USA–– The federal debt crisis is bad and getting worse. The same goes for the state of Americas overgrown and fire-prone forests.
This year, the problems are directly related, and the parallels are clear.
Because Congress has failed to come up with a meaningful budget solution kicking the can of the fiscal crisis down the road the U.S. Forest Service is paying the price. Congress raided $200 million from a Forest Services firefighting fund in 2011, and grabbed another $240 million this year.
That leaves the Forest Service looking for ways to reduce firefighting costs before they eat into the rest of the agencys budget. So the Forest Service decided, with little fanfare, to aggressively fight fires from the outset this year. The belief, or the hope, is that the Forest Service can save some money by knocking down fires early.
James Hubbard, the agencys chief for state and private forestry, conceded the plans weaknesses. I acknowledge this is not a desirable approach in the long run, Hubbard wrote in a May 25 memo.
Thats for sure.
It is the Forest Services equivalent of kicking the can down the road. Suppressing small fires might head off a larger fire, in the short run. But it leaves a preserved forest choked with undergrowth that increases the risk of catastrophic fire later.
Forest scientists know this. They know that in order to preserve the health of the forest, natural fires must be allowed to burn whenever possible, in order to prevent the buildup of flammable material.
And so, in a delicious little government irony, the Forest Service is making decisions that might compromise the health of the forest in order to preserve its budget for initiatives such as forest health, the use of logging and prescribed burns to thin out fire-prone lands.
Congress makes a handy scapegoat these days; thats what befalls an institution with an approval rating that is straining just to remain in double digits. But in this case, the blame belongs to Congress.
Fighting forest fires is a tough and dangerous job, as this year has made painfully obvious. Firefighters will likely spend the rest of the summer just trying to keep fire away from communities such as Featherville and Idaho City while waiting for the first fall snowstorm, which might finally snuff out the fire season. The death of Anne Veseth, a Moscow student who died this month fighting a small fire in North Idaho, offers a sad reminder of firefightings inherent hazards.
Fire managers never will be able to operate in a purely apolitical climate considering only the tricky balance between preserving the natural resource and protecting lives and property. Politics, and political scrutiny, will forever be part of the landscape. But the least the politicians can do is stop treating the firefighting budget like a piggy bank something they can use to cover for their own failings.
Our View is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesmans editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org. When the Fourmile Canyon Fire erupted west of Boulder in 2010, smoke from the wildfire poured into parts of the city including a site housing scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-08-evidence-heat-trapping-effects-wildfire-particles.html#jCpWithin 24 hours, a few researchers at the David Skaggs Research Center had opened up a particle sampling port on the roof of the building and started pulling in smoky air for analysis by two custom instruments inside. They became the first scientists to directly measure and quantify some unique heat-trapping effects of wildfire smoke particles.
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-08-evidence-heat-trapping-effects-wildfire-particles.html#jCpWhen the Fourmile Canyon Fire erupted west of Boulder in 2010, smoke from the wildfire poured into parts of the city including a site housing scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Within 24 hours, a few researchers at the David Skaggs Research Center had opened up a particle sampling port on the roof of the building and started pulling in smoky air for analysis by two custom instruments inside. They became the first scientists to directly measure and quantify some unique heat-trapping effects of wildfire smoke particles. “For the first time we were able to measure these warming effects minute-by-minute as the fire progressed,” said CIRES scientist Dan Lack, lead author of the study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers also were able to record a phenomenon called the “lensing effect,” in which oils from the fire coat the soot particles and create a lens that focuses more light onto the particles. This can change the “radiative balance” in an area, sometimes leading to greater warming of the air and cooling of the surface. While scientists had previously predicted such an effect and demonstrated it in laboratory experiments, the Boulder researchers were one of the first to directly measure the effect during an actual wildfire. Lack and his colleagues found that lensing increased the warming effect of soot by 50 to 70 percent. “When the fire erupted on Labor Day, so many researchers came in to work to turn on instruments and start sampling that we practically had traffic jams on the road into the lab,” Lack said. “I think we all realized that although this was an unfortunate event, it might be the best opportunity to collect some unique data. It turned out to be the best dataset, perfectly suited to the new instrument we had developed.” The instrument called a spectrophotometer can capture exquisite detail about all particles in the air, including characteristics that might affect the smoke particles’ tendency to absorb sunlight and warm their surroundings. While researchers know that overall, wildfire smoke can cause this lensing effect, the details have been difficult to quantify, in part because of sparse observations of particles from real-world fires. Once the researchers began studying the data they collected during the fire, it became obvious that the soot from the wildfire was different in several key ways from soot produced by other sourcesdiesel engines, for example. “When vegetation burns, it is not as efficient as a diesel engine, and that means some of the burning vegetation ends up as oils,” Lack said. In the smoke plume, the oils coated the soot particles and that microscopic sheen acted like a magnifying glass, focusing more light onto the soot particles and magnifying the warming of the surrounding air. The researchers also discovered that the oils coating the soot were brown, and that dark coloration allowed further absorption of light, and therefore further warming the atmosphere around the smoke plume. The additional warming effects mean greater heating of the atmosphere enveloped in dark smoke from a wildfire, and understanding that heating effect is important for understanding climate change, Lack said. The extra heating also can affect cloud formation, air turbulence, winds and even rainfall. The discovery was made possible by state-of-the-art instruments developed by CIRES, NOAA and other scientists, Lack said. The instruments can capture fine-scale details about particles sent airborne by the fire, including their composition, shape, size, color and ability to absorb and reflect sunlight of various wavelengths. “With such well-directed measurements, we can look at the warming effects of soot, the magnifying coating and the brown oils and see a much clearer, yet still smoky picture of the effect of forest fires on climate,” Lack said. CIRES is a cooperative institute of CU-Boulder and NOAA.