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Posts Tagged ‘wildfire’

Photo: Mike Laycock, National Park Service
Black-backed woodpeckers, such as this female, thrive in the aftermath of a forest fire.

Once again radio’s Living on Earth, has a holistic take on current events affecting the environment. Host Steve Curwood and environmentalists elsewhere have noted the fire-control success of indigenous people and long-ago subsistence farmers — fighting fire with fire.

In today’s story we learn how good fire management, though made more difficult by increased development, can benefit both humans and wildlife.

“The record-setting wildfires in the Western U.S. this year have had devastating consequences for the people who have lost their homes and businesses. But as Aaron Scott of Oregon Public Broadcasting [OPB] reports, many species of plants and animals depend on forest fires to create and maintain the habitat they need.

“AARON SCOTT: Ecologist Paul Hesburgh and Bill Gaines are taking us on a tour through a section of the Washington Cascades that was burned by the Tripod Fire in 2006.

“BILL GAINES: Paul, I’m not seeing a lot of woodpecker cavity activity. …

“SCOTT: The reason we’re looking for woodpeckers is that they are a poster animal for how scientists like Gaines and Hesburgh are reimagining fire. Instead of seeing fire as a negative thing that needs to be suppressed, they are finding it is essential to the well-being of many plants and animals. For example, burned forests may look barren to us. But for wood-eating insects and their predators, they are a feast waiting to happen. Gaines marvels at how woodpeckers just seem to flock in. …

“And they are far from alone. From aspen to morels, from blackberries to bees. There’s an incredible range of plants and animals that thrive in areas touched by fire. One of the best-known examples is the lodgepole pine, which grows what’s called serotinous cones.

“PAUL HESBURGH: And so every cone scale is held together by a drop of resin, and it takes the heat of a fire to melt that resin and cause those cone scales to open up.

“SCOTT: The cones shed seeds that quickly grow into dense stands of young trees. And these stands are one of the only hunting grounds for one of the country’s most adorable and threatened predators. The Canada lynx. …

“GAINES: We’re going to pretend we’re a Canada lynx. And what we want to find is our prize food, you know, a snowshoe hare.

“SCOTT: Gaines crouches down in stalks his way through the thick branches.

“GAINES: You can see here a scat from a snowshoe hare, so we know they’ve been here. Tells us this is good habitat for snowshoe hare and good habitat for lynx.

“SCOTT: That’s because these young pines are like a goldilocks zone. They’re just right, big enough to provide shelter for the bunnies with branches low enough for them to hide under. But as the pines grow taller and their branches no longer touch the ground, the bunnies and the lynx that hunt them have to go in search of new stands. …

Few northwest animals have evolved to live in thick, unchanging forests. Instead, most need an evolving clumpy mosaic of landscapes to meet all their needs. And the main driver behind that constant process of change and renewal is fire.

“HESBURGH: If you were to roll the film back a hundred, hundred and fifty years in history and take a look at a big landscape panorama, what you would see is places that were burned yesterday, places that were burned five years ago, ten years ago, that create this variety of habitats. …

“Where the forest is all grown up and blended. There are some critters still making a living in that landscape, but it has nowhere near the variety of the former landscape before it was homogenized.

“SCOTT: Today’s thick forests combined with a warming climate also set the stage for megafires. The result is two starkly contrasting landscapes and a dynamic far different from the one native animals evolved with. …

“GAINES: Lynx recovery is either made or are not here in this part of Washington. This is the largest population in the lower 48 states.

“SCOTT: And it doesn’t stop there. Fire has a crazy interaction with water by helping to thin out dense spreading forests, it actually leads to more water flowing into wetlands and streams. That encourages rich cool dining rooms for everything from bear to fish. No one is advocating that we let all fires burn freely, especially the human-caused ones. But a consensus is emerging that as crazy as it sounds, we need to restore regular fire to the land to help our fellow plants and animals survive.”

More at Living on Earth, here. Check out the original, too, at OPB in Portland, Oregon.

National Geographic, meanwhile, explains how “controlled” or “prescribed” burns can protect nature: “Controlled burns have become more important as fire suppression efforts have grown over the last century. Historically, smaller fires occurred in forests at regular intervals. When these fires are suppressed, flammable materials accumulate, insect infestations increase, forests become more crowded with trees and underbrush, and invasive plant species move in.

“Controlled burns seek to accomplish the benefits that regular fires historically provided to an environment while also preventing the fires from burning out of control and threatening life and property.”

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Goats to the Rescue

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Photo: Phil Klein
Goat farmer Bob Blanchard tends to his flock above Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila Beach, California.

Can you take another story about goats as lawnmowers? (Click for an example.) Today’s update shows how goats are not only a good way to cut your grass but are an important wildfire-fighting tool.

Susie Cagle writes at the Guardian, “As the western US braces for another wildfire season, following its most devastating on record, public officials and private landowners are turning to an unlikely, rustic tool to manage increasingly incendiary lands. Goats.

“They’re currently munching away at summer-dried, fire-ready grasses in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and across California. In some places that outlaw livestock within city limits, officials have even changed local ordinances. …

“In California, where wildfires have long been a threat, goats have worked for decades to protect coastal communities from creeping conflagrations. But worsening, deadly fire seasons across western US have inspired more communities to try managing their lands not with machines and chemicals, but with hungry animals.

“More extreme, climate-changed weather cycles could make fuel management a more important part of wildfire mitigation, as more intense rainy seasons lead to huge spring sprouts in grasslands, that are in turn dried out in the hotter, drier summer sun. …

“ ‘There’s a lot more awareness just because of the horrific fires we’ve had lately,’ said [Mike] Canaday, who runs a company called Living Systems Land Management. ‘If people want goats, the sooner they can get on somebody’s waiting list, the better.’

“He believes goats are a superior form of fuel management, more sustainable and less risky than herbicides or fuel-powered mowers. ‘And they’re a lot more fun to watch than people with weed eaters.’

“Grazing goats are far from the newest wildfire prevention tool, but they have a comparably tiny footprint. They’re efficient, clean eaters, nibbling away at weeds and grasses and leaving far less damage than an herbicide. They’re nimble climbers, able to scamper up steep flammable hillsides and into narrow canyons that humans would struggle to reach. They’re impervious to poison oak, and they don’t disrupt natural ecosystems or scare away indigenous animals. Where conspicuously carved fire breaks on verdant hillsides might upset homeowners, goats are welcome seasonal cuteness.

“In its 2019 wildfire safety report, released in July, [Laguna Beach] officials estimated a human crew costs roughly $28,000 to clear an acre, while a goat crew costs an average of $500. …

“The west cannot survive on goats alone, in part because of the limited labor pool, and in part because fuel management isn’t enough to abate wildfire impacts. Goats are effective, but they can’t do anything about flammable wood shingle roofs or cedar siding on ageing buildings that are not subject to new fire safety codes.

“ ‘We have a lot of tools in the toolbox,’ said [fire marshall Jim] Brown. And when it comes to clearing the fuel that could send flames rushing toward those old, flammable homes, ‘the goats are just the best tool we have in the toolbox to do that – there’s just nothing better.’ ”

More here.

Speaking of goats, I happened to run into one today at the library. The young lady with the leash told me that the goat’s name is Hermione.

091419-goat-at-library

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Photo: Monica LeRossignol
After a devastating wildfire, Bob Wilson, a Southern California real estate developer, gave $1,000 to each of Paradise High School’s 982 students and 105 employees. He is pictured here with student Trevor
LeRossignol.

Compassionate people pop up everywhere. I try to keep my attention focused on that as much as possible. In this example, a wealthy developer was moved to put money behind his compassion after the devastation of the 2018 wildfires in Paradise, California.

In November, Brianna Sacks wrote at BuzzFeed News, “Monica LeRossignol and her son are still stunned by the freshly printed $1,000 check, a gesture that’s brightened the difficult, surreal reality of rebuilding their lives after losing their home and most of their community in Paradise, California.

“On Tuesday night, her 17-year-old son, Trevor LeRossignol, and hundreds of other students, parents, and faculty members from Paradise High School gathered at Chico High School, as they have every week since the Camp fire leveled their town, to catch up, give hugs, rifle through donations, and eat some warm food. But this gathering had a major bonus.

“Bob Wilson, a Southern California real estate developer, was there giving out $1,000 to each of Paradise High School’s 982 students and 105 employees, totaling about $1.1 million in donations.

” ‘I gave him a hug,’ LeRossignol said. … Like thousands of others, the 46-year-old lost everything in the catastrophic wildfire, which has killed 88 people, torched more than 153,000 acres, and destroyed 14,000 homes. The mother, her son, fiancé, two nephews, and six other family members fled for their lives and are now crammed into two bedrooms at a friend’s house in the nearby city of Chico. …

“A few weeks earlier, as the Camp fire continued to burn around Paradise, Wilson came across a story in the Los Angeles Times about the students of Paradise, most of whom lost their homes. It delved into the uncertainty facing Paradise Unified School District and its class of seniors who were readying to graduate.

“The 89-year-old told BuzzFeed News that Paradise High School’s plight stuck with him, reminding him of his own ‘carefree’ days as a teenager. …

‘I made up my mind in five minutes,’ the businessman said Wednesday morning from Chico. ‘I had some of the most profound experiences in my life in high school because I was still able to be a kid, and it broke my heart to think of the experiences these kids were missing.’ …

“About two weeks later, Wilson was flitting between about 10 tables set up inside Chico High’s hallways, handing out envelopes containing a letter and personal check addressed to each student, teacher, and custodian, which he had personally stuffed from one of his offices in Los Angeles. …

” ‘It was a really unique, cool way to give,’ [Paradise High Principal Loren] Lighthall said of Wilson’s donation. ‘It’s been rough, especially for high schoolers who need their friends and there’s no way to get together.’ …

“Two days after the fire tore through their close-knit, rural California town, Lighthall, who has been principal for two years, started a GoFundMe for Paradise High, a ‘high-poverty”‘ school where 67% of students qualified for free lunch last year. Almost every one of the nearly 1,000 students lost their home and ‘everything they own,’ he said. …

“For now, Lighthall explained that their main goal is getting the kids their credits however they can. More at BuzzFeed, here.

By the way, it’s sad that BuzzFeed and other news outlets have had to lay off so many reporters lately, people who come up with good local stories like this one. The news model is changing nationwide and we need to pay for journalism in new ways. My husband and I pay to read the Boston Globe online, the New York Times, and the Guardian. I also have a membership in the investigative news site Talking Points Memo. Online ads are not enough to keep these vital services going.

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