Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Forest Service preparing for year-round wildfire season

Today in climate change:
Not so long ago the U.S. Forest Service considered it primarily a summer problem with a few regions breaking the trend in early spring and late fall. But climate change, according to most wildland fire experts, has turned fire season into a year-round issue. What used to slow down fire season was winter—a long and cold time of year with lots of snow that killed off many invasive or destructive pests and filled rivers and reservoirs with ample water to supply the needs of millions living in the West. Now winter is shorter and has far less snow accumulation in many areas. It will take years to slow and hopefully reverse the effects of climate change on our wildlands, but it’s not impossible — we just all have to pitch in. [US Forest Service]
The world's oldest trees are dying.

Hardwood forests and lighter-colored surfaces reflect sunlight and protect watersheds while the needles of conifers absorb heat creating faster snowmelt.
In summer, the eastern United States is the world’s major hot spot for volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.s) from trees. Chemical reactions involving tree V.O.C.s produce methane and ozone, two powerful greenhouse gases, and form particles that can affect the condensation of clouds. Research by my group at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and by other laboratories, suggests that changes in tree V.O.C.s affect the climate on a scale similar to changes in the earth’s surface color and carbon storage capacity. [Nadine Unger, New York Times.]
The Industrial Revolution and European settlement in the New World took hardwoods for charcoal then humans allowed fast-growing conifers to replace lost forests.

In the Mountain West vast tracts of land have been cleared by bark beetles where aquifers are being recharged: a practice well known to pre-Columbian cultures who burned forests to increase ungulate populations.

Department of Interior releases carbon findings:
Forests, grasslands and shrublands and other ecosystems in the West sequester nearly 100 million tons (90.9 million metric tons) of carbon each year, according to a Department of the Interior report released today.
Wildfire risk assessment proposed.
This non-native species was first introduced to the United Sates from Asia in packing material. Initially distributed along rail lines, it spread throughout many States including Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, and South Dakota.-- By Fabian Menalled MSU Extension Cropland Weeds Specialist
Christopher Joyce, NPR:
These cheatgrass fires are increasing partly because the climate is warmer and also because more people are living in cheatgrass country. There are some things that can be done though, like planting green borders of less flammable vegetation around cheatgrass as a fire break.
From the USGS Western Ecological Research Center:
There is significant concern that repeated burning at historically appropriate fire return intervals for ponderosa pine forest will benefit this invasive plant to the detriment of native species. There is additional concern that the high flammability of cheatgrass fuelbeds will lead to fire return intervals that are more frequent than occurred historically and that are prescribed in the agency fire management plans, potentially preventing recruitment of pine seedlings and leading to type conversion of native forests to alien grasslands.
Again, Christopher Joyce:
And there's a fungus that kills cheatgrass — it's called the black fingers of death — but introducing it could be biologically risky to other plants.
Grazing cheatgrass early in the season by native ungulates that deposit organic fertilizer helps restore native plants.

Uncanny that as this interested party called for the Sioux District of Custer National Forest to be remanded to local control a wildland fire of unknown origin began clearing cheatgrass there on the same day.

The entire proposed Greater Missouri Basin National Wildlife Refuge will come under a Red Flag Warning today.

Mr. President: rewild the West.

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