The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Epic Drought Brings Fear of Worst Wildfire Season Yet
The firefighters are primed, hoses at the ready. May and June are often the peak months for forest fires in the southwest of the U.S., and the outlook for this year is grim.
“I wish I could have some hope,” says Dr Wally Covington, director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at North Arizona University. “It’s just a terrible situation in southern California.”
Covington, an internationally recognized expert on forest restoration, says a prolonged drought, higher temperatures and stronger than usual winds mean big wildfires are inevitable across the southwestern U.S.
The main season for wildfires in the region has in the past been from mid-May through till late September, but now forest fires burn virtually year round.
“Climate change and misguided forestry policies have combined to present a landscape very vulnerable to devastating fires,” Covington told the Climate News Network.
“Since around 2000, we’ve seen more severe dry weather, matched with high winds throughout the western U.S. Intense firestorms are the result. Get in the vicinity of one of those and it’s like being near a blast furnace.”
Covington and other experts say it is vital that people and government policy adapt to the changes in climate.
Over the years, forests have been densely planted in many areas, and old forestry practices—such as clearing out forest and shrubland by regularly burning off old tree cover and dry shrubs—were stopped.
The result is not only an abundance of dense forested areas where fire can build up and spread easily, but also accumulations of dried-out grasses and shrubs—referred to as fine fuel.
Opening up forest areas and reintroducing controlled, periodic burning to rid the landscape of these tinder-dry fuels is key, according to Covington.
He says: “The U.S. Forest Service now sees opening up forest areas and restoring them to what they once were—right across the U.S.—as its primary goal. That’s a huge policy breakthrough.”
The past three years have been among the driest on record in California, and there are fears that the drought will continue.
Wells have dried up in many areas, reservoirs in the state are at a record low, and the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range—vital for feeding water on to the lands below—is at an historic low for the time of year.
For the first time in California’s history, mandatory water restrictions have been brought in, with cities and towns required to cut water use by 25 percent.
This does not, however, apply to the state’s multi-billion dollar agricultural industry, which uses up to 80 percent of water supplies.
Besides the drought, strong winds and higher temperatures, other factors have increased the risk of wildfires across the region. For example, building houses in forest and shrubland areas has also increased the danger of fires being ignited.
“We’ve just got to stop building in those places,” Covington says. “It was crazy 40 years ago—and it’s even more crazy now.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
'We Need People's Bailout, Not Polluters' Bailout': Climate Groups Move to Preempt Big Oil Giveaway Amid Pandemic
By Andrea Germanos
A coalition of climate organizations strongly criticized President Donald Trump's in-person Friday meeting with the chief executives of some of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world, saying the industry that fueled climate disaster must not be allowed to profiteer from government giveaways by getting bailout funds or preferred treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.
An Important Note
No supplement, diet, or lifestyle modification — aside from social distancing and practicing proper hygiene — can protect you from developing COVID-19.
The strategies outlined below may boost your immune health, but they don't protect specifically against COVID-19.
By Zak Smith
It is pretty amazing that in this moment when the COVID-19 outbreak has much of the country holed up in their homes binging Netflix, the most watched show in America over the last few weeks has been focused on wildlife trade — which scientists believe is the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is about wildlife trade and other aspects of wildlife exploitation, just as surely as the appearance of Ebola, SARS, MERS, avian flu and probably COVID-19 in humans is a result of wildlife exploitation. As a conservationist, this is one of the things I've been thinking about while watching Tiger King. Here are five more:
By Hector Chapa
With the coronavirus pandemic quickly spreading, U.S. health officials have changed their advice on face masks and now recommend people wear cloth masks in public areas where social distancing can be difficult, such as grocery stores.
But can these masks be effective?
By Carey Gillam
Bayer AG is reneging on negotiated settlements with several U.S. law firms representing thousands of plaintiffs who claim exposure to Monsanto's Roundup herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, sources involved in the litigation said on Friday.