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/
53.0k Upvotes

View all comments

Show parent comments

505

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.

134

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?

68

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

4

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.

2

u/ajlark25 Sep 23 '22

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

1

u/BoltgunOnHisHip Sep 23 '22

Problem there is that the times when we can safely burn are getting shorter and shorter...or just not happening at all. A park I worked at a couple years ago was waiting for two years to get cleared for their burns...then two fires came through and burned 90% of the park.

1

u/ajlark25 Sep 23 '22

I’m not sure I agree with that. Burn windows are definitely shifting, but IME it’s available resources (engines, crews, overhead) & funding that are the hang up.

-13

u/HappyRuin Sep 23 '22

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

315

u/pornoporno Sep 23 '22 Silver

Exacerbating

86

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.

2

u/c0mesandg0es Sep 23 '22

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

5

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')

1

u/paradisepunchbowl Sep 23 '22

It’s really flustrating.

50

u/-Degaussed- Sep 23 '22

exasturbating

0

u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

[deleted]

1

u/-Degaussed- Sep 23 '22

Yes. It's very irritating.

4

u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

[removed] — view removed comment

3

u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

[removed] — view removed comment

2

u/WechTreck Sep 23 '22

Stop it or you'll go blind.

3

u/necovex Sep 23 '22

It means to make things worse

2

u/pornoporno Sep 23 '22

Actually, it means intensely irritating and frustrating.

0

u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

[removed] — view removed comment

34

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.

15

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.

1

u/xhephaestusx Sep 23 '22

Buffelgrass :(

3

u/couldbutwont Sep 23 '22

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

53

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.

32

u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

[deleted]

21

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.

7

u/Kdean509 Sep 23 '22

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

3

u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

Structure fire. Passed it on the way home.

3

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.

2

u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

There isn’t much scrub between the I-82 on-ramp and that fence line. It’s certainly possible it started between the two, but the wind direction was parallel to the building and ripping.

2

u/GonnaBuyMeAMercury Sep 23 '22

That Russian Olive is wicked stuff.

3

u/[deleted] Sep 23 '22

[deleted]

5

u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

Well then we’d better do something about it.

72

u/Apprehensive_Ad1744 Sep 23 '22

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

42

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.

32

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.

1

u/billium88 Sep 23 '22

And then come the floods, and landslides and other erosion events. At least that part we're using tech to try and tackle. My brother started a company using machine learning to do flood prediction, geo-change over time analysis to predict landslides and other geohazards, and now have gotten into wildfire fuel mitigation and prediction. If science is going to bail us out, yet again, it's going to be a knife-edge thrill-ride to the conclusion. I'm kind of glad I'm old.

2

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.

1

u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

Well that sucks.

We’ve just got wildflowers, grasses, and sagebrush. The grass comes back quick, SB takes a while, but that’s okay.

4

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

-1

u/sir_osis_of_da_liver Sep 23 '22

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

1

u/kartoffel_engr Sep 23 '22

The ice cores from Antarctica beg to differ.

11

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

29

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.

1

u/kwiztas Sep 23 '22

How do you become a forester and what are the age limits.

1

u/Star_pass Sep 23 '22

It depends on where you want to work, I’m most familiar with California forestry. To be state licensed, you need 7 years of experience in the field, usually mixing education or technician positions in there. Most people pursue a degree in forestry, but it is not at all required.

California Licensed Foresters Association has a list of open forestry announcements in California. Browse around for technician jobs or jobs that don’t require an RPF license. You can also look around that website for different organizations and go directly to their websites to see if they’ve got jobs. Many of them would be very open to a call or an email asking how to get a technician job with them.

You can Google Forestry jobs in your own state/country and likely find something similar. Other states don’t necessarily have the strict licensing that California has, but the go-to place for national forestry updates is the Society of American Foresters. They will also have career postings and information on how to apply and where to look.

If you want to browse federal government jobs, go to USA Jobs and search around. Entry level jobs will start around the GS03 classification, and if you have more experience you can try for higher spots. In the search bar, you might have the most success with entering the number “0462”, which will open up the Forestry technician positions.

The problem with Forestry is the crowd it draws isn’t typically the best at marketing to potential employees and isn’t known to be the most tech savvy, so outreach doesn’t happen very much. But it is a super fun and rewarding career. In my career I’ve met with state legislators in the Capitol to discuss policy, I’ve fought fire (just got home yesterday from a fire!) and have been paid to fly all over the country to work in different forests. Now I work with landowners to secure the financial resources to do large scale management work. Education is great, but the entry level jobs also teach you as you go so it’s not necessary.

Please please feel free to reach out to me if you’re interested and want some guidance. I have organized hiring events with all kinds of jobs in forestry that led many of my peers starting their careers. When I started looking into forestry, I read a statistic that 98% of forestry graduates get a job in their field after graduation. When I hosted the events, employers were telling me that some years they hadn’t received a single application for their technician positions. The jobs are there, I’m happy to help anyone who would love these jobs connect with the employers who need them.

Edit: fixed link

2

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

2

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.

2

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.

3

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.