Smoke

Chopper on the lookout

Hot Weather Equals Summer Smoke

August 2017 has covered much of the West with a blanket of smoke.  Although the media has been portraying this as coming from the BC fires, there are fires throughout the region and there’s bound to be more.  This is unfortunate for everyone and our forests.

Smoke
Smoke in the Colville Valley

The weather is hot and we haven’t even seen all the typical dry lightning storms that happen in the intermountain areas yet.  We hear a lot of people on social media like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter commenting that this smoke is natural.  Some have even commented that it’s just like being next to a camp fire.  The unfortunate truth is that it’s much worse.

Wildfire Smoke Pollutes Much More

This study from Georgia Tech clearly articulates that fires from these unnaturally large and hot fires spew much more pollutants into the air than we ever knew.  It’s harmful to humans, animals, and the environment.  The reason is the amount of fuel left in the forests.  These fires start easier and burn much hotter and because there are too many small and medium trees as well as a buildup of downed woody debris and brush.  These fires are also nearly impossible to put out because of the sheer volume of burning fuel.

I am not about to say that managing our forests will result in the removal of all fires.  What we can do, however, is reduce the fuels by thinning and logging.  This will actually save the forests.  We can leave the forest with natural spacing.  This will result in fires that burn controllably to benefit the forest rather than destroy it.

Management Helps Reduce Smoke

Natural looking forest management
Managed forest with prescribed fire

What can we do with the material removed from these forests?  We can make building products of nearly all types.  We can use the smaller material to create chips for the pulp and paper industries.  Other products can be used to make wood pellets, particle board, and biomass power.  All of these are far better than smoke filled air and burnt wastelands.

So, what do we want?  Do we want products that store carbon or do we want massive exposure to harmful smoke and carbon pollution?  Our cities are working to take measures to reduce CO2 emissions.  Those efforts might be great, but if we continue to allow our forests to be unnaturally thick we create many more times the pollution of our cities every summer.  The choice is ours to make.

3 thoughts on “Smoke”

  1. When the roads were wanted into our national forests at a cost of 2 million taxpayer dollars per mile we were told it would result in cheaper lumber and forest products, it would improve ground based fire fighting (the most effective in terms of results and costs) and would give the recreating and firewood gathering public access to our forests. We bought in. Later some brain dead eco-freaks decided we need to restore the slopes and keep the people out of their forests. So the road cuts into the side of the mountains were filled in and bridges dynamited. The restoration of the slope costed 20 million a mile and the lucrative
    contracts went to those with the highest campaign contributions to the politicians. Forests now burn because we can’t get at them effectively (Air power is 100 times more expensive and 1/3 as effective a way to fight forest fires as land (road) based efforts.

    1. James,
      I think I understand where your angst is coming from, but I’m not sure we share the same opinion on all of this. I don’t know the whole history of roads, but when I was working on Forest Service timber sales in the early 90’s driving dump truck to help build roads the cost was offset by the timber. Many environmentalists hated this practice and used it as a talking point to destroy the timber sales program as it was.

      As for the lucrative contracts going to those with the highest campaign contributions, that just doesn’t make any sense in the reality that I have witnessed. All contracts on the Forest Service are open bid and they are required to take either the highest bid in terms of a timber sale, the lowest bid in terms of a service contract, or the best value contract with a Stewardship project.

      The fires burn because we have excessive fuel loads and a fire suppression directive that has further increased fuel loads. Air support is very effective at keeping fires under control. There are ways we can improve fire fighting effectiveness, but in my opinion, it’s not just roads, but an entire process that’s designed to fight the symptoms rather than the cause.

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