By Timothy Rooks
The many wildfires roaring through America's West Coast don't just look scary, they are bad for people's health, bad for public and private lands, and bad for the economy.
Counting Up the Losses<p>The costs around wildfires are multifold. Besides the irreplaceable loss of life and the enormous costs to put out the fires, there are many tangible elements like the damage to vehicles, homes and other buildings. These costs can be roughly calculated by looking at insurance claims.</p><p>Over the years, all of the top 10 costliest wildland fires in the country have been in California. The costliest of all was Camp Fire in 2018, which set insurers back over $8.5 billion, according to numbers tallied by the Insurance Information Institute.</p><p>But the Camp Fire was just one fire. Reinsurer Munich Re estimates the costs for all the wildfires that year to be over $20 billion. So far this year's fires should bring in a similar calculation.</p><p>Currently in California alone, thousands of structures have been damaged or destroyed. The state is known for building on steep slopes in rural areas surrounded by forests that are hard to access. And since the fires are still burning with no end in sight, it is impossible to tell how many will be damaged in the end and what the final costs will be. Add to that the fact that not everything is insured, and many things are underinsured and the actual costs get a little fuzzy.</p>
Counting the Tourists<p>It is important to remember that these numbers just include personal property. Damage done to public lands like parks is not added in. What is a single tree worth or a beautiful forest view in a state park anyhow?</p><p>What can be calculated though is how many tourists stay away based on past visitor numbers. The West Coast is world-famous for its natural wonders, wine country and lively cities, so there is no worse publicity than burning trees and a sky filled with smoke to keep tourists away.</p><p>These frightening images have gone around the world and made a deep impression. A bad reputation is hard to get rid of. The travel industry was already suffering because of COVID-19 restrictions, now a recovery on the West Coast will be even harder. </p>
Fear and Loathing in LA and Beyond<p>Other elements more difficult to tally are the costs of things that didn't happen like canceled flights, trains stopped in their tracks, workers on sick leave with respiratory problems, long-term health issues and other lost economic activity, either because a shop or warehouse burned down or there is no one left there to buy the goods.</p><p>Personal safety is also something to consider. Though U.S. housing sales are on a high, after so many natural disasters California may soon been seen as too dangerous a place to live or do business. In the end people may leave the coast for other, safer places.</p><p>Rebuilding is a lot of work and some may not be up to the challenge and may never come back as happened in New Orleans after <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/recovering-from-katrina-will-new-orleans-become-the-worlds-climate-beacon/a-19443437" target="_blank">Hurricane Katrina in 2005</a>. Higher insurance premiums for risky areas could help with these decisions.</p><p>In many ways these wildfires could not have come at a worse time. Besides scorched land, the coastal states will have less money to spend since their economies have been hit by coronavirus-related downturns. California in particular is dependent on global trade and needs huge sums of cash to run the state, invest in more costly firefighting and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/us-global-standing-plummets-over-coronavirus-response-survey/a-54939242" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beat COVID-19</a>.</p>
Not Out of the Woods<p>The wildfires in California have gained a lot of attention because of the apocalyptic sky around San Francisco. Yet 2015 was the worst year for wildfires, according to numbers gathered on annual wildland fires in the U.S. by the <a href="https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/fireInfo_stats_totalFires.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">National Interagency Coordination Center</a>. That year there were over 68,000 fires that destroyed over 10 million acres in the U.S. In a close second place is 2017. Looking at the decades of collected data, the general trend is pointing toward ever more fires.</p><p>So far this year, the fires have not reached the level of 2015. Still experts point out that current higher temperatures, droughts and shorter winters all add to the possibility of more fires. A report issued by the National Interagency Fire Center on September 15 outlined the problem.</p><p>"Generally, most areas across the West received less than 25% of average precipitation in August. The precipitation received was mostly associated with thunderstorms and provided little benefit," according to the report. Not only that, temperatures were generally 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.</p><p>This all means that the traditional fire season is longer than in the past. Frighteningly, in California it has now been extended to cover all 12 months. For years there has not been a month without a wildfire. These extra firefighting missions cost a lot in terms of manpower and equipment and take time away from fire prevention.</p>
California Has Huge Economic Impact<p>California has the highest economic output of any American state, accounting for around 14% of the entire country's tab. Add in Oregon, Washington State and Idaho and the region accounts 19% of U.S. output. With increasing temperatures, climate change and less cash to invest because of the current downturn, the area needs to prepare for more uncontrollable fires.</p><p>Residents and businesses there will need to put fear aside and get used to higher insurance premiums and stricter building codes, or move to less turbulent places. The hot glow of embers may permanently reshape the dynamic West Coast and turn it an unwelcoming place — that would be an economic tragedy and make these wildfires truly costly.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The wildfires raging across the West Coast have made the air quality so bad in several U.S. cities that they rank among the worst in the world. In fact, the air quality in Portland, Oregon was so bad on Sunday that it went off the charts when it passed 500 on an air quality index. Anything in the 300 to 500 range is hazardous to health, according to Oregon Live.
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What does the climate crisis look like? As wildfires continue to rage up and down the U.S. West Coast, we have some terrifying answers: orange skies; burnt-out buildings; a horse, seemingly abandoned, running past a stall as the hill above erupts in flames. These images help to ground an unfathomable reality.
Orange Skies<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3Mjc5MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTM5OTc2NH0.loFijHZV5bLC6hKOJ_T0avHsIGIwkO86UcuqQ6yySZU/img.jpg?width=980" id="01daa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8c43082a48f1c103935ac648e6dfa31b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear Fire in Oroville, California on Sept. 9, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images<p>People in Northern California looked out their windows Wednesday to a scene out of a <a href="https://twitter.com/Bunny_Godfather/status/1303909838376722432?ref_src=twsrc%255Etfw%257Ctwcamp%255Etweetembed%257Ctwterm%255E1303909838376722432%257Ctwgr%255Eshare_3&ref_url=https%253A%252F%252Fwww.newsweek.com%252Fbay-area-orange-skies-blade-runner-2049-1530961" target="_blank">science-fiction movie</a> as the sky glowed orange. Clouds of smoke covering the state filtered the sun's light and energy, tinting skies and lowering temperatures, <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/pictures-dull-orange-sky-wildfires-rage-western-200910140117147.html" target="_blank">Al Jazeera reported</a>. In San Francisco, the unusual color was a combination of ash from the Bear Fire mixed with the marine layer that provides the city's famous fog, <a href="https://abc7news.com/smoke-in-the-air-today-why-is-sky-orange-quality-index-oakland-bay-area/6414147/" target="_blank">ABC 7 News explained</a>. The effect was so remarkable that Hillary Clinton shared the image above, taken in Oroville, on her <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CE9XN59p0L7/" target="_blank">Instagram</a>. "None of this is normal, and confronting climate change is on the ballot this year. Vote, as early as you can, for a habitable planet," she wrote.</p>
Creek Fire Destruction<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3NDQ1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDI0MzIyM30.wL48hRI2OB72D0P_-4HoVfNYK01iIMcxOuDn6ELNIrw/img.jpg?width=980" id="ff2e3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="33d8df94a86c9c1037d1075358ff1b6b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A community of forest homes lies in ruins along Auberry Road in the Meadow Lakes area after the Creek Fire swept through on Sept. 8, 2020 near Shaver Lake, California. David McNew / Getty Images<p>The Creek Fire started on Friday, Sept. 4, just as large swaths of California were facing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/california-heat-wave-wildfires-2647443443.html" target="_self">record-breaking heat for Labor Day weekend</a>. The fire spread quickly through the western edge of the Sierra National Forest. Hundreds of people were airlifted away from the fast-spreading fire earlier in the week, according to <a href="https://abc7.com/creek-fire-214-people-airlifted-from-mammoth-pool-reservoir-in-daring-rescue/6411589/" target="_blank">KABC</a> in Los Angeles. So far, the fire has burned through 175,893 acres and was only 6 percent contained Thursday, according to the <a href="https://www.fresnobee.com/news/california/fires/article245647305.html" target="_blank">Fresno Bee</a>. <a href="https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020/9/4/creek-fire/" target="_blank">Cal Fire's statistics</a> say the fire, which has ripped through the remote mountain town of Big Creek, has destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings. "My family has been part of this community since 1929 and knowing it's probably never going to be the same is just gut-wrenching," said Toby Walt, the superintendent of Big Creek School District, to <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/10/us/california-family-wildfire-home-escape/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a>.</p>
Mass Evacuations in Washington<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3MzE0Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzkzNTQ2N30.00ruy9U0-r1ZGhxKoolxUnjANilP5HBuyHnQ6F9CU-E/img.jpg?width=980" id="0395e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bc6a225c344d37cc052d492ebdf6571" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Tinted orange by wildfire smoke from Oregon and southern Washington, the sun sets behind a hill on Sept. 9, 2020 in Kalama, Washington. David Ryder / Getty Images<p>As of Wednesday, wildfires had scorched 587,000 acres of Washington state, nearly half the area of land that burned during the entire record-setting fire season of 2015, <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/wildfire-updates-september-10-what-to-know-today-about-the-destructive-fires-in-washington-state-and-on-the-west-coast/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Seattle Times reported</a>. The fires prompted Washington Governor Jay Inslee to sign an emergency declaration Wednesday, and to promise cash assistance for people who have lost their homes to the flames. Hundreds of families have had to evacuate, including residents of Tacoma suburb Bonney Lake. One of them was Christian Deoliveira, who fled his home with his fiancé and five-year-old son early Tuesday morning. "I woke up at about 3 a.m. to a neighbor knocking on the door, saying the whole hillside's on fire," Deoliveira told <a href="https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article245572380.html" target="_blank">The News Tribune</a>.</p>
Animals Affected by Wildfires<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3MzU5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTUxMTgwOX0.8NceC4kmCJuDzYdE6sbCKFa2vAcLQvQNdDJfDUl8FAk/img.jpg?width=980" id="adfad" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e2452f6e5e5ed4a0c4bf276335c7fd3e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A horse runs by a stall as flames from the Hennessey fire approach a property in the Spanish Flat area of Napa, California on Aug. 18, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images<p>Wild animals in the West are accustomed to wildfires as a natural part of the ecosystem. Some even need the burnt-out areas for their breeding grounds, while other predators will lie in wait for prey fleeing the fire. But the size and intensity of the current fires is beyond what most animals have adapted to. While scientists do not have a count of how many animals die in wildfires, they do know that smoke, fire and heat are extremely dangerous for animals that can't escape fast enough, particularly young and small animals, according to <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/09/150914-animals-wildlife-wildfires-nation-california-science/#close" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>. It's not just wild animals that suffer. Domestic pets are also left behind to fend for themselves as fire approaches and pet owners need to evacuate. Animal rescue crews are scrambling to find cats and dogs that were left behind. After finding one dog, Farshad Azad of the North Valley Animal Disaster Group told the <a href="https://www.timesheraldonline.com/2020/09/10/california-wildfires-conditions-improve-for-firefighters-but-siege-continues/" target="_blank">Vallejo Times-Herald</a>, "Everything around him was incinerated." He added, "People are really afraid. And people are hurting because their animals are missing."</p>
The Human Toll<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3MzczMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjU0NDAyNn0.zlna_AJwNcN5lABL8rtMthgcT12n4_4nv_SwZ56AwRk/img.jpg?width=980" id="82961" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8bb1df61a935c816093b6efb2110d306" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Resident Austin Giannuzzi cries while embracing family members at the burnt remains of their home during the LNU Lightning Complex fire in Vacaville, California on Aug. 23, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images<p>The fires have claimed at least 23 lives and destroyed hundreds of homes in all three states. One of the hardest hit areas has been California's Butte County, which was also the site of 2018's Camp Fire, the fire that scorched the town of Paradise and was the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/camp-fire-california-wildfire-deaths-2620067114.html" target="_self">deadliest and most destructive in the state's history</a>. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Thursday at least 10 people in his county had died in the North Complex fires, while dozens were missing and hundreds of homes were feared lost, according to USA Today. The blaze even menaced Paradise again, though <a href="https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/09/11/9-a-m-update-fire-crews-continue-bear-fire-battle/" target="_blank">The Mercury News</a> reported evacuation orders for part of the town had been lifted. But Paradise's experience was repeated in the Butte County community of Berry Creek, which was obliterated by a part of the North Complex Fire Tuesday night. "The school is gone, the fire department's gone, the bar's gone, the laundromat's gone, the general store's gone," 50-year-resident John Sykes, who watched the blaze from a mile away, told <a href="https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article245611590.html" target="_blank">The Sacramento Bee</a>. "I'll never go back. I don't want to see it. That's why I'm leaving. I never want to see California again."</p>
Communities Threatened and Destroyed in Oregon<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3Mzg4MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MDk0ODc2OH0.hech4k958pQJXxCUupOLssjn9IzJcLkgbMzlH7rlCGA/img.jpg?width=980" id="90499" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1e39326a344d708fda44864f6a4d17a2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A sprinkler wets the exterior of a home as wildfires approach nearby in Clackamas County on Sept. 9, 2020 in Oregon City, Oregon. David Ryder / Getty Images<p>High winds have fueled the rapid spread of the wildfires in Oregon, which are threatening the Western part of the state at an unprecedented rate. More than a half-million people have fled from the fires, which makes up more than 10 percent of the state's population of 4.2 million, according to the <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54113416" target="_blank">BBC</a>. As of Thursday, there were 37 different blazes in the state, affecting people along the Interstate 5 corridor from Ashland in the south to Portland in the north. That includes Salem and Eugene. The blazes, which are only 1 percent contained, have decimated the towns of Phoenix and Talent, destroying hundreds of homes. "We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state," said Governor Kate Brown, as the BBC reported. "This will not be a one-time event. Unfortunately, it is the bellwether of the future. We're feeling the acute impacts of climate change."</p>
Wildfires During a Pandemic<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3NDA0My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjI0MzA0OH0.kAZxX16X3_YVrcpdl5T-dSYUEaPovpK2l-R2-EmhtT8/img.jpg?width=980" id="53edf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5a47def2d11a34a4f305408fcd0f6f00" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A sign warning people about COVID-19 is surrounded by flames during the Hennessey Fire near Lake Berryessa in Napa, California on Aug. 18, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images<p>The intense fires in the midst of a pandemic that requires social distancing is complicating evacuation strategies. Usually, people fleeing fires will huddle together in school gymnasiums. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that a no-no. The same restrictions apply to firefighters who would usually bunk together in small spaces, according to <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-happens-wildfire-coronavirus-pandemic_n_5f3d6b90c5b609f4f673c34c?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubW90aGVyam9uZXMuY29tL2Vudmlyb25tZW50LzIwMjAvMDgvd2hhdC1oYXBwZW5zLXdoZW4tYS13aWxkZmlyZS1tZWV0cy1hLXBhbmRlbWljLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAANojonNDvEAcRnmhHQ_z_PTE54ALNvD_SBsIQgQff-H-nYonNfU6J5v8YXtuuVJKfuKxVIJauaGs0cc8lkSGIRnvDag0ya1gRxxKjmtfTicljJ3rOyvhs2RfGfK6RUTubneJ6wfnUQfyQdtH5YzY_qoEWYRvvrntI3C9DGrqPIfX" target="_blank">HuffPost.</a> Complicating matters further is that the poor air quality from the smoke may affect recovery from COVID-19. "We know that wildfire exposure to communities increases the risk of lower respiratory tract infection," such as acute bronchitis and pneumonia, said Dr. John Balmes, a physician at the University of California, San Francisco, as HuffPost reported. "So there's concern in the context of the pandemic that wildfire smoke exposure would increase the risk of moving from mild to more severe COVID-19."</p>
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Wildfires raged through Oregon and Washington Monday and Tuesday, prompting evacuations, blanketing Seattle in unhealthy levels of smoke and destroying nearly all of a small Washington farming town.
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Removing one gigantic dam can have a massive effect on restoring a river ecosystem.
A Group Effort<p>Large dam removals, like those on the <a href="https://therevelator.org/klamath-dam-science/" target="_blank">Klamath River</a> in California and Oregon, or the <a href="https://therevelator.org/save-southern-resident-killer-whales-extinction/" target="_blank">hotly debated Snake River dams</a> in Washington, get lots of media attention. But smaller dam removals are quietly happening all across the country.</p><p>In the past 20 years around 1,100 dams have been removed in the United States — many of them aging, unsafe structures that had outlived their usefulness.</p><p>That's the story in the Cleveland National Forest, too.</p><p>Not a lot is known about the early history of the dams there, but most were likely built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work program started to help Americans rebound from the Great Depression, says Kirsten Winter, a biologist in the Cleveland National Forest who has spearheaded the dam-removal project. It's not unusual for dams to be built in national forests, but this high a concentration of small dams may be a regional phenomenon in Southern California forests.</p>
Before and after dam removal on San Juan Creek in the Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell / USFS<p>The project has generated a lot of interest and a diverse array of partners, including California Department of Transportation, Federal Highways Administration, Orange County Parks, Orange County Transportation Authority, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Marine Corps. The coalition has brought funds, organizational support, technical knowledge and a lot of energy to the process.</p><p>"People are really pretty enthused about removing dams," says Winter.</p><p>Despite all the partners, it's still been a learning experience, she adds, because the dams vary so much in size and accessibility. Some are just a few feet high and 10 feet wide. Others reach 14 feet in height and stretch up to 100 feet across.</p><p>To breach the dams and break apart the mortar, crews employed a wide range of techniques. For sites near roads, they bought in conventional excavators. Steeper canyons required the use of a nimble "spider" excavator. Explosives took down a few dams where appropriate, while other places required sledgehammers and jackhammers. An extra bit of muscle (organizational and otherwise) came from a partnership with Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton. Corps members have helped remove 31 dams since 2018.</p>
Ecological Benefits<p>The biggest benefactors of the dam removals in the Cleveland National Forest will be steelhead — a type of salmonid. Like salmon, steelhead are anadromous, spending their time in both freshwater streams and the ocean. But unlike salmon that return to their natal headwater streams to spawn and die, steelhead will often spawn more than once.</p><p>They're also a key indicator species, says Jacobson. "When they disappear, that means there are probably multiple issues within a watershed."</p><p>In the San Juan, dams are one of them.</p>
Endangered Southern California steelhead spawning in Maria Ygnacio Creek in Santa Barbara County, Calif. Mark H. Capelli / WCR / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>"Dams create a very artificial situation," says Winter. "It's not just that they hold water, but they retain sediment and then they create these weird splash pools below."</p><p>Without the dams, the streams are able to create a more natural gradient and pool structure. That's good for other native wildlife like the arroyo toad and the arroyo chub, both federally listed as endangered, as well as the California newt, a California Species of Special Concern.</p><p>While the process of removing the dams can be a bit messy, "we've seen no negative effects to the habitat or to species due to the dam removal," says Donnell.</p><p>One of the biggest concerns with any dam removal is ensuring that any trapped sediment released from behind the structures doesn't cause ecological problems as it moves downstream. But Donnell says they've timed the removals to account for that and the streams naturally carry large sediment loads during storm events.</p><p>"We're actually doing some of dams in phases rather than all at one time because of the sediment load that's being held behind them," she says.</p><p>In areas where dams have been removed, Donnell has already noticed an improvement. "The bedload and sediment transport have been able to naturally flow once again," she says. "And the channel is starting to adjust back to a natural state."</p>
A Connected Watershed<p>As groundbreaking as the Cleveland National Forest's efforts are, the benefits for steelhead hinge on the downstream initiative.</p><p>Just five miles inland from Doheny State Beach, around the town of San Juan Capistrano, two barriers on Trabuco Creek block steelhead from 15 miles of upstream spawning habitat in the San Juan Creek watershed.</p><p>A quarter-mile-long concrete flood-control channel runs underneath five bridges, including the north- and southbound lanes of Interstate 5. The drop and the speed of water flowing through the hardened channel inhibits steelhead from making it through the gauntlet.</p>
Ripple Effect<p>With the dam removals in the Cleveland National Forest nearing completion, Donnell says she's hoping to soon begin presenting her data and methodologies so others can learn from the project.</p><p>"We've definitely heard from other forests and other districts wanting to know how we went about it, because this is new," she says.</p><p>McClain says American Rivers has been sharing the project's success story because it's a good example of how to think holistically about managing water and restoration opportunities for aquatic ecosystems.</p>
San Juan Creek in the Cleveland National Forest shortly after a dam was removed. Julie Donnell / USFS<p>But it also makes sense fiscally. Why spend money maintaining dams we don't need?</p><p>"Even from a federal budget management perspective, we should be looking at where there may be projects on the federal books that are no longer serving a purpose," she says.</p><p>Thanks to the coordinated efforts in the San Juan watershed, southern steelhead will have a better chance of survival. But efforts to try and aid their recovery also have a larger benefit.</p><p>"We're not only restoring their environment, but also ours," Jacobson says. "We're actually improving the rivers overall."</p><p>And in the process, they may have established a model for mass dam removal across the country.</p>
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At the end of Oregon's legislative session, Republicans fled the state to kill a cap-and-trade bill designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, effectively killing 100 other pieces of legislation as the short legislative session expired. Now that the state house is in recess, the governor found a work around, signing a sweeping executive order to reduce carbon emissions to at least 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, as the AP reported.
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By Jodi Helmer
Each year, millions of tons of grain make their way along what was once one of our wildest river systems, the Columbia-Snake River. Four dams — the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor — erected between 1955 and 1975, ease the way for massive barges bound for ports on the West Coast, and ultimately, markets in Asia. Soybeans, wood products, mineral bulks, and automobiles also travel the river by barge. But outnumbering all other cargo is the soft white wheat grown by farmers from 11 states.
Construction of the Ice Harbor Dam in 1959. US Army Corps of Engineers<p>"When the dams went in, we closed down the rail lines, and, in doing so, barging was the only way to get our grain to market," Jones says. "We don't have the infrastructure to start using rail again, [and] we can't afford to pay another 50 cents a bushel to ship our grain."</p><p>Nevertheless, Jones acknowledges <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/columbia-snake-river-basin-salmon-are-losing-their-way" target="_blank">the steep toll the dams have taken on salmon</a> and is part of a bipartisan, multi-stakeholder coalition searching for fresh ideas to help save them — while supporting farmers, too. Its work is increasingly urgent: From populations numbering 130,000 fish in the 1950s, wild Snake River spring Chinook salmon <a href="https://www.wildsalmon.org/images/factsheets-and-reports/2017.Graphs.Snake.River.Adult.Returns.pdf" target="_blank">dropped to approximately 5,</a><a href="https://www.wildsalmon.org/images/factsheets-and-reports/2017.Graphs.Snake.River.Adult.Returns.pdf" target="_blank">800</a><a href="https://www.wildsalmon.org/images/factsheets-and-reports/2017.Graphs.Snake.River.Adult.Returns.pdf" target="_blank"> in 2017.</a> Thirteen populations are listed under the Endangered Species Act, and all four salmon and steelhead populations in the Snake River Basin are at risk of extinction, according to <a href="https://archive.fisheries.noaa.gov/wcr/publications/gis_maps/maps/salmon_steelhead/critical_habitat/wcr_salmonid_ch_esa_july2016.pdf" target="_blank">NOAA Fisheries</a>. The dwindling number of salmon is having ripple effects across the food chain. In Washington State, only 73 <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/tahlequahs-newborn-and-scarlet-gone-orca-advocates-race-save-their-kin" target="_blank">Southern Resident </a><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/tahlequahs-newborn-and-scarlet-gone-orca-advocates-race-save-their-kin" target="_blank">orcas</a> remain, due in part to the lack of Chinook salmon, their main prey. </p><p>In response, wildlife advocates are renewing calls to <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/giulia-cs-good-stefani/orca-task-force-report-call-action" target="_blank">restore the lower Snake River</a> by breaching the four dams. A <a href="https://nwenergy.org/featured/lsrdstudy/" target="_blank">recent report released by the NW Energy Coalition,</a> with support from NRDC, found that a mixed portfolio of solar, wind, energy efficiency, demand-response, and storage can replace the power the four Snake River dams contribute to the Northwest. Such a change would increase the system's reliability and cost ratepayers little to nothing. A free-flowing Snake River would also safeguard salmon from increasingly hot, even deadly, water temperatures, according to <a href="https://www.columbiariverkeeper.org/our-work-saving-salmon/fighting-cold-water%20Show%20less" target="_blank">modeling done by Columbia </a><a href="https://www.columbiariverkeeper.org/our-work-saving-salmon/fighting-cold-water%20Show%20less" target="_blank">Riverkeeper</a>. "We must break the political logjam around this issue. If we don't, the fish are cooked," says <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/giulia-cs-good-stefani" target="_blank">Giulia C.S. Good Stefani</a>, a senior attorney in NRDC's Nature Program.</p><p>"After looking at the science and economics, our coalition endorsed removing the four dams," says Sam Mace, inland Northwest project director of the nonprofit <a href="https://www.wildsalmon.org/about/save-our-wild-salmon-coalition.html" target="_blank">Save Our Wild Salmo</a><a href="https://www.wildsalmon.org/about/save-our-wild-salmon-coalition.html" target="_blank">n</a>. "It's not the only thing that needs to be done to restore the [salmon] runs to healthy, harvestable numbers, but it has to be the cornerstone of any plan that is going to be successful."</p>
Rethinking Infrastructure<p>The push to restore the river by removing the earthen portion of the dams has been controversial. More than half of U.S. wheat exports are shipped on the Columbia–Snake River system, making it the <a href="https://www.pnwa.net/factsheets/CSRS.pdf" target="_blank">top wheat export gateway in the nation</a> and the third largest in the world. As a result, farmers have the most to lose, according to Sam White, chief operating officer for <a href="http://www.pnw.coop/" target="_blank">Pacific Northwest Farmers </a><a href="http://www.pnw.coop/" target="_blank">Cooperative</a>.</p><p>"You've got people who say, 'Remove the dams at all costs; we want them out, we want to save our salmon,' and then you've got people who are using the river to move products saying, 'No, [the dams] are important to my livelihood,'" White says. "The closer you are to the river, the more economical it is to use the barge."</p><p>But White also estimates that just 40 percent of the region's crops are shipped via barge, down from a high of 80 percent a decade ago. Local farmers have diversified their crops, planting canola, peas, lentils and garbanzo beans, which are shipped through alternate ports reached via trucks or rail. And if rail transportation were built out further, Jones says, farmers like him might be able to abandon barge shipping altogether.</p><p>Already, there is some progress on this front, and models to follow elsewhere in the Columbia Basin, as with the McCoy grain terminal shuttle train loading facility near Oakesdale, Washington, <a href="https://dnews.com/local/new-grain-terminal-breaks-ground-in-mccoy/article_873342c6-1c7c-55b0-9cef-9450c050cc41.html" target="_blank">completed in 2013 with investment from agricultural groups</a>, including the Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative. "More companies are trying to make loop rail systems where they can store 100 [railcars] until they're filled with grain and could be economically shipped down to Portland," Jones says. "But that's going to mean building new rail lines or updating older rail lines. A lot of that depends on what finances are put in to [help] companies build rail lines, build storage capacity, and all the things necessary to be able to hold and ship grain."</p><p>Jones believes that offering farmers subsidies to help them adapt to the additional expenses of shipping their grain if dams are removed would be much cheaper than maintaining aging dams. With these supports in place, more farmers would be willing to make the shift, he posits, adding, "I'm pro-dam removal but we have to keep farmers whole."</p>
Spawning Solutions<p>After decades of disagreement, there seems to be a growing awareness on both sides that finding a compromise is essential. At the annual Environmental Conference at the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University in April, participants came together to discuss the theme, "Energy, Salmon, Agriculture, and Community: Can We Come Together?"</p><p>In his <a href="https://vimeo.com/334511830" target="_blank">lunchtime address</a>, Republican congressman Mike Simpson from Idaho acknowledged that the $16 billion investment in salmon recovery from Bonneville Power Administration, the government agency responsible for delivering electricity from the dams, wasn't working. "I am going to stay alive long enough to see salmon return to healthy populations in Idaho," he went on to say. "You cannot address the salmon issue without addressing dams…they are interwoven."</p><p>Good Stefani, who was a panelist at the conference, met with Simpson this past summer. He's been working with partners around the region, meeting with leaders and decision makers to discuss ways to identify solutions that work for both farmers and fishermen, should the dams come out. "Idaho has had abysmal salmon runs, and that's a huge problem, not just for the ecosystem," she said. "It's also an economic hit to the state. Family and local businesses have paid the price — all the way up the river from Lewiston to Orofino to Riggins to Challis to Salmon."</p><p>One official from Idaho's Department of Labor estimated that salmon and steelhead fishing brings in about <a href="https://billingsgazette.com/outdoors/steelhead-fishing-closure-hammers-idaho-economy/article_481f7f8c-7a85-5a7e-bf5c-029b53b9144f.html" target="_blank">$8.61 million per month</a> to Clearwater and Nez Perce counties alone. But in September, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission had to close all steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River and severely limit fishing on the Snake and Salmon rivers on account of the struggling population. These developments have the local outdoors industry deeply concerned. Last month, a group of <a href="https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2019/dec/08/idaho-outfitters-discuss-grim-salmon-steelhead-out/" target="_blank">about 60 Idaho outfitters and guides met</a> in the Clearwater River Casino near Lewiston to talk about the toll of the closures on their communities.</p><p>Idaho tribes, too, have paid incalculable costs. McCoy Oatman, vice chair of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, spoke as one of the panelists at the Boise conference. He reminded participants of the importance of salmon as a food source, saying, "we're past the 11th hour" for these fish. "We as tribal people know that."</p>
Taking the Long View<p>In Washington State, tribes and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/conservation">conservation</a> groups have ample experience in advocating for dam removal — and maintaining the patience to see their efforts through. Once the decision was made <a href="https://www.nps.gov/olym/learn/nature/elwha-ecosystem-restoration.htm" target="_blank">to </a><a href="https://www.nps.gov/olym/learn/nature/elwha-ecosystem-restoration.htm" target="_blank">remove</a><a href="https://www.nps.gov/olym/learn/nature/elwha-ecosystem-restoration.htm" target="_blank"> the Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam</a>, it took two decades before the final section of the dams were removed in 2014, but the impacts to the river ecosystem were immediate. <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0187742" target="_blank">Research</a> showed that habitats were restored; salmon, steelhead, and trout repopulated the river; and new species moved in.</p><p>Mace believes that sharing those success stories might lead more opponents of dam removal to reconsider their positions. "I have been trying to extend a hand and have conversations with some of the folks that have been traditionally opposed [to breaching the dams], to the communities who use the benefits of the dams, to see if we could come to some kind of understanding at least and see whether there would be a willingness to figure out some solutions," she says. "We are seeing people take more of a long view. They're realizing that the salmon crisis won't go away unless we take some bold actions."</p><p><span></span>In the meantime, Good Stefani takes heart in the dialogues being had at forums like the Boise conference. "When we talk face-to-face, we confront the uncomfortable fact that finding a solution is complicated and there is no villain here," she says. "We have to stop fighting about who has more to lose and start asking what everybody needs. We all want our kids to be able to float and fish these rivers, to know that increasingly rare kind of abundance."</p>
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By Adrienne Alvord
This week Oregon stands on the cusp of approving historic cap-and-invest legislation, HB 2020, that experts have said will help grow the Oregon economy. After three years of legislative consideration, numerous studies, hearings, public meetings and debate, the Oregon House approved the legislation decisively (36-22) on June 18th, and the bill moved to the Senate Floor, where a vote was expected on June 20th.
Oregon republicans fled their state rather than do anything to stop the climate crisis. The state republicans abrogated their duties as elected officials and ran away since they don't have the votes to stop a landmark bill that would make Oregon the second state to adopt a cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gas emissions, as Vice News reported.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
Oregon Department of Forestry<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f4e5fef36f8f9923538e0c4762ee0bc"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/oregondepartmentofforestry/photos/a.600573419961131/2483182925033495/?type=3&theater"></div></div>
By Simon Davis-Cohen
When the incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown defeated Republican Knute Buehler in a contentious race for Oregon's governorship, many in the state's climate movement let out a momentary sigh of relief. Brown had promised to "lead on climate" while Buehler had pledged his support for new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Now, residents are working to hold Governor Brown to task over what they see as the most pressing climate issue facing the state: the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal and its Pacific Connector Gas pipeline. Backed by the Canadian company Pembina Pipeline Corporation, the project would transport natural gas extracted via hydraulic fracturing (fracking) from Colorado to Oregon's coast, where it would be super-cooled into liquid form and loaded on ships to international markets.
By Shawn Olson-Hazboun and Hilary Boudet
A year after Washington state denied key permits for a coal-export terminal in the port city of Longview, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would proceed with its review—essentially ignoring the state's decision.
This dispute pits federal authorities against local and state governments. It's also part of a larger and long-running battle over fossil fuel shipments to foreign countries that stretches up the entire American West Coast.