on this blog is public no matter how bad my writing is.

    2. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      I’m not the sharpest tack in the box and getting duller every year.

      Ha! Who isn’t? Me neither. But you sound like you are way ahead of a lot. 🙂

  2. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Here we go. In my neck of the woods, northwest Wyoming, last year was a near record dry year , but we escaped having major fires, unlike the huge infernos that raged a little further west in Idaho. In eastern Wyoming as in much of the great Plains it was record drought. The State of Wyoming spent more money fighting fires last year than ever. There were some good sized fires in western and southwest Wyoming, but the more costly ones were in eastern Wyoming

    Snowpack as of March 15 is below last year’s levels.

    Nobody can predict how the fire season will progress when it gets going. But the potential for a banner year of blazes is certainly existent in Wyoming.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Cody Coyote,

      Last year in Idaho there was significant smoke in central Idaho until mid-October.

      1. Robert R Avatar
        Robert R

        I was just steelhead fishing on the salmon below Nothfork and seen some of chard ground. I sure hope some vegetation takes place to keep the erosion to a minimum.

        1. Elk275 Avatar

          How was fishing Robert? I am going over there during the first week in April for a soak in Goldbug and some Steelhead fishing. Wading the river below Northfork is a bit iffy due to the size.

          1. Robert R Avatar
            Robert R

            We should been a week later, but we did catch some, nothing over 30″ inches. The run this year is down. Look at the harvest reports to get an idea where to fish and that’s not 100%

  3. Richie G Avatar
    Richie G

    My heart doctors’s daughter get excepted to every college she applied for as a vet ,the reason I bring this up ,my doc said their were 2 million more horses two years ago. Meaning their are two million less today.All kinds wild,horses on a ranch etc,this tells where our country is heading for, another shame.

  4. Vicki Fossen Avatar
    Vicki Fossen

    Well, I haven’t posted here is ages. Since I live in Colorado, attend classes in Fort Collins, and am a Wildlife Biology and Natural Resources major, I figured this hits close to home.
    I was researching recent contracts given to two companies in Colorado to help remedy the beetle kill issues. The issues are vast, and there simply are no solutions, only treatments and clean-ups. A loosely worded quote which is resounding throughout Colorado and Wyoming is, ‘it is going to burn baby, burn’. In fact, my son is a wildland fire fighter and he is receiving recruitment letters daily.
    The common misconception that pine beetles alone have created this massive fire pit is almost damning for future endeavors to keep forests healthy. The reality is, Colorado was very hands-off in their forestry tactics until the inevitable happened. Like most things in this country, little attention is paid to the bad stuff until it starts to cost folks money.
    Fires will happen, and likely a lot will happen sooner this year due to the dry climate. When it happens is trivial. How we deal with it is key. Colorado had primarily old growth forests, and logging was not effectively implemented to cull trees and generate new growth. So when you have older, weakened trees, coupled with dry and warm climates, you are looking at the perfect storm of forestry.
    I read frequent comments stating “at least the fire is killing the beetles”. Wrong again. The predominance of trees being burned are already dead. The only way fire is of benefit when it comes to beetles, is by killing off trees already susceptible to beetles. In order to kill beetles, the fires have to burn with in an exact window of opportunity to kill insects as they look for hosts to house their eggs/larvae.
    The truth is, we have a lot better chance of controlling that outcome if we do prescribed burning, than if we wait for lightening or campers to start the forest blazing. Last summer, controlled and prescribed burns were ceased as a result of loss to human property (and they through in loss of life to make it more p.c.). Although there can be no excuse for blatant negligence, any mitigation of future loss of structure demands that we take an aggressive approach.
    The resources expended on the fires in Colorado were grand, but they were just a start. With climate change ( are I use the term) effecting tree health, fires will be common. We should all be ready to live with it as a norm. (Australia has a constant fire, we may become next.)
    Health implications should be a consideration for persons living in smoke zones. Budgets need to be permanently fixed to include fighting fires, preventing them near structures, and more importantly for the continuous culling of forests. The time when we let nature do it’s business has fallen into history, along with cowboys and untamed wild places. It is an ugly truth, but it is true none the less.
    People chose to live in or near habitats that can easily impact them all the time. Since people do this, we have constant news about bears causing damage, elk eating lawns, lions taking house pets etc. If we choose to build in these areas, we should realize we have done so with premeditation and knowledge of the risks involved. To that extent, we need to limit both funds and physical assistance to people who have made that choice.
    We eat through resources at unmanageable and un-restorable paces. Now, we are reaping what we have sewn. I agree with the previous comments that we need to impact conservation by impacting youth. We should be teaching conservation the same way we teach English, as it is just as significant to a fulfilling future.
    Having said that, I have long been an advocate for implementation of mandatory environmental education for our youth. Good luck getting it required or funded. Our best bet would be for every parent who enjoys the outdoors to take as many kids out as they can. Teach them to love it, and if they see you do- they will want to also.
    Fires, and beetle kill, smoke, and pollution, are all symptoms of a much larger problem. What we are battling is an ever eroding value system and a country filled with people who like quick fixes. Until we foster a deep appreciation for the natural world, we will continue to lose it, one species, one acre, one river at a time.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan