Jul 11, 2013 at 12:32 pm #1305261
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
My favorite hiking and backpacking area, the Spring Mountains forest is burning just outside of Las Vegas. It is estimated that up to 30,000 acres will burn, an area larger than Manhattan Island. I'm sick about this and wonder why the US Forest Service, KNOWING the tinder-dry conditions after our record heat wave (high of 117 F. in the 'Vegas valley), did not jump on the Carpenter Canyon fire when it first started.
I'm no fan of the Forest Service, given the way they "service" the timber industry and make all the logging roads for them at taxpayer's expense. Their damn bureaucracy is always getting in the way of fast action when time is of the essence.
The USFS policy of waiting until a fire is large before dedicating adequate resources is patently wrong! Now there are over 1,000 firefighters working on it when, a week ago a heavy fire retardant bombing of the initial fire would have ended it.
Now, at long last, today it is raining in Las Vegas. Hopefully that will spell the end of the Carpenter Canyon 1 fire and spare our small ski resort and the home of my friends. We'll see.
And for all you global warming deiners out there, can you ignore the many big fires in the west in the past few years? This was predicted decades ago by biologists and climate researchers.Jul 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm #2004861
USA Duane HallParticipant
@hikerduaneLocale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Sorry to hear that Eric. I live in the woods, so I know of which you speak.
former Logging industry employee, Petroleum Jobber employee, convenience store mgr.Jul 11, 2013 at 1:01 pm #2004863
@johnnyh88Locale: The SouthWest
"And for all you global warming deiners out there, can you ignore the many big fires in the west in the past few years? This was predicted decades ago by biologists and climate researchers."
Eric, many of these large forest fires are occurring now because of decades of fire suppression policy. Here's how it began: http://www.foresthistory.org/ASPNET/Policy/Fire/FamousFires/1910Fires.aspx
The forests in much of the West are far denser than what may be natural. I know AZ has been trying to thin out much of its forests in an effort to rectify this. I feel very conflicted about forest fires: part of me knows they naturally occur and have been occurring for millions of years, but the other part of me wants my forests to stay the same.
I will agree that it is very sad to see one's forest burn, particularly if your friend's home is in danger. If homes and towns are in danger, I'm surprised the FS did not react more quickly.Jul 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm #2004864
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
John is right. If you step off trail in any forest in California you will find massive amounts of dead wood. So much that it impedes travel. In some places it's like 90% dead wood and 10% living wood. When these forest burn they incinerate large living trees. This was not the case when low intensity brush fires regularly cleared out fuel. On some of our creek bushwacking trips to big sur, we have built huge bonfires to clear out fuel under old growth redwood trees that were in serious danger.
Until we find a way for our forests to burn safely and regularly without endangering homes and cities, we are stuck with these huge, out of control fires that are excessively expensive to control.Jul 11, 2013 at 1:06 pm #2004865
@fluffinreach-comLocale: no. california
it's a complex subject, but a fire now and again is a fine thing.
we in california are victems of over 100 yrs of misplaced intentions and fire supression.
the problem with putting them out is, the forest keeps growing, and it gets too much of what burns good, then .. when it does finally light off, you got a mess and half on your hands.
what was it down near LA. "ohh dear god, the 50' high manzanita is ablaze, and nothing short of an atomic blast can put it out ! "
while all along, the reality of it is that manzanita is never meant to grow that huge, being as it burns well (quite) in smaller fires if they happen every so often.
so, that may be part of the deal. BIG chunks of the west pretty much NEED to burn.
(some may note that peter is not openly advocating incineration of Marin County)
i am sorry your favorite palce in the entire world is aflame, but rest assured, it will come back, better , or different , than before.
walking thru yellowstone after the big one of 88 was a fantasy. open fields of solid masses of orgasmic assaults of COLOR !
toss another value judgement at the issue perhaps. give it a try.
embrace the burn. love what comes of it.
v.Jul 11, 2013 at 1:28 pm #2004875
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
huge tracts of trees in Oregon and Washington have been killed by beetles, so now they burn more vigorously. It used to get colder and kill off the beetles.
Yeah, improper fire suppression plays a role too.
Complex problem, can't lay blame on just fire suppresion or global warmingJul 11, 2013 at 2:30 pm #2004894
@nickbLocale: Los Padres National Forest
According to the USFS, over 2.3 million acres has burned in my local National Forest (Los Padres) since 1912; that averages out to almost 25,000 acres of forest burned per year. That's a lot of fire!
I too see wildfires as a mixed bag. I understand and appreciate the role wildfires play in restoring ecological balance to an area that has been left to grow too thick for too long, but I also lament seeing some of my favorite places go up in flames, knowing some of those areas won't ever fully recover to a mature forest in my lifetime.
Several large fires have torn through my backcountry in the last few years (2007's Zaca Fire burned more than 240,000 acres over a 3-month span). It has been interesting, and rewarding… in some ways… to experience these familiar areas in their varying stages of regrowth. Rare wildflowers, watching the animals return, finding new areas I hadn't previously known about because they were obscured by brush, etc. It's been really amazing to watch these areas fill back in. In some cases, particularly in amongst the chaparral, it's been incredible to witness areas return to impenetrable brush only a few short years after being cleared by fire. The forest really can bounce back.
Regarding the FS fire suppression strategies… I was under the impression that the new "accepted" approach was to let these fires more or less burn themselves out with only limited interference by humans in order to protect private/public development, historic sites, critical ecosystems, etc. Basically, the fire crews try to steer the fire in a certain direction, or at least steer it away from certain directions, and then let it do its thing until other amenities become threatened and require additional boundaries to be set.Jul 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm #2004938
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
Only 30,000 acres? Consider your region fortunate.
Welcome to the club.Jul 11, 2013 at 4:13 pm #2004952
The effect on off-trail travel efficiency from a fire burn is always a bit of a bummer, but from an aesthetic point of view I try not to get too bummed out about fires since they play an important ecological role. There's a lot of new beauty too.Jul 11, 2013 at 4:15 pm #2004954
USA Duane HallParticipant
@hikerduaneLocale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Nico, they are only letting fires burn in Parks unless threatening structures etc.
Environmentalists are getting in the way of the FS doing controlled burns around communities to lessen damage if a fire comes thru. They obstructed projects briefly where I live on the Plumas NF in N Kalifornia. Much of the small community I live in has had some work done around it to thin small trees and pile down debris and burn it in the Fall. Still, I hate to have to hike thru areas that were burned, many I have seen are not pretty, have yet to get back to Jellystone since the fire there, I left a day or two before that fire started.
DuaneJul 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm #2004975
First of all Eric, I can empathize with you not wanting to see your favorite hiking area burn.
I was a career wildland firefighter and I have to say that the answers aren't always clear to those in charge and those doing the firefighting. The Forest Service and BLM probably fought too many wildfires over the last hundred years, but if they were wrong for doing so, then the public was also wrong because they were demanding that firefighting.
In my experience large numbers of people are all in favor of "let burn because it's natural" yet there is inevitably a huge outcry if a let-burn fire eventually nears homes or huge palls of smoke hang over an area for long periods of time. Controlled burns are subject to a certain degree of risk. People tend to ignore the ones that go well. When they don't go well, just like things sometimes don't go well in other pursuits where the weather tends to call many of the shots, the public will be in an uproar. Fire policy and public opinion pendulums swing from more firefighting to less and back again. It's not going to stop anytime soon.
Periodic fire IS good in many respects as mentioned, among the advantages are reducing fuel loading and renewing plant succession. There have always been periodic huge, destructive fires since prehistoric times. In historic times some of the worst fires occurred over 100 years ago, like the Great Fire of 1910. The Peshtigo Fire in 1871 probably killed more people than all the U.S. wildfires in the last 75 years.
So to sum up: Fire is Good. Fire is Bad. It depends. For the people looking at the wall maps and weather reports and policy papers and available resources it's often a tough call on what actions to take. Those making those calls will often be judged wrong regardless of the decisions they make or even the outcome of those decisions. They will also often be judged as heroes when they don't necessarily deserve it.Jul 11, 2013 at 5:45 pm #2004976
@jenmitolLocale: In my dreams....
I couldn't agree more with all of what has been said. Some of my favorite Midwestern hikes…the ones I'll do 3-4 times a year, are so overgrown it looks rather dangerous. I watch the dead wood pile up…just this past weekend we hiked the entire Porcupine Mountains in the UP of MI and the sheer number of huge downed trees was literally mind boggling.
Another Michigan loop I do often is so littered with dead and downed trees the trail is barely passable…and when you look into the forest all you see is fallen stuff. To my very amateur eye, these places look like they need a fire. Desperately.
What to do?Jul 11, 2013 at 5:54 pm #2004978
– -K.T.- –Participant
Burn, baby burn! It's nature. She'll do as she pleases. I moved out of San Diego county after the big fires there 8 years ago. Many of my favorite hikes were forever changed. I can't wait to go back and see what she's done.
Yes it sucks. But change is the only constant.Jul 11, 2013 at 6:33 pm #2004988
@scottbentzLocale: Southern California
When I was on the JMT I crested Forester to there meet some other hikers that told me where I live (La Canada-Flintridge, CA) was "all on fire". We lost 650,000 acres in the Station Fire. Fortunately, due to the lack of high winds we lost very few homes and also did not hit my favorite ski area, Mt. Waterman. It's now 5 years later and things are looking a bit normal. Interesting how that is.
As for this comment: "And for all you global warming deiners out there, can you ignore the many big fires in the west in the past few years? This was predicted decades ago by biologists and climate researchers."
Well, my answer to this is that even those those used to believe in global warming had to change the name to "global climate change". Therefore, does this make the old global warming advocates that now call it climate change "deniers". Enquiring minds want to know.
I agree with some of the sentiments above. Suppression is good and bad. It is what was the norm. We are paying a price for so much suppression.Jul 11, 2013 at 7:52 pm #2005024
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
Especially when it's in your own back yard.
And having taught environmental studies in high school in Pennsylvania for years I used to teach of the necessity of "under-storey fires" to avoid raging crown fires.
I wish that more had been done with controlled fires in my area when conditions were not tinder dry, such as early spring.
Now I'm praying this fire doesn't reach my ski area in the next canyon east. Burning embers can travel miles.
Thanks for all your info., much of which I already knew but hated to accept. Fires are necessary, even for some plant species to exist it takes the heat of a fire to open seed pods or cones.
Now maybe controlled fires will be accepted in my area of the Toiyabe National Forest. And perhaps homeowners in the mountains will clear trees away from their lodges and cabins as they should have in the first place.Jul 11, 2013 at 9:55 pm #2005078
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
Something to consider is that the natives intentionally started wildfires for various reasons. Yes, some fires are started by lightning but the majority were started intentionally by the natives. The natives have been starting fires for so long that many plant/tree species have adapted in a way that need frequent fires.Jul 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm #2005349
@hhopeLocale: East Bay
climate change is the technical term, global warming is the popular term. Trying to make some point out of this type of terminology shows a certain desperation in my opinion. The reason they started using the term 'climate change' is that it's more scientifically accurate, when the globe heats, the climate changes. That helps in theory get around the localization of weather, something that people who are uncomfortable with the concepts involved frequently point to as a 'rebuttal', ie, it was cold/rainy here this winter, even though it never was before etc. In a sense though I agree, they should stick with global heating, warming is too nice sounding, it makes it sound like a warm spring day instead of a roasting hot day that kills thousands. Climate change is a bit wishy washy, after all, global heating causes the climate to change, global cooling causes the climate to change, so it's not a very good description, better to note that global heating causes climate to change and leave it at that.
Fire suppression has been unfortunate, but as long as people, often very well to do, insist on building their dream houses right at the edges of large wild or forest areas, then they will insist that firefighters come in and risk their lives protecting those 'homes', while endangering the actual ecosystem, which really should be burning the underbrush. I know that the Pine Ridge fire in big sur killed almost all those trees because it was far too hot due to the accumulated underbrush, hotter than the fire adapted pines could handle, or their seeds. That may never recover, hard to say, now that climate is changing and getting warmer, some of these things will never really recover. I believe the bark beetles are pretty directly linked to warming climate, and dryer climate, at least I've never seen anything that said otherwise that was serious. It's odd how someone can look at entire forests dying and not see it, but I guess that's how we get along day to day, let in what we can handle, keep out what we can't.
The worst place I've seen around the bay area in terms of really needing a major fire every few decades is Point Reyes, the forests there are essentially impassable, that's why the Indians burned them when they lived there, it kept them groomed and open and most important, passable. The original colonists in the pre USA northeast noted the park like character of the forests, that park like character was the direct result of millenia of good forestry management by the natives. John Muir, although a great man who saved much for us, made a huge error in believing that the recently overgrown and essentially weed filled 'garden' that was the 'wilderness' he saw in his travels was nature's 'natural state', a 'wilderness' that was essentially what happens when a garden is no longer maintained, it's first filled with weeds, then after a 100 years or so, nature corrects the non natural parts and things continue, unless of course stopped by decades of fire suppression, that error continues to ripple out today here on bpl as you see people talking about lnt and wanting their 'pristine' wilderness 'preserved', even though that condition has never existed in history except for here and now.
My hats off to justin, he's got the right idea, save a few big redwoods and burn the underbrush if it's safe. I believe the Indians burned in fall right after the first rains, if I remember right.Jul 12, 2013 at 7:22 pm #2005414
The original colonists in the pre USA northeast noted the park like character of the forests, that park like character was the direct result of millenia of good forestry management by the natives. John Muir, although a great man who saved much for us, made a huge error in believing that the recently overgrown and essentially weed filled 'garden' that was the 'wilderness' he saw in his travels was nature's 'natural state', a 'wilderness' that was essentially what happens when a garden is no longer maintained
No offense intended, but I don't think a true wilderness is a park-like garden maintained by people burning it periodically.Jul 13, 2013 at 9:08 am #2005509
@fluffinreach-comLocale: no. california
are not the pine beetles rather controlled by small fires ?
do i have this right ?? not totally sure. (Buck knows ..)
like, when a tree is infected, it turns brown and burns Very Very Well if lit.
so, when a small fire comes along, the tree torches, kills those pesky beetles (most of them) and the other trees are to a degree protected. thusly, as long as the fires keep coming, the beetles never get an op to really destroy the place.
this keeps us in a livable balance of trees vs beetles.
moral ; if you never ever ever allow a burn, the beetles will sure as xhit kill your forest trees anyway.
pithy one-liner : there's no free lunch.
the big Berkeley fire that so thoroughly toasted it's hills/homes, was predicted with astonishing accuracy 40 yrs earlier in the novel The Quiet Earth.
it's not rocket science.
v.Jul 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm #2005555
@hhopeLocale: East Bay
"No offense intended, but I don't think a true wilderness is a park-like garden maintained by people burning it periodically."
a true 'wilderness' could only exist if humans were not present in the ecosystem. To make this clear, there is not one square inch of 'true wilderness' in the United States. All of it is impacted by human activity, either fire suppression, global heating, pollution, species deaths due to human encroachment and ongoing mass scale destruction of primary ecosystems. So the idea of a 'true wilderness' is a pure fantasy, particularly in the context of someone driving up on a paved road in a car spewing out various gases into the environment then having the audacity to preach LNT to anyone.
One thing is absolutely certain, the people who lived here before us took MUCH better care of this environment than we did, species diversity was higher, sustainability was higher, what we have damaged severely in only about 300 years or so, 400 maybe, they had occupied for between 15,000 and 40,000, and it was in EXCELLENT condition when we arrived, a fact noted by many Indians with extreme sorrow when they saw us destroying basically overnight systems that had sustained people for thousands of years. The concept of 'wilderness' is in my opinion a way to try to avoid taking responsibility for our actions, to create an abstraction of perfection while we destroy the vast bulk of our ecosystem.;
Even the Arctic tundra, which I would have considered a the closest to 'wilderness' in the world, is now being seriously and massively impacted by human activity, to a degree that is shocking everyone who is studying it seriously, so even the tundra can no longer be considered as wild and untouched, it's all undergoing massive and very rapid changes, far too rapid for natural systems to adapt to as they generally can.
The point is that there never has been a 'true wilderness' in this country, at least not for about 30,000 years or so, give or take 10k. Fires are fairly natural, it's us who stopped them via those absurd 'smokey bear' campaigns over the last century, creating a situation of very bad fires that would have never happened in 'nature'.
All 'wilderness' I have ever been in is the direct result of human action and tampering, from replacement of almost all california wild grasses with invasive imports brought in for ranching purposes, to artificially controlled burns that have led to fundamental changes in the forest ecology, to invasive species destroying habitats and breeding patterns of creatures like woodpeckers, to either death of species, like Grizzlies in most of california, or to absurd population explosions, like black bears and raccoons, etc, to a huge range of human altered factors, one of the main ones being a slow killing of the overall forest fauna as human development pushes in on the edges of so called 'wilderness areas', to widespread poisoning and 'predator control' done for the ranching lobby, which creates a profound imbalance in the 'natural order' of things. If you want me to go on I will, but you should probably read up on this a bit between hikes, it's not like it's hard to find this material, might help you see what you are walking through a bit better.
Those of us who listen and stop long enough to hear these changes can spot them without any external information, one guy studied this issue in terms of the overall presence of species and has found that there is a 'quieting' of the forests, a fact I have also heard here on the west coast, almost to a shocking degree. The spread of poison oak is another one, it's fond of CO2, and CO2 is what we are feeding it. I saw the melting glaciers of Mount Hood and didn't need to read a word about global heating to know that the thing in front of my eyes was a tiny fraction of the size it was on my map, in Iceland glacier retreat is so extreme some are now kilometers away from the stations built to observe them.
What we have now is nature in serious flux as it tries to adapt to man's activities, serious ecosystem degradation and ongoing pressure on all sides of any protected areas.
My hats off again to Justin, he gets it, what he does there is actually saving trees that would not have needed saving were it not for our actions.
When you do read old accounts of what it was like before humans appeared on some islands, it's truly amazing, the animals were almost completely tame, not fearing at all, but all inhabitants of natural non human systems, ie, animals, learn to fear humans in short order or they become extinct in short order. So the idea of a 'wilderness' is a pure and utter 20th century fiction.
It's still excellent to be in a 'less human impacted area' however, and they are most certainly worth every effort to preserve and conserve since they are the closest thing we have to a bank account of ecosystems to rebuild from should we be fortunate enough to not fully destroy our ecosystem.Jul 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm #2005574
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
>"One thing is absolutely certain, the people who lived here before us took MUCH better care of this environment than we did, species diversity was higher, sustainability was higher, what we have damaged severely in only about 300 years or so, 400 maybe, they had occupied for between 15,000 and 40,000, and it was in EXCELLENT condition when we arrived"
I had bought into this idea as well until I looked at the history and pre-history of more cultures.
Those iconic heads on Easter Island? Moved around using logs from the island's forests – which no longer exist. The society collapsed due to the ecological damage they themselves had caused.
I'm forgetting the island society, but their middens (garbage heaps) showed that they ate ALL the tasty pigeon-like birds, and then ate ALL of the next-most tasty bird before finally eating all of the less tasty sea birds.
And what happened to the Anasazi of southwestern North America (environmental damage and climate change).
"Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", 2005, Jared M. Diamond (professor of geography and physiology at University of California, Los Angeles and author of "Guns, Germs & Steel") is a great book on the topic – he also gives some examples that worked like Japanese forestry management practices.
He lists eight environmental problems that have contributed to the collapse of past societies:
Deforestation and habitat destruction
Soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses)
Water management problems
Effects of introduced species on native species
Increased per-capita impact of people
Further, he says four new factors may contribute to the weakening and collapse of present and future societies:
Anthropogenic climate change
Buildup of toxins in the environment
Full human utilization of the Earth’s photosynthetic capacity
Straddling the two lists, I would add, broadly, "hunting technology". Your focus seems to be on North America and despite surviving 24 prior inter-glacial warming periods, most of the mega fauna (mammoths, American camels, aurochs, horse, giant sloth, etc) died out exactly when the bipeds showed up with their Clovis points. Guns took out the passenger pigeon. Over-fishing of ground fish has some sea lion populations endangered right now.
When Europeans showed up in the Americas, the indigenous people had already killed all the species their hunting technology could. (and, of course, European weapons and diseases killed of most of the indigenous people).
Diamond counters the argument that, "What Easter Islander would be stupid enough to cut down the last of species of tree?" by pointing out that by that time, the last one was a seedling or sapling and someone was focused on feeding his family and warming his hut. As much as commercial and sports fishermen and hunters complain about game laws, it really is a fundamentally different approach to harvesting animals – one that is imperfect but works FAR better.Jul 13, 2013 at 4:27 pm #2005613
Good points, David, as usual. It's a romantic notion that before the coming of the white man the America's hadn't suffered from significant negative impacts by man.
As you pointed out, it seems more than a coincidence that many large, edible game animals disappeared as man moved in. It's clear in your example that on Easter Island the native ecosystem was largely destroyed. There's good evidence that some city peoples of Mesoamerica had huge negative impacts on their environment and did much to destroy their own societies: "The Maya are often depicted as people who lived in complete harmony with their environment,' says PhD student Robert Griffin. "But like many other cultures before and after them, they ended up deforesting and destroying their landscape in efforts to eke out a living in hard times." http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/06oct_maya/
I really enjoyed the book 1491. One thing it concluded was that the natives peoples had been altering the environment for thousands of years, largely with fire. Why? To benefit themselves. When ecosystems are changed dramatically by man, there are winning species, and there are losing species. I read an interesting book on bison, and the author made the point that those enormous herds of bison the first white man saw were a fairly recent anomaly. With the plains horse culture, buffalo were the primary game animal. Fire meant grass and more buffalo. So the plains tribes burned more and more. Presumably that released countless tons of greenhouse gasses, and it certainly had an enormous impact on the natural ecosystems. There is no doubt that Native Americans drove many species to extinction.
So are we harming the natural environment at a faster pace now? Certainly. If we fight fire we will effect the ecosystem. Controlled burns will also have an effect. No fighting of fire will result in other but different affects. What's the target? No change from the way things are now? The way they were in 1491? The way they were before the first person crossed the Bering land bridge? One thing is certain, the Americas would be dramatically different now even if no human had ever lived. As Ken said, change is the only constant.Jul 13, 2013 at 4:32 pm #2005616
David, here's another tome which chronicles the environmental changes "primitive" peoples accomplished in the precolumbian Americas: Imperfect Balance, David L. Lentz, ed., 2000.
My own experience of living and working with First Nations folk in northern Canada indicates that while they are more sensitive to what's happening in the local environment, they are much more human use (not corporate use) oriented than dity environmentalists are.
Example:; I was walking a snare line with an older couple when we came across a bunch of fast food garbage spread out over about 100 square feet. My internal response was, "Yuck! What low lifes didn't clean up their trash?!" The couples verbal response was, "Oh, remember that picnic we had with all the grandkids? Wasn't that a fun time?"Jul 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm #2005618
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
Buck: You're the second person to recommend 1491 to me THIS WEEK!. I'll look for it.
Stephen: One man's garbage heap is another man's resource. There are no end of non-functioning vehicles all over town. They are abandoned and would be defended vigorously with gunfire by the owner because a '78 F-150 that "only" needs an engine rebuild, a tranny, glass all around, body work and the electrical system reworked is imagined to be possible to restore.
Another twist on garbage is that when my parents met a California archeology site, they knew they were digging through 1000 year old trash.
Stephen: Any sense that they are "more sensitive to what's happening in the local environment" in the way that I am aware of the sale items at Safeway, when the shipment of produce comes in, and whether Go-lite is having a sale?Jul 13, 2013 at 6:08 pm #2005645
"Any sense that they are "more sensitive to what's happening in the local environment" in the way that I am aware of the sale items at Safeway, when the shipment of produce comes in, and whether Go-lite is having a sale?"
Exactly! What fish are running where, where a build up of snowshoe hares are, etc. Just like sales at the local grocery store!
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