News May 22, 2019 at 4:00 am

Wildfires are coming. What is the state doing about it?

The daytime sun in Seattle as seen during the wildfires last August. Jessica Stein



The End Is Near!

Lerftisn has become a mental illness and it isn't the air pollution that is to blame...


@1: Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of being trolls over this.


What the fuck is "lerftisn?"


It’s what Trumpistanis say when Trump goes into rage tweeting mode


@3 hamberder topping


anyone who doesn't appreciate that outlandish shade of beige is an effing philistine. Everything comes at a cost.


The problem is, conditions and parameters in our forests are different now than they were, because of climate change. There's a lot of very dry, very flammable plant matter, and a lot less moisture. Any controlled burn can conceivably quickly become an out-of-control rampaging wildfire, especially with new and unpredictable weather patterns, and rapid changes in wind speed and direction.

Forests management is a very complex science, especially when we're facing unprecedented conditions. Don't be like Trump with his stupid, facile solutions. The only things that we can be certain of are we need a lot more money allocated to fighting wildfires, and we must reduce GHG emissions drastically and do it now.


Since when has Seattle been known for its perfect summers? I remember it being more like the episode of Portlandia where people roam from place to place to find a ray of sunshine. And I still don't understand why we would want to spend more money on fire prevention when, as you've asserted, we've arrived at this predicament as a result of centuries of fire suppression. More fire is the solution to not enough fire, right? Or am I missing something?


The entire drive from Whitefish was smoky last year(Western WA and Montana legs of Highway 2 are incredible. Brewery over Snake river at ID-MT border).

Missoula had the equivalent of pea soup fog, but with smoke, according to residents. Some who stayed ended up with serious, and permanent, respiratory ailments.

Same residents say they just have to let it burn if it isn’t inhabited.

wtg herzog


Right now is as good as it's gonna get, folks. Enjoy it while you can.


@9 No. Not really.

We are on second and third and even fourth growth - mostly replants - in our "forests." So. What we have are tree farms not diverse fully functioning forests.

We HAD forests. And forests can generally survive fire seasons and drought okay mom of the time. But when you clear cut and remove centuries of forest canopy then more sunlight get's through allowing more ground cover to grow - and more UV light gets to the forest floor and basically sanitizes and desiccates the delicate moist biome that keeps trees healthy and buffers against disease.

By the time the second growth generates it is a "mono crop" or a market desirable fast growing wood. And these less diverse, less hardy trees grow farther apart and they have to compete with the under growth and thus the "forest" is far less healthy. And of course there is more fuel in the undergrowth during fire seasons. So fires get steadily worse, there more diseased trees. More dead falls. And the cycle of more sunlight getting to the undergrowth continues.

Climate change has made summers hotter. Spring and fall thunderstorms more intense. So there is more lightening. More fires. More fuel. Less heathy trees. etc. etc.

"Forest management" is an oxymoron. If forests are just left alone for a few hundred years they will adapt as best they can to climate conditions.

But we don't have forests. And we are not allowing them to adapt because we are harvesting and replanting them. What we are doing is "tree farm" management. And that's why forest fires are getting worse.


Seattle’s Summers Should Be (a Bit) Smoky


Google "canada forest fire management". Click the first link and read a few paragraphs. Smoky skies are normal in the summer when you live in a forest. Expect much smokier skies when you've allowed underbrush and tinder to accumulate in your forests for a century.

A bigger concern is our ability to reliably mass produce food as a result of our modifications to the planet's atmosphere and weather. But few talk about this. So far the climate change debate is just loud idiots on both sides distracting from the real threats. Soon, it's going to be too late, and that's probably by design.


@9 @12

A lot of our "managed" forests are too dense, not too sparse-- trees spaced too closely get lower levels of water, sunlight, and nutrients, which inhibits growth to full, fire-resistant sizes and reduces disease resistance, and proximity facilitates the spread of pests and pathogens. This is why you'll hear forest-management reformers talking about "thinning" in addition to or instead of controlled burns, especially in areas around human settlements.

The picture varies a lot from forest to forest, too; e.g. mountain pine beetle outbreaks -- population explosions of a native insect which present but mostly harmless in healthy forests -- are found to contribute to wildfire severity and frequency in British Columbia lodgepole pine forests:

...but in subalpine lodgepole pine forests in the northern US rockies, in a paper published the same year, outbreaks of the same insect are found to have made only minor contributions to wildfires:

As to whether "let it burn" will produce healthy trees, well, there's also likely to be a conceptual shift coming along eventually, if not in our lifetimes, because it looks like humans have made a pretty good start at (i.e. are a few centuries into) the process of domesticating certain trees for lumber.

We domesticated certain trees for food thousands of years ago, of course -- figs, apples, olives, dates, avocado etc -- and a healthy farmed specimen of any of these will look very different from a healthy wild specimen, if it still exists in the wild at all.


"This is why you'll hear forest-management reformers talking about "thinning" "

Forest managers = private timber companies.
Thinning = harvesting trees for profit.

They argue this because they want special dispensations, government contracts, and no regulatory oversight to do with what they please to public lands. When in fact it their private lands that gestate most of our problems in the first place.

They are the same corporations that blamed hippies and an owl for their own over harvesting and union busting. Selling raw logs to overseas markets and closing down high paying milling jobs in the process forcing workers to go from milling timber to logging and over harvesting and shitty replanting.

Look. Most my fathers family were all in the timber business. I'm very familiar with this.

BTW. The time it took for second growth timber to reach any appreciable density to crowd out sunlight is decades. So. In the meantime MORE sunlight and MORE UV light kills biome, dries out th undergrowth habitually leaving behind fast growing weeds that dehydrate rapidly. This is an established fact. It's only after decades you have this problem of "overcrowding." Which is only problem because these are replants and mono crops.


You should have seen the trucks streaming from the peninsula during the shutdown...



Parsimony suggests that there's no design here, no cackling cabal plotting doom for profit. It's enough for people to just keep doin' what people like to do.

All you really need is for this particular wildly successful organism to keep striving for the same thing all living species are attempting -- to multiply and expand into every niche available.

If in that process Homo Sapiens also alters the atmosphere and renders the planet unihabitable for many other species, well, they certainly won't be the first organisms to do it-- just ask the cyanobacteria.

It's not an encouraging picture, I know, but we're up against something a lot more powerful here than a few dozen delusional oligarchs who've inherited half a planet and don't know how to take care of it.



Sure, it takes a while longer, but overcrowding is unquestionably a problem. Clearcutting, obviously, is also a huge issue, and not just for the reasons you list.

There are definitely people other than Weyerhauser execs who advocate thinning, though in forms that contrast sharply with what you'll hear from Big Timber. The tell is whether or not the speaker tells you pulling out deadfall is going to be the biggest part of their plan.


@18 True. I wasn't necessarily thinking evil cabal, more along the lines of solutions being expensive and difficult, and requiring cooperation to achieve. Though, this is a particularly spicy wedge issue which conveniently pits neighbor vs. neighbor. Certainly there are those who benefit from the uncontested spread of misinformation and hyperbole. I wouldn't call it a cabal, but humans being human, taking advantage of human nature.


@9 and @Katie - we didn't have "centuries of fire suppression" and we aren't actively still using fire suppression as the primary tactic. it was a span of about 40-50 years in the early to mid-20th century. it was absolutely detrimental, but it wasn't an ancient practice and we didn't keep doing it when we figured it out around the 1960s.


I was trying to find more details about the 239 Western WA fires this year that you mentioned, but had trouble tracking down any info. Do you have your source(s) for this stat? I was just telling a co-worker about how there've been over 200 forest fires already this year, but want to make sure I was spreading correct information so wanted to look up some reports..


@16 As a forest ecologist, forester and wildland firefighter who deals every day with forests, some well managed, others not, I am duty bound to inform you that most of what you say is wrong. I am going to shock most people who don't think twice about wiping their ass with paper pulp but scream about logging: thinning Eastside dry forests and shipping the logs to a mill is the only tool land managers have right now if people in Seattle want clear skies in the summer. It is my ardent wish that we can get this resolved so we can go back to lighting fires out East. For now Seattlites, hug that logger because they are your best bet for keeping your lungs healthy. And what better use for all those small trees than making pulp and something to wipe that shit away!

For wet Westside forests, keep those helicopters and bucket drops coming.

@21 We've been trying to put out fires ever since our culture invaded the West. We didn't have effective fire suppression, the ability to put out nearly all fires, until after WW2 when we had the planes, people and dozers available. Outside of parks and wilderness areas, complete fire suppression is still the rule. The state buying two more is evidence enough, otherwise Hillary Franz wouldn't need the second helicopter for her photo ops.


@24 that just isn't true. fire suppression as government policy was instated decades before WWII (not that we didn't get more efficient, but we were doing it for decades before that), and it was major fires in the late 19th century that spurred the movement. can you make the claim that SOME people always wanted to suppress fires without anyone proving you wrong? sure. but it was around the turn of the 19th into 20th century that it became the norm on which most people agreed, and then became policy when the US Forest Service was instated in 1905. it was just over a century ago, and we figured out several decades ago that it was a bad idea. you can literally just google fire suppression in the west or fire suppression in America, but here are some links to get you started.


Here is an example. Your house is on fire so you grab the fire extinguisher. Depending upon many factors you may be able to put it out or possibly it gets away from you. That is fire suppression. Eventually engines show up, connect to a hydrant, run a couple 2" lines and put out the fire. That is effective fire supression. Interestingly our effectiveness has been diminishing the ability to prevent large fires. Large fires that we can't control have always happened but especially in the last five years they have become more frequent.

People didn't figure out that excluding fire from the landscape was a bad idea several decades ago. People have been managing with fire for 10,000+ years. The forest and prairies were managed landscapes. I am reminded of the late Masanobu Fukuoka, in his book One Straw Revolution, describe going back to the family farm and stop pruning the fruit trees in an attempt to employ "natural farming". The results were disastrous and he realized that transition to a "natural" condition would take time and effort. Today we can look back and see the landscape pre-colonization as a managed fruit tree that all went to shit when we took out fire. To get to our desired conditions of a smoke-free Seattle summer and more "natural" conditions we need to embrace the pruners shear for a good long while. For those who don't think cutting trees is a portion of that solution either get your head out of your ass and listen to people who are tasked with figuring it out or keep it in there so you can shut the fuck up and not influence anyone.

A informative sidenote is that in certain places in the West around farming and ranching communities during the initial colonization, area burned increased for a short period because the settlers either didn't know how to properly put fire in the woods or they didn't care. And I suggest going to the informative source for fire in the West, Jim Agee's "Fire Ecology of the Pacific Northwest" and stay away from news articles, particularly comments section.

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