B.C. wildfires’ impact on animals ‘to be horrific’: wildlife rehab facility

by LARRY PYNN   July 12, 2017 2:32 PM PDT

Angelika Langen examines a black bear under her care at Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers. NORTHERN LIGHTS WILDLIFE SOCIETY

A major wildlife rehabilitation facility is bracing for the devastating impact of the B.C. wildfires on birds and mammals.

“It’s going to be horrific,” Angelika Langen, co-founder of non-profit Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, said in an interview Wednesday.

“We’re expecting a storm in the aftermath of the fires. It’s pretty horrible for the wildlife with this huge area affected. It’s all over. It’s going to have an impact on numbers. At this large scale, it’s going to be devastating.”

The B.C. Wildfire Service reports that wildfires have consumed more than 700 square kilometres so far this year across the province, mostly in the Cariboo region.

Northern Lights accepts large and small mammals for rehabilitation and release, while typically sending birds south to facilities such as OWL (Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society) in Delta and Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. in Burnaby.

Northern Lights has a mobile team that visits areas of the province in greatest need, and is licensed to use tranquilizers to capture wildlife. It also has catch poles, live traps, kennels and medical kits for injuries, including burns.

Langen said the full impact won’t be known until the wildfires are over and people get back into the areas currently closed off due to fire danger.

She is already preparing her facility to better handle the anticipated influx of wildlife, readying enclosures, including for possible enlargement with portable fencing for emergencies.

Based on her experience with past wildfires, Langen said smaller animals, including birds still in nests and other young of the year “won’t have a chance to get out” by outrunning the fire. The impact extends down the food chain to snakes and frogs.

Larger animals such as deer and bears stand the best chance of finding safe ground, but may leave behind young that cannot keep up.

“We expect a lot of displaced and orphaned animals that have lost or been separated from their parents,” Langen said. “It’s really hard to predict. It depends on how many people get into those areas after the fires and what will be found.”

The Northwest Territories government reports that fire “disturbance to the boreal forest is necessary for wildlife habitat and diversity. Excluding fire from the landscape causes an unnatural aging of the forest and loss of the habitat mosaic.”

Managed fires can actually improve or maintain wildlife habitat, and reduce the risk and intensity of future wildfires by removing some of the potential fuel, the government adds.

According to The Wildlife Society in the U.S., a study evaluated the effects of different conditions — unburned and prescribed and wildland fires — on populations and habitats of birds throughout the West.

In the northern sites, prescribed fire treatments resulted in increased occupancy rates for many bark-insectivore, cavity-nesting, aerial-insectivore and ground-insectivore species, whereas some foliage insectivores and seed specialists declined. In the Southwest, the impacts of prescribed fire treatment on breeding birds were minor. Overall, more species benefited than not two to three years after a prescribed fire.

http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/b-c-wildfires-impact-on-animals-to-be-horrific-wildlife-rehab-facility

Among the First of the Climate Refugees

Map courtesy of United State Forest Service The Mission Project encompasses about 50,000 acres in the Libby Creek and Buttermilk Creek watersheds.

Map courtesy of United State Forest Service

The Mission Project encompasses about 50,000 acres in the Libby Creek and Buttermilk Creek watersheds.

Plan is part of ‘landscape vision’ for forest management

By Ann McCreary,

If nature were allowed to run its course, portions of the Libby Creek and Buttermilk Creek watersheds would have experienced natural fires every five to 15 years.

Those fires historically played a role in keeping forests healthy — burning at low intensity, clearing out smaller trees and brush, and ultimately preventing extreme wildfires that spread out of control and destroy forests.

Humans, however, have changed the natural course of fire throughout the West, just as they have in the Libby and Buttermilk watersheds.

“There would have historically been more frequent fires, about every 10 years in those dry, ponderosa pine sites,” said Mike Liu, Methow Valley district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service.

“Since the 1940s and ’50s, it’s up to six cycles that fire has been suppressed. Because of effective firefighting, what fires did start we caught them small, so you didn’t see the historic under-burning,” said Liu.

As a result, the forests in the Libby and Buttermilk areas, like many forests around the nation, have become unnaturally dense, overgrown and vulnerable to extreme fire, insects and disease, according to Forest Service officials.

The Forest Service is developing plans to conduct thinning, prescribed burning and other forest and aquatic treatments in the Libby and Buttermilk watersheds as part of the “Mission Project,” which will employ the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Restoration Strategy for the first time in the Methow Ranger District (see related story).

The strategy aims to restore forests’ natural resilience to wildfire, insects, disease and climate change. It differs from past forest treatment practices in some key ways, most notably the size of the project area. The Restoration Strategy emphasizes evaluating and planning for large landscapes and developing interventions designed to benefit the entire area.

In the case of the Mission Project, the area encompasses about 50,000 acres in the two watersheds at the western edge of the Carlton Complex Fire perimeter.

Those watersheds are a priority for restoration because they are among the drier watersheds in the Methow Valley and have consequently missed numerous natural fire cycles, said Liu.

Support, suspicion

The prospect of forest restoration work in the Mission Project area is welcomed by some Methow Valley residents, and greeted with skepticism by others.

When Robert Rivard learned about the Mission Project, he wanted to make sure that Forest Service land bordering his property, near Buttermilk Creek off Twisp River Road, was included in the project.

The initial proposed boundary of the project ran along a ridge above the area where Rivard lives, and he wanted the lines redrawn to include densely wooded Forest Service land adjacent to about 80 homes and cabins in the area.

At the suggestion of Forest Service officials, Rivard helped organize his neighbors into a Firewise Community in October, because that designation improved the likelihood for funding treatments on adjacent federal forests. The designation also helps communities compete for funding to conduct treatments on private land. To be designated a Firewise Community, homeowners must obtain a risk assessment, create an action plan, conduct a firewise event and invest in firewise activities. 

“We were able to get this Firewise Community [designation] through the state in record time — nine days,” said Rivard, who worked for 15 years as a firefighter and smokejumper and is uneasy about the condition of nearby national forests.

“I look at the woods. I see the potential,” he said. “We asked that the thin strip between Buttermilk drainage proper be extended to include us.”

The Buttermilk area was threatened by the Little Bridge Fire in 2014, and the Twisp River Fire last summer, raising consciousness among his neighbors, Rivard said.

“The timing was right for the Mission Project. We felt we needed to talk to the Forest Service and some kind of joint agreement. And with another big fire season this year and with the [firefighter] fatalities, we felt we needed to get something going,” Rivard said.

As a result of the Buttermilk landowners’ request, the Forest Service revised the Mission Project boundaries to include the small stretch of section of forest land where Buttermilk Creek comes into the Twisp River drainage by the Buttermilk neighborhood.

Pema Bresnahan, a resident of Libby Creek, has a different view of the Mission Project and has spoken publicly against it. “I see a lot of problems in the scale they are talking about, both in ecological effects and cost,” she said.

“The Mission area is my home.  It’s one of the remaining unburned areas and it’s an oasis for wildlife,” she said.

Bresnahan said she is concerned about the project’s potential impact on an18,000-acre roadless area within the project boundaries, and questioned the effectiveness of logging to improve forest resiliency.

“One can find volumes of research to show that this approach, especially in our area, is not economical or necessarily effective in reducing fire severity,” Bresnahan said. As an example, she cited a 2008 study in the Open Forest Science Journal, which found that while treatments to reduce forest fuels can be effective, the probability of treated areas encountering fire before fuels come back is lower than generally assumed.

Bresnahan said she is concerned that a “landscape-level logging operation on the Libby Creek and Buttermilk watersheds” will be the result of the Mission Project. “How much of it [the project area] is going to be actually impacted by huge machines that run on those tracks and destroy everything they go over?” Bresnahan said in a recent interview.

“I don’t think mechanical thinning is appropriate in that area, except in proximity to structures,” she said, suggesting that thinning be restricted to areas within one-quarter mile of residences. “I want a buffer zone around the houses and leave the rest of the reforest as is, and give the Forest Service the opportunity to do controlled burns.”

Liu said he understands why the public may question the Forest Service restoration plans.

“I think some of the individuals have looked at past logging practices and have been disappointed with that,” Liu said. “Maybe there is a lack of faith in the current science that’s being used, or a lack of confidence that what we’re proposing will in fact benefit the system.”

Forest Health Collaborative

The Forest Service is being assisted by the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative in moving the project forward. Formed two years ago, the collaborative includes conservation, timber industry, government and tribal representatives interested in increasing the scale and pace of forest restoration projects.

While the Mission Project will evaluate approximately 50,000 acres, the actual area of land to be treated is more likely to be about 10 percent of the total area, said Lloyd McGee of The Nature Conservancy, one of the organizations in the Forest Health Collaborative.

“We start with a landscape vision. This does not mean we’re going to log the whole landscape. What it means is when we do thinning, we want to be able to see where it fits into the larger landscape … where we can strategically place thinning treatments so that we don’t get a megafire,” McGee said.

“That 10 percent or so [to be treated] is based on where there is current access, and where there is no other protection prohibiting management because of endangered species or some other designation that does not allow mechanical treatment or prescribed burning,” McGee said. 

The Forest Health Collaborative hired Derek Churchill, a University of Washington researcher and forestry consultant, to conduct a landscape analysis and develop recommendations for possible treatments in the watersheds.

The landscape analysis looks at a range of factors, Churchill said. Using aerial photos and historical photos, it evaluates how much the area has changed from its natural, pre-fire suppression state; it evaluates the risk of extreme fire; it assesses the condition of habitat for species such as spotted owls and salmon.

“It really is a holistic landscape or watershed-wide approach. We’re looking at habitat, fire, insects and disease, aquatics across whole watersheds. We’re looking at all of those and the tradeoffs of those together in one framework,” Churchill said.

The analysis also evaluates how the watershed could be affected by climate change, and compares current conditions in the project area to historical conditions in drier watersheds to guide how treatment can take into consideration a warmer, drier future.

“We think Buttermilk in 50 years is going to be more similar to other watersheds in the region that are currently in a drier condition,” Churchill said.

To assist in the project, McGee and other members of the Forest Health Collaborative have conducted field surveys to gather information on potential aquatic restoration needs and proposed treatment areas.

Liu said the work done by the collaborative and Churchill has been helpful because much of his staffs’ time has been consumed by dealing with two consecutive extreme fire seasons.

“They’ve been able to keep this project moving forward even when we were occupied with fire suppression, suppression repair and recovery,” Liu said.

Liu said he expects the collaborative to provide the Methow Ranger District the results of the landscape analysis and recommendations for areas that could benefit from treatment before the end of the year.

“We’ll review that recommendation and I’m sure modify as we feel necessary,” Liu said. “That will be packaged up as a proposed action, which will be sent out for scoping as we initiate the NEPA [National Environmental Protection Act] process. Scoping could begin in January — that’s a rough target.”

After public comments are gathered, the district will draft an Environmental Assessment, which would be available sometime in the spring of 2016, Liu said.

Wildlife managers assessing fire impacts

http://methowvalleynews.com/2015/09/18/wildlife-managers-assessing-fire-impacts/

Scorched landscape threatens many animal species

By Ann McCreary

For a second consecutive year, state wildlife managers are scrambling to assess the damage caused by massive wildfires that scorched four state wildlife areas in north central Washington, including the Methow Valley.

Since mid-August, this year’s record-setting wildfires in Okanogan County have burned more than 505,000 acres, destroyed about 200 residences, and killed three firefighters.

As of early this week the largest fires included the Tunk Block Fire, burning 10 miles northeast of Omak and listed at 167,840 acres and 79 percent contained; the North Star Fire, 25 miles north of Coulee Dam, which had consumed 215,406 acres and was 47 percent contained; and the Okanogan Complex Fire, west of Omak and Okanogan,Featured Image -- 10312which was 133,142 acres and 85 percent contained. The Twisp River Fire, fully contained, burned 11,211 acres in August.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) estimates that wildfires have scorched more than 25,000 acres of wildlife lands maintained by the department for wildlife and outdoor recreation in Okanogan and Chelan counties.

That exceeds the amount of state wildlife land burned by last year’s massive Carlton Complex Fire by about 1,000 acres, said Jim Brown, WDFW regional director for north central Washington.

“Several wildlife areas are completely burned over,” Brown said. “The vegetation that supports deer, sharp-tailed grouse and other wildlife is gone. I’d call it déjà vu, except that this year’s fire took a different path and has aggravated the problems we’ve been working to address since last year.”

This year’s damage to WDFW lands was concentrated in the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, east of Conconully; the Methow Wildlife Area where the Twisp River Fire burned; the Chelan Wildlife Area, primarily around Chelan Butte; and the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area between Loomis and Conconully, Brown said. In some areas, trained department staff worked alongside regular firefighters to control the blaze.

Those four wildlife areas support thousands of deer, many of which will seek food outside the areas scorched by wildfires, said Matt Monda, WDFW regional wildlife manager. Like last year, the department plans to work with landowners to protect their crops from deer displaced by the fire, he said.

“We are looking at the carrying capacity of habitat for wintering deer,” Monda said. “We know we need to take additional steps to align the herds with available habitat. That effort will involve allowing the habitat to recover and minimizing conflicts between deer and agricultural landowners.”

Drought having impact

The statewide drought, one of the most severe on record, is both causing and compounding the wildfire damage, Monda said. “The drought is going to have an effect on vegetation recovery. That’s why we had the big fires and it’s going to make things more difficult for wildlife.”

Hunting seasons for archers are now underway, and WDFW may draw from its existing list of special-hunt applicants to increase the number of modern-firearms permit hunts in October, Monda said.

Brown said WDFW encourages hunters to take advantage of those hunting opportunities, but recommends that they check local access restrictions before they leave home. Key contact numbers are included on the state governor’s website at www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/washington-wildfire-resources.

In the months ahead, the department will consider setting up localized deer-feeding stations and other measures to protect agriculture crops on a case-by-case basis, Brown said.

“There are a lot of good reasons not to feed wildlife, but we’ll assess each situation on its merits once we have a better idea of the environmental conditions in fall and winter,” he said.

In the meantime, the department will continue to update its damage assessment as a first step toward qualifying for federal disaster relief. Besides burning thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, the fire has destroyed 90 miles of WDFW boundary fencing, several outbuildings, and hundreds of informational signs.

“This fencing serves two purposes: to keep livestock where they’re supposed to be — either on or off wildlife areas — and to identify the boundaries of wildlife areas,” Monda said.

It is very important — and expensive — to restore the lost fencing, he said. “A mile of fence costs many thousands of dollars to replace,” he said.

Also damaged were two of the three pastures in Okanogan County that WDFW leased to livestock producers displaced by last year’s fires.

“We want to help our neighbors whenever we can, but I don’t know whether we’ll have any grazing areas available this year,” Brown said.

Looking ahead to the fall rains, Brown recommends that area landowners promptly assess their own properties to determine whether fire damage has clogged culverts, destabilized slopes, or created other dangerous situations. If so, landowners may qualify for an emergency permit — called a Hydraulic Permit Approval (HPA) — to address risks in or around state waters.

Landowners in north central Washington seeking more information on emergency HPAs can contact WDFW at (509) 754-4624.

“These record-breaking fires will have a major impact on both the wildlife and the human residents of north central Washington for years to come,” Brown said. “The vegetation will eventually grow back and the wildlife will return, but we all need a break from these massive fires.”

Alaska’s Current Off-the-Charts Wildfire Situation

Alaskans can take a peek out the window this week to catch a glimpse of climate change. It seems the entire state is on fire, and those fires are burning up land at a pace far beyond that of 2004, the previous record-setting year.

Here are the stats:

  • Wildfires in Alaska have burned more than 1.25 million acres so far this year. That’s an area 32 times the size of Washington, D.C.
  • 3,343 firefighters are currently working in Alaska. That’s one-third of all the wildland firefighters currently tasked in the United States.
  • 85 percent of the area burned nationwide this year by wildfire has been in Alaska.

The state of Alaska is at its highest level of alert. Its Tuesday wildfire situation report was 65 pages long. And the problem is getting worse: Wildfires now burn five times more acreage each year in our northernmost state than they did in 1943.

More: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/06/30/alaska_wildfires_climate_change_is_helping_spark_big_fires_at_a_record_pace.html

 

 

Hunter pleads not guilty to starting massive California wildfire

nasa

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/13/us-usa-california-fire-idUSKBN0GD01O20140813

(Reuters) – A California hunter pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that he started a massive wildfire on the edge of Yosemite National Park last summer after building an illegal campfire.

Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, entered his plea in U.S. District Court in Fresno almost exactly a year after prosecutors say he sparked the Rim Fire, which scorched 260,000 acres on public and private land in and near the park.

Emerald, who lives near the area burned by the fire, is charged with setting timber afire, leaving a fire unattended, violating campfire restrictions and giving a false statement to a government agency. He is expected to be released from custody after his $60,000 bail is posted.

Federal prosecutors say Emerald built a fire in the remote dry brush of Stanislaus National Forest, where temporary campfire restrictions were in effect because of drought, while on a bow-and-arrow hunting trip last August.

Embers from the campfire reached parched branches overhead and sparked the devastating wildfire named after the Rim of the World lookout spot nearby.

The flames scorched 402 square miles, destroyed nearly 100 structures and cost more than $127 million.

“The Rim Fire was one of the largest in California history and caused tremendous economic and environmental harm,” said Scott Harris, a U.S. Forest Service special agent in charge of the area where the Rim Fire took place. “While those harms cannot be undone, today we have brought criminal charges relating to the cause of that fire.”

Rescuers airlifted Emerald from the burning forest about an hour after the wildfire began, according to court documents. Emerald initially told investigators that he did not set fire to anything during his trip.

Federal prosecutors say that Emerald lit a campfire and then lied about it to investigators. If convicted of all four counts, he faces a maximum sentence of six years in prison and $510,000 in fines. He is scheduled to appear in court again on Oct. 14.

Emerald’s attorneys were not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Jennifer Chaussee from San Francisco; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Eric Walsh)

 

WDFW fence out wildfire displaced wildlife, call for more hunting

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2014.

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2014.

(What the WDFW are essentially saying is, ‘Never mind that the deer just went through hell escaping a terrifying catastrophic wildfire, let’s kill them before winter so no human is inconvenienced.):

WDFW NEWS RELEASE
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

http://wdfw.wa.gov/

Aug. 7, 2014

Contact: Jim Brown, (509) 754-4624 ext. 219

WDFW assesses habitat affected by wildfires,
helps landowners fence out displaced wildlife
 

OLYMPIA – State wildlife managers are working with Okanogan landowners to protect their crops from deer displaced by area wildfires and are assessing the fires’ damage to wildlife habitat.

In addition to burning hundreds of homes, the Carlton Complex fire has scorched tens of thousands of acres of habitat used by wildlife, including mule deer, wild turkeys and western gray squirrels. The fire, which is still burning in some areas, has damaged 25,000 acres within five wildlife area units managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“A fire of this magnitude will have both short and long-term effects on wildlife populations and the landscape and that will have implications for hunting and grazing in the area,” said Jim Brown, WDFW regional director. “This is not a problem with easy answers.”

The burned area is home to a local mule deer population, which lives there year-round, and supports thousands of migratory deer during the winter. Some of the areas may still provide winter habitat depending on weather throughout this summer and fall.

Even if conditions are ideal, however, there will be too many deer for the area to support this winter and possibly for several years to come, said Scott Fitkin, WDFW district wildlife biologist in Okanogan County.

“We know we need to take steps to reduce the size of the herd,” Fitkin said. “That effort will focus initially on minimizing conflicts between deer and agricultural landowners.”

WDFW is working with local property owners to stop deer from moving into orchards, hay fields and pastures to seek food and cover. The department is helping landowners replace a limited number of fire-damaged fences and seek state and federal emergency funding.

“We expect more issues to arise as migratory deer return to the area this fall, but we are taking steps now to minimize those problems,” said Ellen Heilhecker, WDFW wildlife conflict specialist in Okanogan County.

WDFW likely will increase the number of antlerless deer permits issued this fall and winter, reaching out first to youth and senior hunters and hunters with disabilities. The department will directly contact hunters who already applied for deer permits in the area, so a new application process is unnecessary, Fitkin said.

The agency plans to draw deer and other wildlife away from agricultural lands with feed this summer and fall. WDFW is considering a feeding program for deer this winter.

“Winter feeding is not a long term solution,” Fitkin said. “At best, it’s a stop-gap measure until the deer population and habitat are back in balance.”

Sustained supplemental feeding is neither efficient nor beneficial to wildlife and often creates problems, he said. Feeding concentrates animals, making them more vulnerable to predators, poaching and disease, such as hair slip, which is already a concern for deer in the region. Having so many animals clustered in one area also causes damage to the land and can hinder restoration efforts.

In the winter, deer prefer to eat shrubs and bitterbrush, which WDFW plans to re-seed on department lands within the burned area. However, it will take many years for shrubs and bitterbrush to re-establish in the damaged area. Likewise, western gray squirrel habitat could take several years to recover. In some areas, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir tree stands sustained significant damage.

WDFW will work with other government agencies on restoration activities such as timber salvage and weed control. The agency also has located alternate wildlife units in Okanogan County with suitable forage for emergency livestock grazing. This grazing will be offered to department permit-holders first, then to others if enough land is available.

Like other public land managers, WDFW likely will close roads in some wildlife units due to hazardous trees, said Dale Swedberg, WDFW’s Okanogan lands operations manager. That could reduce access for hunting in the burned areas this fall.

“We’re developing contingency plans in anticipation of what happens during the remainder of the fire season, fall green-up and winter severity,” Swedberg said.

Hunters and others should check WDFW’s wildfire webpage at wdfw.wa.gov/wildfires for updates on conditions and access on WDFW lands. Information on wildlife and restoration efforts in the affected area also can be found on the webpage.

 


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Visit the WDFW News Release Archive at: 
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Orphaned bear cub escapes wildfire with badly burned paws

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

By Published: Aug 4, 2014

WENATCHEE, Wash. — The newest victim from the Carlton Complex Fire is a black bear cub. Methow Valley homeowner Steve Love says his dog was barking and horse was prancing and snorting to sound an alarm. That’s when he first spotted the 6-month old cub hobbling up his driveway.

He could tell the cub was seriously injured but when he first approached, she made menacing sounds and he backed away. He was eventually able to toss her apricots from a tree and get her some water.

“Later in the evening, she was lying down making pitiful whimpering noises,” Love said. “I got about six feet away, sat down and talked to it in a soothing way, telling it things would be okay. It seemed to make it feel better. It stopped making the noises.”

The next day, a Fish and Wildlife Police Officer was able to capture the cub and transport her to Wenatchee. That’s where state biologist Rich Beausoleil picked up her care.

“They’re severe,” Beausoleil said of her wounds. “All four paws were 3rd degree burns. She has some burns to her face and arms and chest. Those were relatively minor and I think that will grow back. It’s the four feet we’re worried about.”

Dr. Randy Hein, an East Wenatchee veterinarian donated time and medicine. Beausoleil fed her a concoction of yogurt and dog food while seeking out long term help. He says he started with Sally Maughan of Idaho Black Bear Rehabilitation who pointed him towards Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

In 2008, the center rehabilitated a cub nicknamed “Lil Smokey” who suffered burns in a California wildfire. They agreed to take cub, which they’ve named Cinder, but there was the challenge of getting her there.

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Orphaned-bear-cub-escapes-wildfire-with-badly-burned-paws-269849701.html

Obama: Western wildfires have a lot “to do with climate change”

james1

While I’m generally no hardline presidential apologist, I do have to praise Obama for acknowledging that the record-setting Carlton Complex wildfire, along with other ongoing western blazes, can be attributed to climate change.

“A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns, and a lot of that has to do with climate change,” the USA Today quoted the president as saying during a recent visit to Seattle.

Unfortunately since then, the media has been silent about the president’s statement, omitting it in any subsequent article about President Barack Obama signing a federal emergency declaration for the areas affected by the wildfires. The declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief and help state and local agencies with equipment and resources.

That’s good news for this particular weather event, but it hardly trumps the fact that the planet is sure to experience this scale of catastrophic wildfire again and again in the future.

Perhaps the reason we’re not hearing about the climate change connection has to with the results of a recent survey revealing that Americans are more skeptical of climate change than others polled across the globe.

According to an ABC News article, when asked if they agreed with the statement, “The climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity,” just 54 percent of Americans surveyed said yes. Although this number indicates a majority, the United States still ranked last among 20 countries in the poll.

Meanwhile, China topped the list, with 93 percent of its citizens agreeing that human activity is causing climate change. Large majorities also agreed in France (80 percent), Brazil (79 percent), Germany (72 percent) and other countries.

Similarly, 91 percent of those from China agreed with the statement, “We are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly.” Only 57 percent of Americans thought so — again, last among 20 nations surveyed.

‘Mother Nature is winning here’: Wildfire destroys about 100 homes in central Washington

As  you’ve probably heard by now, Washington’s scenic Methow Valley, up in the North central portion of the state, is on fire. Big time. The title of the attached U.S. News article, “Mother Nature is Winning Here,” hit the nail on the head. What started out two days ago as 4 small fires covering 18,000 acres has mushroomed almost overnight to a monstrous 240,000 acre inferno, capable of gobbling up any town that tries to stand in its way.

photo Copyright Jim Robertson

photo Copyright Jim Robertson

I lived in the  Methow for 20 some years, in a cabin in the heart of the Lake Chelan Sawtooth range, nestled on the eastern edge of the North Cascades mountains. My wife grew up in the valley; my brother and his wife still live there.

It was there that I learned to really respect the power of wildfires. I was working on a trail crew for the U.S. Forest Service. When we were sent on “controlled” burn on the Gold Creek Ridge near the now infamous town of Carlton I saw just how quickly an out of control fire can spread.

Being a “controlled” burn, it was planned for the spring when conditions aren’t nearly as dry as they are this time of year. We were using drip torches to set off slash piles. One big pile was next to the edge of a flagged “unit,” next to an unlogged slope. The guy working on that pile got carried away, so a couple of us went over to help keep his fire from spreading. We started frantically pulling slash off the unburned slope and tossing it out of reach of the flames. But the effort was too late; one worker who stopped to take a break saw the flames reach across the flag line behind us. He yelled, “Get out of there, you guys.” We turned to see the fire move over our fire line and into the brush and trees outside the unit. Luckily we hurried out of the fire’s path. Within seconds, the flames reached the crowns of the trees and the fire shot uphill and blackened the entire slope before we could even think about trying to get ahead of it and slow its progress…

fire3

‘MOTHER NATURE IS WINNING HERE’: Wildfire destroys about 100 homes in central Washington

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS and GENE JOHNSON, Associated Press

PATEROS, Wash. (AP) — A fire racing through rural north-central Washington destroyed about 100 homes, leaving behind smoldering rubble, solitary brick chimneys and burned-out automobiles as it blackened hundreds of square miles in the scenic Methow Valley.

Friday’s dawn revealed dramatic devastation, with the Okanagan County town of Pateros, home to 650 people, hit especially hard. Most residents evacuated in advance of the flames, and some returned Friday to see what, if anything, was left of their houses. There were no reports of injuries, officials said.

A wall of fire wiped out a block of homes on Dawson Street. David Brownlee, 75, said he drove away Thursday evening just as the fire reached the front of his home, which erupted like a box of matches.

“It was just a funnel of fire,” Brownlee said. “All you could do was watch her go.”

Next door, the Pateros Community Church appeared largely undamaged.

The pavement of U.S. Highway 97 stopped the advance of some of the flames, protecting parts of Pateros.

Firefighters poured water over the remnants of homes Friday morning, raising clouds of smoke, steam and dust. Two big water towers perched just above the town were singed black by the flames. The fire consumed utility poles from two major power lines, one feeding Pateros and the other feeding the towns of Winthrop and Twisp to the north.

Gov. Jay Inslee said about 50 fires were burning in Washington, which has been wracked by hot, dry weather and lightning. Some 2,000 firefighters were working in the eastern part of the state, with about a dozen helicopters from the Department of Natural Resources and the National Guard, along with a Washington State Patrol spotter plane.

Inslee said that the state was rapidly training about 1,000 additional National Guard troops and active duty military could be called in as well.

“This, unfortunately, is not going to be a one-day or one-week event,” he said.

The Methow Valley, about 180 miles northeast of Seattle, is a popular area for hiking and fishing. Sections of several highways were closed.

“There’s a lot of misplaced people, living in parking lots and stuff right now,” said Rod Griffin, a fly-fishing guide who lives near Twisp. “The whole valley’s in disarray.”

He described long lines for gasoline, with at least one gas station out of fuel, and said cellphone towers must have been damaged as well because there was very little service.

In Brewster, 6 miles to the south, a hospital was evacuated as a precaution. The smoke was so thick there Friday it nearly obscured the Columbia River from adjacent highways. The smoke extended all the way to Spokane, 150 miles to the east.

Jacob McCann, a spokesman for the fire known as the Carlton Complex, said it “ran quite a bit” Thursday and officials were also able to get a better handle on its size. It blackened 260 square miles by Friday morning, up dramatically from the prior estimate of 28 square miles.

“Mother Nature is winning here,” Don Waller, chief of Okanogan County Fire District 6, told The Wenatchee World newspaper.

The county sheriff, Frank Rogers, said his team counted 30 houses and trailers destroyed in Pateros, another 40 in a community just outside the town at Alta Lake, and about 25 homes destroyed elsewhere in the county of about 40,000 people.

More: http://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2014/07/18/growing-wildfire-empties-washington-town

In Case You Haven’t Noticed Yet, Global Warming Is Real

If you’re one of the lucky few who live somewhere as yet relatively unaffected by climateunderwear change, or you spend all your time indoors listening to Rush Limbaugh and watching Donald Trump on Fox News, I’m here to tell you, global warming is real.

It may be hard to accept that the Earth’s overall temperature is rapidly warming up if your state has just experienced a polar vortex, but if you live in California or the Pacific Northwest you know all too well the drastic effect climate change is having on winter weather—especially if you’re a skier like me.

As an avid powder skier I’ve been closely following the snow reports for the mountains in the western United States and I’m seeing a depressing trend toward shallower snow packs and away from our normal winter wonderland.

Why is this happening? As the San Jose Mercury News reported it, “Meteorologists have fixed their attention on the scientific phenomenon they say is to blame for the emerging drought: a vast zone of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast, nearly four miles high and 2,000 miles long, so stubborn that one researcher [Swain] has dubbed it the ‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.’ Like a brick wall, the mass of high pressure air has been blocking Pacific winter storms from coming ashore in California, deflecting them up into Alaska and British Columbia, even delivering rain and cold weather to the East Coast.” Much to the dismay of skiers, this stubborn high pressure ridge is pushing the jet stream, and our winter moisture, along a much more northerly track.

Ok, but what does this, and the lack of winter storms (for us here in the West) have to do with global warming? In an article in ThinkProgress.org, “Leading Scientists Explain How Climate Change Is Worsening California’s Epic Drought,” we learn that “Beyond the expansion and drying of the subtropics predicted by climate models, some climatologists have found in their research evidence that the stunning decline in Arctic sea ice would also drive western drought — by shifting storm tracks…Scientists say this anomaly looks very much like what the models predicted as sea ice declined. The storm track response also looks very similar with correspondingly similar impacts on precipitation (reduced rainfall in CA, increased precipitation in SE Alaska).”

In addition to California’s record-breaking drought and water rationing, you probably heard on the national news about their destructive January brush fires. But even more shocking than those unseasonable fires are a recent pair of 300 acre wildfires on the normally soggy North Oregon Coast, which burned nearly to the beach. January fires in the Pacific Northwest rain forest are almost unheard of, as anyone who has tried to light a campfire in winter there will attest. In an article about the forest fires, The Daily Astorian (North Oregon Coast ’s local paper) reported that the National Weather Service in Portland issued a “red flag” warning in response to conditions (strong dry east winds and humidity as low as 25%) that can contribute to wildfires burning out of control. Instead of the 25% humidity, coastal Oregon humidity on a winter’s day should be more like 125%.

Whether you choose to “believe in” global warming or not, I urge any of you enjoying this mild, dry winter weather to please think snow!

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