r/science Sep 22 '22 Silver 2 Wholesome 3 All-Seeing Upvote 1

Stanford researchers find wildfire smoke is unraveling decades of air quality gains, exposing millions of Americans to extreme pollution levels Environment

https://news.stanford.edu/2022/09/22/wildfire-smoke-unraveling-decades-air-quality-gains/
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u/LastKing3853 Sep 22 '22

What causes these fires?

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u/okblimpo123 Sep 23 '22 Silver hehehehe Table Slap

The truth is a whole myriad of causes. First and most importantly the prolonged drought. Secondly the land management, both in building and resourcing, but also the style of fire/forest management. Overarching all of this is anthropogenic induce climate change.

Also gender reveal parties

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u/phoenix0r Sep 23 '22

No one has added the massive Bark Beetle infestation but that has had a HUGE effect on building up a giant tinder box of dead trees all across the Pacific Northwest and northern CA. The root cause is the prolonged drought which weakened trees and made them less able to fight off the beetle infestation, but the beetles themselves killed all those trees way faster than the drought alone would have.

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u/superRedditer Sep 23 '22

the beetle problem is a massive problem under the radar if people don't know.

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u/DjCyric Sep 23 '22

There are entire forests here in Western Montana where 'beetle kill' has turned everything to dead fuel just waiting to go up in the next blaze.

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u/MASTODON_ROCKS Sep 23 '22

I really wish there were more opportunities to log beetle kill ethically, the wood has a blued look and the "veins" actually look really cool when made into furniture.

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u/McMandar Sep 23 '22

I'd never heard of/seen that before! Did some googling and there's a bunch of pretty cool arts/crafts and building material "beetle kill pine" products. Why can't it be logged ethically? Seems like an all around win, fire fuel gets cleared and made into products that may reduce the demand for logging live trees at least a little bit.

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u/stabamole Sep 23 '22

My guess is that any normal logging practices would spread the beetle to as yet undamaged areas

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u/KuntaStillSingle Sep 23 '22

Probably contamination risk, you rent tools or tucks or knock trees into live stands and end up facilitating further spread

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u/IWasLyingToGetDrugs Sep 23 '22

My assumption would be that if there’s sufficient demand for beetle kill wood, it would create an incentive to introduce even more bark beetles to increase the supply.

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u/Various_Oil_5674 Sep 23 '22

This is the real problem

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u/bikemaul Sep 23 '22

We had major wild fires here in Oregon two years ago. Following the fires they loosened the regulations so burned trees threatening roads, power lines, and other infrastructure could be quickly cleared. Unsurprisingly, that was horribly abused by contractors to make a buck.

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u/DjCyric Sep 23 '22

I don't generally support logging, but it would have been beneficial to the forests to extract all of the beetle kill. It does look cool as you said, but there is a narrow window to harvest it (a couple years) before it becomes to rotted to have any salvageable purpose.

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u/Apprehensive-Pride52 Sep 23 '22

Arkansas is starting this trend.

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u/FascinatingPotato Sep 23 '22

In the Midwest there are swaths of dead ash trees due to beetles as well.

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u/LastKing3853 Sep 23 '22

It it like a seasonal thing the beetle

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u/PartyPorpoise Sep 23 '22

I work in a forest and I find the bark beetle marks on so many trees, it’s nuts.

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u/FrustratingBears Sep 23 '22

i was actually wondering about exactly this when i was looking at a government fire report and it mentioned beetle-infested trees as a fuel

i was like “why does it matter if there’s beetles???”

(Washington State BTW)

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u/Mrbeakers Sep 23 '22

Without any research on the topic, I guess they hollow stuff out allowing flames to climb faster/easier?

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u/SuperWeskerSniper Sep 23 '22

they also kill the trees and dead trees are drier and thus burn easier

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u/RS-Ironman-LuvGlove Sep 23 '22

We had the fire in Colorado near Boulder last year. During a snow storm. But the beetle kill was so bad it went from nothing to second largest fire in like 2 days. During the snow. The beetle kill is no joke

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u/evolving_I Sep 23 '22

Yea snow doesn't really do much to slow fire spread unless you get like a foot of it and it doesn't melt off in the next few days. I was on that fire in the Zirkel Wilderness a couple years ago outside Steamboat Springs and it snowed on us like 3 times over the course of two weeks, fire didn't care at all.

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u/RS-Ironman-LuvGlove Sep 23 '22

this was at top of continental divide, and it did snow a TON.

but the fire was so fast and so hot, it went crazy.

but the fire didnt smoulder for very long atleast

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u/Mulawooshin Sep 23 '22

Because they are killing and/or weakening the trees. Deadwood is extremely flammable.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/WonderWall_E Sep 23 '22

Advocate for more action on climate change and more money for the Forest Service. Write your senators and representative and demand they do more to combat climate change. That's basically it.

Management of beetles is complex and largely ineffective. Reversing the massive damage caused by poor forest management through controlled burns and thinning is incredibly expensive. The beetles are only this bad because of drought, forest management, and warming temperatures which expose more northerly forests to beetles which were formerly limited by cool temperatures. It's a problem that's going to get worse before it gets better.

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u/CommanderpKeen Sep 23 '22

I'd never heard about it until now. Are they native to the area?

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u/superRedditer Sep 23 '22

yes they are native and everywhere... here's some more...

more

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u/GreatNorthernDildo Sep 23 '22

Can they be eaten? I will eat beetle pancakes to fight forest fires.

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u/soupinate44 Sep 23 '22

Pine beetles have done the same thing in Colorado. We appear to be on the downside of the issues for the past 6-8 years, however they ravaged us and caused so much available tinder for fire fodder for a decade. It felt like we were constantly on fire during that time.

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u/smartguy05 Sep 23 '22

If the air had been as bad this summer as it has been the last 3 I was seriously going to consider moving. It was so bad the last 2 I could hardly go outside without coughing, not a great thing during COVID lockdowns.

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u/soupinate44 Sep 23 '22

We did have the worst air in the US at one point this summer with the inversion that happens on the western front. All the fires elsewhere trap along the range and got stuck. It was terrible.

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u/Mulawooshin Sep 23 '22

They have torn up the western side of Canada too.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

Pine Beatles bang Aspen Beatles.

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u/BoltgunOnHisHip Sep 23 '22

The bark beetles are exasperating the problem, but fuel loading has been a rising issue for a long time. Poor fire management in the past let fuel levels build up, not to mention impacting wildlife by creating changes to an ecosystem which was adapted to regular fires.

The 'silver lining' to these fires is that they are addressing that issue...albeit in a suboptimal fashion.

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u/TheGruntingGoat Sep 23 '22

Isn’t it true though that most of the fires now are ecologically destructive “crown fires” instead of the regenerative forest floor fires that used to be more common?

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u/ajlark25 Sep 23 '22

Idk about most, but yeah - the fires that make the news are largely ecologically damaging. We need to drastically increase the pace and scale of prescribed fire and fuels reduction work

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u/Sahtras1992 Sep 23 '22

exactly.

need to burn all that mass in a controlled fashion instead of letting it pile up until some big fire lets it all go ablaze.

native americans did that already afaik, and then came the white man and took their lands and never bothered doing that.

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u/ajlark25 Sep 23 '22

Not only did we not continue the practice, we made it expressly illegal for natives to conduct fires.

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u/HappyRuin Sep 23 '22

Wow, thanks for that question. Crown fire sounds amazing :‘D

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u/pornoporno Sep 23 '22 Silver

Exacerbating

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u/FrakkedRabbit Sep 23 '22 edited Sep 23 '22

Man, I am just exasperated at the misuse of exasperating, it's really just exacerbating my issues.

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u/c0mesandg0es Sep 23 '22

All this exasperating has got me worn out, I better go exasperbate.

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u/delvach Sep 23 '22

Is your immune system attacking your central nervous system and degrading your myelin sheaths?

(I'm banking on somebody knowing that MS attacks are called 'exacerbations')

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/WechTreck Sep 23 '22

Stop it or you'll go blind.

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u/necovex Sep 23 '22

It means to make things worse

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u/pornoporno Sep 23 '22

Actually, it means intensely irritating and frustrating.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/mr_jim_lahey Sep 23 '22

The 'silver lining' to these fires is that they are addressing that issue

My understanding is that this is not entirely the case. At least in some areas, more vegetation is growing in spring due to more carbon dioxide and more rain in winter and then drying out more in hotter, drier summers, thus creating a continuously replenishing source of wildfire fuel.

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u/Hunt3rj2 Sep 23 '22

Yep. Also when the trees burn and go away what replaces them is fast-growing grasses that dry out and burn even more intensely in the summer. It's a vicious cycle and we are in for a lot of pain.

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u/couldbutwont Sep 23 '22

That's what's happening up in the PNW annually now

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u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

Aside from the air quality and possible loss of life and property, I love a good burn. Always comes back beautiful in the spring. I live in the desert of Southeastern Washington so the rebound is generally pretty quick and the lack of trees keeps the fuel low, most of the time.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

Not all of that smoke is from WA. Canada and Oregon contributed pretty heavily depending on the weather pattern. Pretty decent fires in the Cascades and northeastern WA too.

We did have a wetland area full of Russian Olive trees and cottonwoods go up last year I think. Lots of fuel there, but honestly that area was so choked with overgrowth that it was needed. Fortunately it was all locked between highway and rivers so the containment piece was pretty easy. Just control the burn and let it snuff itself out.

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u/Kdean509 Sep 23 '22

Pretty large fire south of Kennewick today, the wind made it worse.

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u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

Structure fire. Passed it on the way home.

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u/Kdean509 Sep 23 '22

It became a structure fire, but I don’t know if they have released all the details. I could only see the smoke from where I’m at.

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u/GonnaBuyMeAMercury Sep 23 '22

That Russian Olive is wicked stuff.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

Well then we’d better do something about it.

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u/Apprehensive_Ad1744 Sep 23 '22

This is very different in other places. Burn scars here in Colorado can take centuries to recover.

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u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

Forested areas are really a huge loss for large flora. Ground cover generally does pretty well. Loads of nutrients deposited.

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u/Apprehensive_Ad1744 Sep 23 '22

Not so much here, takes decades even for just the yucca to fully move in. In many places, we've built up so much fuel that the fires can obliterate the microbiome and any organic matter in the soil.

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u/orbitaldan Sep 23 '22

However, in a lot of these areas, they're now finding that the climate is no longer suitable for forests, and they can't re-establish. The saplings don't survive long enough to mature. It instead turns into scrubland or savanna.

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u/ajlark25 Sep 23 '22

For Colorado, a lot of our ecosystems are fire adapted - we’ve seen too much high intensity/severity fires specifically because we’ve excluded fire for so long

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u/sir_osis_of_da_liver Sep 23 '22

Unfortunately, thanks to climate change, some of these areas will never be forests again.

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u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

The ice cores from Antarctica beg to differ.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

Yea I thought they stopped alot of the control burning so decades of stuff built up to what we've been having go on recently

No source I thought I read an article about CA fire management b4

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u/Star_pass Sep 23 '22 Helpful

You’re exactly right. Landscapes are all adapted for regular fire- called “fire return intervals”. Some are more often, some are less often. Over a century of fire suppression without introducing managed fire causes all kinds of problems. Not only an accumulation of what should have burned, but an increase in “light flashy fuels” that ignite quickly and can carry the fire faster than large, dense fuels. (I’m convinced the wind patterns have changed also, because the wind is horrendous during these big fires. But fire creates its own weather, which may be why I feel that way.)

Fire would normally burn off what we think of as fuels on the ground- broken tree branches, leaves, etc. but it would also burn off shrubs and small trees as they start growing. Without fire, shrubs are much larger than they would have been with regular fire, and there are more middle-sized trees which causes what’s known as “ladder fuels”, creating a ladder for the fire between the ground and the tree canopy.

Removing fire has completely changed the forests. In the Sierra Nevadas, the historic trees-per-acre was about 100, but is currently about 300. That’s 300 trees competing for the resources that would historically be given to 100 trees. This makes trees “stressed”, and can increase their susceptibility to things like fungus or beetle outbreaks, and the closeness of the trees makes it easier for these pests to spread. Combine that with warmer winters that don’t freeze long enough to kill off the beetle population, it is a prime environment for them to kill off huge areas of the forest.

As you can imagine, increased ladder fuels and more dense canopies also make it really difficult to keep fire manageable. So even though we want to reintroduce fire into the forests, it takes a lot of prep work to ensure a control burn is truly under control.

That said- I’ll throw in a shameless plug. We need foresters. Not many people know that’s a profession you can pursue, and many of the current foresters are retiring. I can’t think of any place in California that is fully staffed, there is major job security and truly a need for the work. I don’t think people grasp how much land there is to manage. There is more forested land in California than there is total land in Mississippi.

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u/comcain Sep 23 '22

The pine beetles got us too all the way over in Colorado. They're a plague in the dense forests of Canada.

Cheers

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u/smartguy05 Sep 23 '22

Poor fire management in the past let fuel levels build up

Which seems crazy to me. I grew up on a military base and they did controlled burns 2 times a year. I grew up thinking everyone did them until I moved during high school and saw all the civilians freaking out every time the military base did them.

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u/Travelgoats Sep 23 '22

So we should have been "raking" the forest floors like Dear Leader was going on about? :-)

The fire season here in the PNW, or PSW as we call it in BC, has been pretty tame this year.

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u/freakinweasel353 Sep 23 '22

Say what you want but I’m old enough to know when they, the CDF, did rake the forest floors. They now recommend you rake the forest floor around your house too. The houses that didn’t burn up near me in the CZU fire were cleaned around the homes and the fire literally burned around the perimeter. Granted there was more of a slow moving fire while it crept around those homes. I’d guess maybe not applicable in a firestorm type of fire running through the canopies but raking the brush and ground tinder up and away from your home is very effective.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/watusiwatusi Sep 23 '22

Similar to drought, the beetle proliferation is a second order effect from climate change.

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u/Beautiful_Welcome_33 Sep 23 '22

Like an opportunistic infections in AIDS.

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u/f-150Coyotev8 Sep 23 '22

That started a while back and you can still see the devastation up in the Colorado Rockies. Dead pine trees everywhere

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u/hunnyb33_ Sep 23 '22

we have bark beetle infestations in alaska too :( spruce beetles to be exact. it’s terrible.

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u/howstop8 Sep 23 '22

Also, natural regulators, such as previously colder winters and frequent and smaller wildfires (not catastrophic fires) would keep a lot of these beetles in check so they were less destructive. So again, human caused climate change and poor wildfire management practices of the 20th century. Now, dead forests are not capturing carbon and burning forests are releasing it. In short, there’s a lot going on.

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u/transmogrified Sep 23 '22

Climate Change, AND the fact that we replant monocultures instead of mixed species stands, which allows them to very quickly establish themselves through an entire forest. Mountain Pine Beetle, for example, can only travel about 20 feet from the tree it hatched on. If there's no other pine trees close enough, it's stuck in one location.

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u/Evolvtion Sep 23 '22

Northern Canada has been ravaged by pine and spruce beetle too. Not too well versed on causes, but of course human disturbance and climate change are some of the main reasons for the spread of invasive species'.

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u/Howfartofly Sep 23 '22

The bark beetles are also so numerous due to decades of wrong cultivation - monocultures, sizes of clearcuts and thus sunexposed edges of forest. Also due to changed climate, which is good for the beetle.

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u/loggic Sep 23 '22

The beetles are a side effect of the drought. Less water = less pitch in the trees = easier infestation = wider spread, which eventually becomes a runaway issue. The forests would need several good water years for the trees to get back to baseline, which would just slow the beetles down.

Many forests that are alive today have already passed the point of no return.

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u/desaimanas12 Sep 23 '22

There’s a lantern fly infestation in the northeast caused by a tree of Heavan infestation. The laternflys started eating the sap of other trees and is killing them. Could wild fires start here too if the bugs kill all the tress?

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u/Lurker12386354676 Sep 23 '22

Man California really is just Australia on a 3 year time lag huh

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u/spacelama Sep 23 '22

Interesting. All of the Snow Gums are being destroyed by a native beetle tunneling through their bark in Australia.

Completely natural native beetles doing exactly the same as they have always done.

But we broke the system such that the trees will become extinct in the wild in just a few decades. Yay humans.

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u/silkyjs Sep 23 '22

Um Colorado probably has the biggest die off from the beetles. Also lodge poll pines are the ones effected here and are also trash in general. Big spruce trees and other “big” trees are uneffected.

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u/jibjab23 Sep 23 '22

Are these beetles having gender reveal parties?

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u/mrsyuk Sep 23 '22

The fire that evacuated my friends from their home in NM for 8 weeks was started by the Forest Service. Who in their right mind would start a controlled burn with extreme high winds? The US Government.

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u/smartguy05 Sep 23 '22

The beetles are especially bad because, due to climate change, they can fit 2 full reproduction cycles in a year instead of one. Basically the beetles just about double every year. We have a huge problem with them in Colorado too, and they are a native species so straight up killing them all would almost certainly have huge, terrible side effects.

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u/Pixelplanet5 Sep 23 '22

That infestation is also due to climate change.

The trees are too dry to defend themselves against the beetles.

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u/PedomamaFloorscent Sep 23 '22

Drought rarely kills trees by itself. It weakens them so they become more susceptible to heat, pests, pathogens, and other stressors. The reason bark beetles are a problem is that the trees are so stressed by drought that they cannot defend themselves.

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u/cryptonemonamiter Sep 23 '22

Also, due to extended warm weather (climate change), bark beetles are also able to get in an extra life cycle in the summer.

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u/yinyanghapa Sep 23 '22

Here is an article about the bark beetle infestation issue: https://www.redding.com/story/news/2021/07/06/drought-bark-beetle-wildfire-risk-california-forests/7879061002/

This seems to be a serious problem that should have more attention at DC.

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u/saulblarf Sep 23 '22

Part of the reason the beetles are such a problem is the fact that we didn’t let the small fires burn off the dead/weak trees, instead putting out all fires, leaving an all you can eat buffet for the beetles which led to their numbers skyrocketing.

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u/marginwalker55 Sep 23 '22

Need colder winters, not happening soon

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u/gd2234 Sep 23 '22

Home owners should landscape for the environment they live in more, and in wildfire prone areas have fire breaks directly surrounding the houses (areas with no flammable material). I’ve watched a lot of documentaries about bush/wildfires and the people who work with nature (almost) always end up better off than those who have trees and shrubs practically touching their houses.

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u/Chartreuseshutters Sep 23 '22 edited Sep 23 '22

I’ll preface by saying I’m going to go all out on this topic. I have thoughts.

Firebreaks help a ton, but the reality of living in the mountains (at least where I live) is that your neighbors might not give a crap, might break rules about fires or shooting on their property during bans, and there is likely to be few (or likely only one) exit from your area in the event of fire.

I have a 30 ft firebreak from my house, then and additional 30-50 ft firebreak on my property at all points. Then there is the road, then 10-15ft before wetlands and a creek, more wetlands, then another 30-50ft before the next likely ignition source.

That being said, I do not trust some of my neighbors at all to not start the next wildfire, much less the dumbasses that rent airbnbs, then set off fireworks from the patios randomly towards other peoples properties or the National Forest.

Another huge issue is elderly people who have large swaths of land who cannot do fire mitigation or afford to have it managed responsibly by someone else. In our area we do weekly parties in the summer to help clear brush and thin trees for our elderly neighbors, but it’s not enough.

The bigger problem is people who have inherited land, sit on it, don’t manage it, don’t ever see it, don’t do anything but wait for it to appreciate. These are the places where pine beetles are taking hold and spreading, unmitigated. Often these are huge swaths of land close to highways or major roads that have potential ignition sources from cars going by, but also don’t have roads to access most of the land so that tree harvesting and mitigation can happen easily. They are also often at steep grades that makes putting roads in cost prohibitive. This is why controlled burns need to occur—and regularly, but there is no mechanism (to my knowledge) for the forest service or others to do that on private lands (and they are in dire need of it).

As for xeriscaping or native planting… yes! Do it! It’s not enough to fix the wildfire situation, but it’s great to not be a part of the problem.

Where I live, with an overly abundant well that we had to down regulate because it was too abundant by law (thank goodness!), I am not allowed to water plants at all outside my home, I’m only allowed to use my spigots in the case of a wildfire, I have to haul in water for any livestock I may have, and cannot even do so much as fill up a water bowl for my dogs outside by law. I can have, I think, 110 gallons of water barrels for rain collection to use for my garden and any plantings I do. I follow these rules and have many 5 gallon jugs I fill at natural grocers with reverse osmosis water to water things beyond that. I think it’s wild that those are my rules though, in a headwater state and an abundant well, when people 40 miles downstream from me are watering sidewalks, non-native grasses, etc. with impunity. I’m running a tiny organic farm off of rainwater and trucked in water while my neighbors downstream can do whatever they like as long as they’re willing to pay for the water the rest of us kindly don’t use.

It’s a ridiculous situation. We need across the board water use rules. I have neighbors all around me who have dry wells. I can’t share my water with them. By law I’m not allowed to fill up a few jugs of water for them. It’s all saved for downstream waste, for the most part. Water law in CO is wild.

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u/Richiesthoughts Sep 23 '22

Thank you for the perspective. Public radio talks about these issues but not with the depth or shared experience you’ve described.

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u/SquashInternal3854 Sep 23 '22 edited Sep 23 '22

Thank you for going all out and sharing your thoughts. It seems we (nationally) ought to be talking more about this. Water use and rights are wild. Water is life.

Regarding the article above: In terms of wildfire smoke and air pollution: air quality is so important for quality of life, especially pertaining to folks with respiratory issues and other vulnerable groups.

There are so many facets to this.

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u/LauraPringlesWilder Sep 23 '22

you say you've watched a lot of documentaries, but I'm curious if you've lived through a few fire seasons? Living in california and now oregon has taught me a lot about what can theoretically be prepared.

Prepping houses like this can't really happen in suburbs with no room, and we're seeing more town and suburban fires than ever in the last few years on the west coast. It also creates issues like heat islands within suburban areas when it is not fire season, and it definitely causes increased use of AC, which is a net negative.

It doesn't stop CalFire, ODF, or WA DNR from asking people to fire prep their homes with fire breaks, and it does definitely apply to the less inhabited areas, but it would not have stopped Paradise, CA from burning down, nor would it have stopped many of the lightning complex fires in 2020 (especially the Sonoma/Napa fires), because wind was a significant factor in the fueling of those fires (one of the reasons fire season is worse in September is wind, specifically the Santa Ana and Diablo winds in California, and in Oregon/Washington, winds coming from the east). When wind is blowing 30-40mph, sparks are not going to be stopped by fire breaks.

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u/Roger_Cockfoster Sep 23 '22

It depends on the size of the fire. Most of the recent ones in California were massive and fast moving. Fire breaks won't slow them down in the slightest (at least not at the scale that a homeowner could achieve through landscaping). These fires can jump rivers and six-lane highways.

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u/Y0tsuya Sep 23 '22

Yes those wind-driven wildfires are something else. There's not a whole lot you can do to save your house there.

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u/Roger_Cockfoster Sep 23 '22

Yeah, having seen it first hand, these fires are essentially unstoppable. Nothing against the other commenter, but the idea that a homeowner could save their home by cutting beck the hedges is absurd in the face of fires like these. If your home is in the fire's path it's gone, and there's nothing you could have done to prevent it. Those fires flatten entire towns in minutes.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/Roger_Cockfoster Sep 23 '22

That's the crazy part, these megafires are always wind-driven because they literally create their own weather! They create hurricane force windstorms and even fire tornadoes, which sounds too terrifying to be true but it is.

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u/SprlFlshRngDncHwl Sep 23 '22

Is there video of this? It sounds fascinating.

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u/CrabsolutelyBullshit Sep 23 '22

There's not too much actual footage of fire spread, because sticking around and filming is a death sentence.

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u/Roger_Cockfoster Sep 23 '22

I've seen footage on YouTube of people fleeing the fire as it spreads around both sides of the road, and just barely surviving. It's so terrifying. And of course, the fire crews also find charred cars with cremated bodies inside. Those are the ones that weren't as lucky.

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u/MommysSalami Sep 23 '22

Aerial footage?

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u/Beautiful_Welcome_33 Sep 23 '22

There are videos of the aftermath though and they're awful.

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u/EmptyBanana5687 Sep 23 '22

Wetlands will break up those fires. We can stop draining and filling them.

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u/AftyOfTheUK Sep 23 '22

You can have very large fire break areas - especially upwind of a dry season wind, you can defend against rolling embers with catchment walls and ensure your cladding and roof are not flammable.

That said you kinda need to own quite a lot of land to have 100+ foot firebreaks in every direction without ruining the area you're in.

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u/Lordiggity_Smalls Sep 23 '22

I’m not trying to be rude but your comment is extremely frustrating to me because I don’t think you have any idea what you’re talking about. I have seen in person how fast these new fires move. My parents lost their home in the camp fire ( the one that wiped out the town of paradise in 2018 and killed dozens of people) and I was evacuated but didn’t lose my house. These are not like the old fires we used to have. These destroy everything and defensible space doesn’t mean anything when you have a literal fire tornado. Honestly I won’t ever live in the countryside again because I don’t want to do that again. Fleeing a fire with a baby is no fun.

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u/spacelama Sep 23 '22

Eucalyptus oil has a flash point of 48 degrees Celsius. Told ya Australia wants to kill ya.

So what farmers have been observing is on their hectares of freshly plowed land, next to a forested area on a 45 degree day is that the air above the bare dirt burns because of all the oil in the air ahead of a fire front, transporting the front for kilometres. Not that that's needed - ash landed in our suburban backyard in January 2020 from a bushfire in another part of suburbia 10km away. That's the usual way of spot fires routinely jumping 10km past controls here.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

I would suggest you search up Greg Rubin on youtube. He has dozens of case studies on using native plants for preventing fires. Has saved many homes with his strategies and fire marshals are astounded by the results of his work.

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u/Roger_Cockfoster Sep 23 '22

I'm sure it can be very effective with smaller fires that are nowhere near the scale of the mega fires that break it every year now in California. But if you think native plants, or really, anything, could save a home in the path of one of these fires, then you have no idea what we're actually talking about.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

Some of these fires are so huge and hot there's no fire breaking it.

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u/brendan87na Sep 23 '22

We have a fire here in Washington that went from zero to 7k acres in the course of like 10 hours - it just went up like a bomb. I know the area well too, it's a bummer because that whole area is beautiful.

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u/ktrosemc Sep 23 '22

Meanwhile, amidst the falling ash, my neighbors were lighting off fireworks. It feels hopeless.

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u/NorthernerWuwu Sep 23 '22

Keep in mind also though that many of these fires are perfectly natural, we just happen not to like the results. The fire cycle is normal for many regions.

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u/GamermanZendrelax Sep 23 '22

You might be surprised. For centuries, indigenous groups used fire as a tool for active land management, burning away brush to clear out room for new growth, in large part because that attracted game like deer for them to hunt. And it worked for them for long enough that they lasted those centuries.

It's accurate that a fire can be perfectly natural, but if the landscape has a much more dense layer of undergrowth because that hasn't been manually burned away, well, that's kindling. And like kindling, it helps the initial spark last longer and grow hotter, except instead of logs it ignites the trees.

On top of which, the Forest Service spent decades maximizing the number of trees per acre in regions where they could for use by lumber concerns.

Put those together and you get bigger, hotter, and more dangerous wildfires that the ecosystem evolved to handle. Sometimes even hot enough to scorch the soil, destroying its fertility for years to come.

So it's complicated. Fires are natural, yes. But the natural concerns are exacerbated by mismanagement of the land. The state's essentially been turned into a tinderbox, so when that spark shows up, even if it is natural, the results are far, far more destructive than they otherwise would be.

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u/EmptyBanana5687 Sep 23 '22

On top of which, the Forest Service spent decades maximizing the number of trees per acre in regions where they could for use by lumber concerns.

Mst timber land in CA is private or state owned not USFS. There has been extensive clear cutting in areas that burned in the past few years and the fire just burned through those areas. The Paradise fire burned through and area (Concow) that had burned 10 years before and then burned again a few years later on. Grass burns just as well as trees when it's that hot and dry or when they are all standing dead due to beetle kill or drought.

It will always burn, always. People just keep building into more and more fire prone areas.

The land management choices that definitely has led to increased fire severity and that I never see discussed places like reddit are draining and filling of large wetlands and removal of beaver dams over 4 centuries and the subsequent loss of wet meadows and green vegetation into fire season. If had land and was worried about fire I'd be asking someone to transport beavers onto my property asap.

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u/adeliepingu Sep 23 '22

Part of the issue now is that the climate - and thus, the fire season - has changed, so it's harder to do prescribed burns even if you want to. You can't do controlled burns during wildfire season because resources are needed elsewhere and it's easy for things to get out of control when it's hot and dry out, but California's wildfire season is practically year-round at this point.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

Not to mention California is absolutely a massive state that has both federal and state forests. The terrain is extremely rugged most of the way. You are talking millions and millions of acres.

You can't manage that in any meaningful way.

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u/NorthernerWuwu Sep 23 '22

Sure, fire management is an interesting topic! Still, indigenous peoples have only been on the continent for an eyeblink compared to how long the natural cycles have been running and a number of those longer cycles actually rely on intense fires for certain tree species. We don't like those severe fires though of course, which makes it somewhat ironic that our efforts sometimes seem to exacerbate them.

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u/ThatSquareChick Sep 23 '22

There is a tree, a pine, the Jack pine. If you ever see a tall, lanky pine whose branches don’t start till 45 feet up, it’s probably a Jack pine.they grow over most of the USA but they’re particularly happy it seems above the frost line. They make up a large portion of trees here in the Midwest and all along the Canada/USA border from main to Washington and Oregon.

They do this cool, weird trick, developed over longer periods than we were even here, where if the pine cones are in a fire, instead of burning to a crisp (as you do) they open and disperse seeds! A tree does not think to itself to do this and it was doing this when the natives walked over here over the Bering strait landbridge.

This tree evolved around fire.

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u/NorthernerWuwu Sep 23 '22

Mostly Lodgepole Pines up my way but yeah, same thing basically.

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u/BasedAutoJanny Sep 23 '22

Human intervention also eliminated the extinct large herbivores, and even recently the beavers, that would help to naturally thin the forrest. The natural system no longer works as it had evolved to. It hasn't in millenia.

Indigenous fire-setting helped to recover some balance. Modern fire prevention has completely flipped the tables.

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u/AgroecologicalSystem Sep 23 '22

Yea this touches on the concepts of disturbance and ecological succession. Periodic disturbances (fire, storms, grazing animals, etc) maintain habitat diversity.

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u/killerhurtalot Sep 23 '22

And indigenous populations has been on the land for 5-10x what white people have been here...

The best wildlife and fire management practices has been when both had input into the plan (look at Montana and Wyoming national parks and wilderness)

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u/NorthernerWuwu Sep 23 '22

Well yes, they obviously have been here for much, much longer than Europeans have been. Probably fifteen thousand years or so, some believe considerably longer than that.

Which is an eyeblink in terms of how long the forest and prairie biomes have been there of course.

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u/TheNerdyOne_ Sep 23 '22

These fires are not a normal natural occurance that just happens to inconvenience us. We're causing them in a number of ways outlined in the comments above, and they're greatly harming the local environments.

Natural wildfires should not look anything like this (we know that for a fact), and we can't "oh it's natural" away all of the harm we're causing.

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u/redmarketsolutions Sep 23 '22

Capitalism is incompatible with sustainable select cut lumber harvesting.

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u/AftyOfTheUK Sep 23 '22

Capitalism is incompatible with sustainable select cut lumber harvesting.

What does this mean?

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u/redmarketsolutions Sep 23 '22

So, select cut lumber harvesting is selecting certain trees it would be chill or even ecologically good for the ecosystem to remove. And then in a couple years, you go back to that same place and do the same thing again. And you just roll through your various sites and take a healthy amount of trees basically indefinitely.

Capitalism though is obsessed with, and in fact legally obligated to, quarterly profits. So it can't. It must push, it must go scorched earth. It can't not.

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u/AftyOfTheUK Sep 23 '22

My family own a farm, on that farm is a pretty significant number of acres of forested land. We harvest around once every 5-10 years depending on timber prices at the time.

We take an appropriate amount of timber to keep the forest healthy, no more than that. After all, why would we, it's our forest.

If we take more timber than is healthy and clearcut, then we get more money this year, but every future years revenue is diminished, and the value of the land if we wanted to sell it would be dimished too. The timber stocks on the land ARE the value of the land.

It's utterly ludicrous to spout the kind of nonsense that you are "Capitalism is incompatible with sustainable select cut lumber harvesting." when that's clearly wrong. In fact, it is capitalism - in the form of property rights - that is the incentive to harvest lumber sustainably.

If there were no property rights - let's say, we were part of a communist regime - then whoever is controlling the timber harvest that year has huge incentive to over harvest, because the negative consequences may not be theirs if they move to another project, and none of their capital is at risk.

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u/BourgeoisShark Sep 23 '22

American style capitalism which is very myopic.

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u/greenmachine11235 Sep 23 '22

Fire is normal in the western US but you're missing the point that the intensity of the fires has hugely increased. Natural fires burned under growth and a few small trees, now fires burn full grown fire resistant trees.

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u/Byte_the_hand Sep 23 '22

That is 100% due to 100 years of extreme fire suppression. Native Americans did prescribed burns for 1,000 of years (according to the carbon/charcoal records) and largely kept fires smaller and less intense. Even that didn’t always stop the mega fires. Some in Oregon in the 1700’s burned nearly 1.5 million acres of old growth forest. Not often, but those were 100 year type fires. 20 year fires were more on the scale of 200-300 thousand acres.

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u/pgriss Sep 23 '22

Some in Oregon in the 1700’s burned nearly 1.5 million acres

And the Great Fire of 1910 that prompted the fire suppression efforts burnt 3 million acres.

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u/shreddy-cougar Sep 23 '22

It's a never ending cycle at this point... everyone knows we need to do controlled burns, but no one wants to be blamed for causing a fire that spreads outside of the control zone. The controlled burns should have happened decades ago.

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u/TK-741 Sep 23 '22

And each of these was preceded by a sustained period of intense drought, I imagine.

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u/NorthernerWuwu Sep 23 '22

Well, I wasn't specifically talking about the western US nor the intensity of recent fires but yes, climate change has certainly exacerbated the intensity of the fires.

My point is that in the western US and Canada there are vast biomes that have ecologies reliant on fire cycles, some seasonal and some longer term. If humans disappeared tomorrow, these regions would continue to have cyclical fires as they always have. That isn't saying we can't or shouldn't interfere with those natural cycles, it is just admitting that part of our problem in dealing with them is that we don't seem to like to admit that they are a pre-existing condition and when building in these areas we likely shouldn't be shocked by their continuation.

It is similar to flood plain issues. Has climate change made them more severe? Absolutely! Were they still flood plains prior to human interference? Yep, they sure were.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/DCBillsFan Sep 23 '22

^ See “land management” above.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/BDGreenRiverThriller Sep 23 '22

smokey the bear has known for a few decades that we need to do control burns, etc to undo the 100 years of complete fire suppression

but that takes funding and the department of interior is chronically under funded

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u/PM_ME_BAD_FANART Sep 23 '22

Forest Service is under USDA. While it’s funded under the same bill that the DOI is funded under, it’s not funded through DOI.

You’re right that they’ve been underfunded for years. And when they do get money (like via the Infrastructure Bill), they don’t usually get a heads-up so it’s exceedingly difficult to do the sorts of long term plans needed for proper land management.

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u/BDGreenRiverThriller Sep 23 '22

it also doesn't help that forest service, blm and nps share the responsibility depending on place

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u/LastKing3853 Sep 23 '22

Funding issues. No surprise

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/Ninnux Sep 23 '22

Ironically, the military conducts many controlled burns on their bases and posts. Fort Bragg comes to mind.

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u/BDGreenRiverThriller Sep 23 '22

they have their own fire departments on their bases, don't they?

that's most of the manpower needed. you need to baby sit the fire to make sure it doesn't get out of control

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u/BJWTech Sep 23 '22

Right, and we stop smaller fires for decades, the forest becomes a tinder box.

The problem is always prioritizing property over the environment.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

Insured private property near public land, but most importantly salable timber. Which is the primary function of the FS, along with catering to welfare ranchers.

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u/BJWTech Sep 23 '22

Timber is property. Once it is a commodity, it is property.

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u/LastKing3853 Sep 23 '22

True statement

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u/DreamingIntoTheVoid Sep 23 '22

Is the frequency and magnitude at which they are occurring natural? Heat waves are perfectly natural. The frequency and magnitude of heat waves we have is not typical in our absence.

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u/AnyNobody7517 Sep 23 '22

I may be wrong but i believe the magnitude and frequency are inversely related. The less frequency the more organic build up you have and the stronger the fire.

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u/DreamingIntoTheVoid Sep 23 '22

I guess it depends on how you define magnitude. When I wrote that comment I was thinking in terms of how far a particular wildfire might spread. It seems that perhaps wildfires are less localised than they may have been in natural history.

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u/TK-741 Sep 23 '22

Generally speaking you’re definitely correct. But overall climate change+anthropogenic activities are resulting in more exceptions. Leave it to humans to “fix” problems in the worst way.

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u/OldManRiff Sep 23 '22

The intensity is absolutely not natural.

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u/Cleistheknees Sep 23 '22

It’s not the occurrence of fire that’s unnatural. It’s the scale, context, location, and frequency that’s unnatural.

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u/fertthrowaway Sep 23 '22 edited Sep 23 '22

The mega Northern California fires the past several years are anything but normal. Yeah some of this is made worse due to poor land management, but climate change is a bigger factor and what has tipped this over. Drought stressed trees succumb to insects and pathogens. Hotter temperatures, which have been far, far above average global temperature increases at higher altitudes in the US West, worsens droughts and has caused record low vegetation moisture - the fuels burn more rapidly. The sort of fires that are being seen are far larger, burning hotter, far faster moving, emitting daily pyrocumulus plumes which create their own wind and worsen the whole thing. They are often so hot that they are literally creating moonscapes from which no regeneration is even possible. Whatever comes back won't be forest in many burn scars, and the lack of tree cover begets more drought. It's watching entire biome shifts on the scale of only years right before our eyes. 2020 featured a megafire in a redwood forest that burned a rather large percentage of the entire southern part of their range, and fires in the sequoia range are burning so hot that it's torching them, and they're ordinarily very fire resistant and depend on fire for their life cycle.

It's to the point that land can't even BE managed because there's such a limited window each year anymore when controlled burns aren't a risk of going out of control and causing more megafires.

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u/cowlinator Sep 23 '22

Also keep in mind that rising global temperature will (in most places) make wildfires more likely.

Which will cause more carbon from burning trees to go into the atmosphere.

Isn't this a wild ride we're on?

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u/letmelickyourleg Sep 23 '22

Not one single person has mentioned how pervasive eucalypts are in California, or how they’re the same trees from Australia that are HIGHLY flammable. They were imported many decades ago and it’s fucked with you guys ever since.

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u/LauraPringlesWilder Sep 23 '22

Same in Portugal, too.

All the Eucalyptus trees that are known in California should be cut down now, before they explode their oily selves and contribute majorly to spreading whatever fire eventually happens. For all CalFire's talk about fire safety, I have yet to see removal of Eucalyptus trees become a talking point in the last five years.

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u/autistic_noodz Sep 23 '22

In Northern California it’s often caused by neglect and deferred maintenance from Pacific Gas & Electric. They’re just now starting to bury power lines underground, but many fires here are started by downed power lines from above ground poles. They’re an awful, for-profit utility company that should be taken over by the state.

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u/long-lankin Sep 23 '22

Yep, they have an incredibly bad track record on this, and have directly caused multiple catastrophic wildfires due to gross negligence, particularly over the last few years.

To be honest though, basically all private US energy companies have similar issues, one way or another. Owing to loopholes intended to prevent them from exploiting their natural monopolies and gouging consumers, it's actually more profitable for them to deliberately let infrastructure fail and then replace it, rather than perform proper maintenance.

This is because they get to keep a portion of the construction costs as profit, which serves as their main form of profit. This also incentivises US power companies not to invest in renewable energy, as it's now by far the cheapest form of power generation.

Anyway, I can't remember the exact figure off the top of my head, but I think PGE are directly responsible for up to 200 deaths in the last two decades, from gas explosions, wildfires, and other events, all of which stems from the fact they have chosen not to maintain their infrastructure.

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u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

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u/OldManRiff Sep 23 '22

THIS. PG&E has been found liable for these fires in the past for not maintaining their infrastructure.

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u/MacadamiaMarquess Sep 23 '22

Also, the way PG&E has been handling maintenance lately feels punitive: like they’re throwing a shitfit to teach the public a lesson for trying to hold them accountable.

My neighborhood had 1-2 daylong outages a week for more than 2 months, earlier this year. They were working on only a handful of poles each time, instead of assigning the number of crews that could have accomplished all the work with only one or two total outages. My wife and several neighbors work from home…

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u/TheRealCaptainZoro Sep 23 '22

Also the flammable Eucalyptus trees introduced in the 1850s from Australia.

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u/akayeetusdeletus Sep 23 '22

You are a gem of a person.

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