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Are_grits_groceries

(17,111 posts)
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 02:12 PM Jul 2012

Western wildfires are getting worse. Why?

<snip>
This raises a question: Are wildfires in the Western United States getting bigger and more severe? There’s a fair bit of evidence that yes, they have been. And, ecologists and fire experts say, that’s not a fluke. Thanks to both climate change and shifting forestry practices, humans may bear some responsibility here.
First, the numbers: A 2009 report (pdf) from the U.S. Global Change Research Program describes how “both the frequency of large wildfires and the length of the fire season have increased substantially in recent decades.” Here’s a chart showing the sharp uptick since the 1980s:


1) Global warming. Huge wildfires are, of course, more likely during droughts, when the forests are dried out and filled with kindling. And many parts of the West are facing “severe” or “extreme” droughts right now. But, Allen notes, data from tree-ring studies suggest that there have often been large droughts in the West. “What’s different today,” he says, “is that it’s also getting warmer, which can amplify the fire severity in the West.”
<snip>
2) Sprawl has pushed more people into forest areas, increasing the odds of fires. Many forest fires are caused by lightning. But others are caused by human activities. And as more and more people push deep into forested regions, that increases the risk of accidents. “More smokers, more ignition from motorized vehicles… even more arson,” says Allen. He offers up one salient example: The record-setting Las Conchas fire in New Mexico last year, which consumed 40,000 acres, began when an aspen tree toppled onto a power line that was serving just six homes in a remote area.
3) Changing forestry practices have made wildfires more destructive. Any look at tree-ring data shows that the Southwest has seen massive fires going back for centuries. But, in the past, many of these fires were low-intensity “surface” fires that mostly cleared out underbrush and prevented forests from building up too thickly.
<snip>
More: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/06/30/western-wildfires-are-getting-worse-why-is-that/

The Francis Marion National Forest in SC is going to up in a huge fire at some point. I'm surprised it's lasted this long. Hurricane Hugo and then pine beetles ruined a lot of it. The debris on the forest floor just keeps building up.

I remember my relatives doing controlled burns in some areas. They weren't huge, but they cleared the crap out of forested land near the houses that were off the beaten path.




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villager

(26,001 posts)
1. Turning national forests into tree farms for lumber corporations hasn't helped, either...
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 02:19 PM
Jul 2012

Thanks for posting, Grits...

 

villager

(26,001 posts)
6. But a monoculture is a monoculture
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 02:46 PM
Jul 2012

...and wherever you swap out diverse forests for single-species stands, you increase risk for catastrophic fire (as well as reducing biodiversity)...

But you're right -- as the Southeast heats up more and more, this same "blowback" will be felt there, as well...


"Because they usually result from unnatural environmental conditions, outbreaks demonstrate how our own management practices may sometimes be to blame. In addition to fire suppression, monocultures tend to aid and abet the irruption of pests. The southern pine beetle, for instance, has benefited from our replacement of longleaf (Pinus palustris) and shortleaf (P. echinata) pine with faster-growing loblolly (P. taeda) stands. As many farmers are finding in their fields, monocultures are more susceptible to catastrophic spread of insects than are mixed stands. In farm and forest alike, traditional modes of management involving monocultures and fire suppression encourage insects to become nuisances. The pests that plague us are all too often of our own making..."

http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2008/07/rethinking-insects/

XemaSab

(60,212 posts)
10. That's... not true that most federal timberland is in the east
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 03:38 PM
Jul 2012


Something like half of California is federally owned, and most of that is Forest Service land.

former9thward

(31,984 posts)
12. Argue with the federal government.
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 04:46 PM
Jul 2012

I provided the link to their document which made that statement. The map you show is not where the forest farms are at which is what the poster was talking about.

pscot

(21,024 posts)
11. That 70% isn't "federal" timberlands
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 03:56 PM
Jul 2012

That's U.S.timberlands, i.e., privately owned commercial timberland in the U.S. managed to produce an ongoing timber crop. That's not Federally owned forest land, most of which is located in the west. That land is also logged regularly through timber auctions, leaving vast clearcuts that may take generations to come back..

former9thward

(31,984 posts)
13. The U.S. timberland is a mixure between private and federal lands.
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 04:50 PM
Jul 2012

More to the point the poster I was replying to said timber farms lead to forest fires. I would like to see evidence of that statement. Can you give it?

XemaSab

(60,212 posts)
15. I did bird surveys up in Oregon a year after a HUGE forest fire there
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 05:41 PM
Jul 2012

(the Biscuit fire).

Based on what I saw there, regenerating clearcuts were the areas that looked like the surface of the moon. There was nothing left.

Areas that had been brushy with manzanitas were resprouting readily.

Second growth forest was burned pretty heavily, but there was a lot of standing dead timber and there were some trees that were still alive.

The oldest stuff? You couldn't tell that there had been a fire there.

pscot

(21,024 posts)
17. I wouldn't argue that tree farms are inherently more fire-prone
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 07:21 PM
Jul 2012

than more natural wooodlands. I would guess the opposite is true. But you mis-stated what your source said. The ownership and management of Western forests is different from what goes on east of the Mississippi. But any forest will burn if it gets dry enough. We are in a new climate regime and we're going to be seeing a lot more fire than we're used to.

 

byeya

(2,842 posts)
4. Drought would have to be a primary culprit along with an earlier spring and earlier
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 02:43 PM
Jul 2012

snow melt. In most of the west, the opposite of the east, trees have the most internal moisture in the early part of the year and get progressively drier as the summer wears on. The August thunderstorms help the fuel moisture some but they also ignite the forest.

I remember a couple of years in Colorado when the moisture content of pines and junipers were almost down to the level of wood in lumber years. This is a recipe for crowning if a wildland fire starts and crowning is the fastest moving and most dangerous of wild fire consitions.

Bark beetles and other pests have killed or weakened great stretches of timberland and this is fuel for wildfires.

The two above are related to climate change in the opinion of most experts.

joshcryer

(62,269 posts)
9. Drought combined with heat combined with the difficulty of regrowth...
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 02:54 PM
Jul 2012

...all serves to create a perfect storm to create hell fire and destruction.

The sprawl is part of it but many of those houses have been in these areas for decades. When they were built it was wet and humid in the summers. Now we've had a relative humidity in the single digits for weeks, this is unheard of.

 

FarCenter

(19,429 posts)
14. If you don't cut and maintain fire breaks, and you don't remove old trees and snags, this results.
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 05:04 PM
Jul 2012

Poor forestry practices result in larger fires covering more square miles.

 

byeya

(2,842 posts)
16. Old trees and snags provide shelter for many bird and mammal species.
Sun Jul 1, 2012, 05:53 PM
Jul 2012

Agree with the litter buildup on the forest floor.

mike_c

(36,281 posts)
18. a century of fire suppression has led to this situation....
Mon Jul 2, 2012, 11:37 AM
Jul 2012

Warming climate and bark beetle outbreaks might be the finger that pulls the trigger, but long term fire suppression is the real culprit behind western wildfire severity. Unfortunately, there is no assurance that simply returning to the natural fire regime-- which few appear to want anyway-- will solve the problem, certainly not in the short term.

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