By Governor Jay Inslee
Climate Week this year coincides with clear skies in Washington state for the first time in almost two weeks.
In just a few days in early September, Washington state saw enough acres burned – more than 600,000 – to reach our second-worst fire season on record. Our worst fire season came only five years ago. Wildfires aren't new to the west, but their scope and danger today is unlike anything firefighters have seen. People up and down the West Coast – young and old, in rural areas and in cities – were choking on smoke for days on end, trapped in their homes.
Fires like these are becoming the norm, not the exception.
That's because as the climate changes, our fires change. Climate scientists tell us that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current path, later this century the average year in Washington will eventually be warmer than the single hottest year of the 20th century. The heat leaves our land and vegetation dry and primed for ignition, with blazes for which our landscapes are not evolved to cope. We're seeing more acres burned, and more days with our state swathed in hazardous smoke and ash.
Rain, cooler weather, and heroic firefighting efforts have finally tamped down the fires and poor air quality; but the burn scars remain, and they are most acutely felt by those who lost homes, businesses, and loved ones in fires this year.
I have seen the chaos firsthand in recent visits to burned areas both east and west of the Cascade Mountains. As communities in Malden, Bonney Lake, and Graham, Washington, recover from the damage done this month, it's not enough for us as leaders to help our towns recover from one devastating event after another. We need a plan to stop these increasingly ferocious natural disasters from becoming uncontrollable. The situation demands that climate change be front and center in this plan – because it is the root and stem of the new challenges we face in disaster response.
While wildfires are the most recent, and some of the most visceral images of climate change, they are unfortunately just one manifestation of a climate crisis with far-reaching implications.
From the woods and prairies to the oceans, rivers and streams, we see the damaging effects of climate change. West Coast marine waters are acidifying at twice the global rate, our streams are becoming too warm to support salmon, and our agricultural productivity is falling as a result of record heat.
But we cannot give in to defeat and pessimism. This is not a lost cause.
There is broad consensus on what we need to do to slow and turn back the effects of human-driven climate change: all hands on deck for a global decarbonization that grows jobs and protects communities.
Every year, Climate Week gives us the opportunity to highlight this urgent need. But we need every week to be Climate Week. Given the science, knowledge and tools at our disposal, it is unacceptable that more has not been done to address the terrifying implications of climate change in the 21st century. We have no more time to waste.
We face a powerful oil and gas industry that has sunk its claws into Congress and numerous state governments, and a presidential administration backed by a major political party dedicated to protecting polluters and spreading lies and confusion about the science. On the flip side is the urgent and painfully clear scientific consensus, coupled with the fact that the majority of Americans support action now on climate change.
This is a battle that we can – and must – win, beginning with our votes in November.
And winning the fight won't just protect our communities from the dangerous effects of climate change. It will create enormous new economic opportunity.
The latest jobs report from E2, a national nonpartisan group of business leaders and investors focused on sustainable energy policies, shows there are already more than 3 million clean energy jobs in America today. If we can find the will to massively accelerate the development of renewable resources, we can create millions of more jobs.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that facts are stubborn things, and denial can be fatal. The federal government's failure to accept the reality of the Covid-19 crisis once again demonstrated why aloofness is no replacement for proactive leadership.
While we know this administration would be wise to change its destructive path – by bringing our country back into the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, by putting in place strong clean car standards, or by restoring key environmental protections razed by Trump's cronies – we know they won't. However, public opinion is clear even after years of misinformation and downright lies. There is not enough oil money in the world to stop the American people from rising up for what's right, and it's time to hit back.
Let this Climate Week be a reminder not merely of the long road ahead, but of our own power to make that journey together. Start now, so that in Climate Week 2021 we'll have a little less distance to cover.
This story originally appeared in Rolling Stone and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
As megafires devastated the entire West Coast of the U.S., Inslee rejected reference to wildfires since the word implies naturally occurring fires.
By contrast, the term climate fires explicitly links record-breaking blazes that have burned across California, Oregon and Washington to global heating caused by the burning of coal, oil and gas.
As California Governor Gavin Newsom inspected the ashen countryside in the county of Oroville in his home state, he doubled down on the source of the fires. "This is a climate damn emergency," he said.
The pointed link to climate has been partly a response to President's Donald Trump's insistence that poor forest management, not climate change, is to blame for the fires. Meanwhile, research shows barely 13% of broadcast news segments about the West Coast fires during their peak mentioned climate change.
'These Aren't Wildfires'
Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."
"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho.
In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015.
California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.
Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp— NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)1600440810.0
As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.
#climatefires Started in Australia
Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.
But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who played down the link to climate change, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate.
"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.
Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.
"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said
Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag.
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating
The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation.
"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote.
"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."
Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year.
Words That Reflect the Science
But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually."
It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, at least publicly. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having pulled out of the Paris Agreement and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline.
But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history.
Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election
The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."
Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East.
People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
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.
The plumes of smoke have pushed air quality to hazardous levels forcing residents to stay indoors. Now some of the dirtiest air on Earth is wafting along the Pacific Ocean from Los Angeles up to the Canadian border. Millions of people are at the mercy of merciless flames.
So far, well over 5 million acres have burned across California, Oregon, Washington State and neighboring Idaho. Many of the fires are still not under control and tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes and at least 27 people have died. Many of the survivors have nothing to come back to.
In August, California was pummeled by an incredible heat wave. Temperatures in Death Valley reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit, "possibly the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth," according to the New York Times.
Not surprisingly, up until now most of the talk has been about climate change and how the fires may impact the U.S. presidential election. On September 14, Joe Biden called Donald Trump a "climate arsonist." Ominously one day later, smoke from some of the fires was actually visible above Washington, D.C.
When the smoke finally clears, the economic impact of so much destruction will be at the top of many people's list.
Counting Up the Losses
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.
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.
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.
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.
Counting the Tourists
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?
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.
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.
Fear and Loathing in LA and Beyond
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.
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.
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 Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Higher insurance premiums for risky areas could help with these decisions.
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 beat COVID-19.
Not Out of the Woods
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 National Interagency Coordination Center. 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.
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.
"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.
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.
California Has Huge Economic Impact
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.
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.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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.
Those staggering numbers put Portland squarely in the number one position as having the world's worst air quality.
"It's as bad as a place can be," said Dr. Jennifer Vines, a Multnomah County Health officer. Portland is in Multnomah County.
Other large cities on the West Coast also made the top 10, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, which ranked third, sixth and eighth, respectively, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In Washington state, the air quality was so bad that the instruments used for reading air quality broke down, rejecting the numbers as unreliable, according to The New York Times.
Andy Wineke, a spokesman for the Washington Department of Ecology, said on Sunday that a handful of reading points had ceased reporting data because automated quality control checks said the astronomical readings meant the data was unreliable, according to The New York Times.
"There's some trigger in the quality-control check that said the sustained readings were high," Wineke said. Officials were trying to change the system to allow the data so it could be included on the state's air-monitoring maps.
The smoke from the wildfires made the air extremely dangerous and life-threatening for people with respiratory conditions. In some places, residents said they could not see more than 50 feet in front of them, according to The Washington Post. While residents were instructed to stay indoors, some were coughing and choking while inside.
"The sun doesn't seem to rise or set. The sky gets a little bit brighter and a little bit darker and that's how you know the day is starting or ending," said Eileen Quigley, founder and executive director of the Clean Energy Transition Institute in Seattle, as The Washington Post reported.
Vines told The New York Times that the health systems on the West Coast that are already strained by the coronavirus are seeing an uptick in people coming in who are having trouble breathing. Of course, the people most vulnerable to the insidious effects of the smoke are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus as well.
"It's just an unfortunate overlap," Vines said of the confluence of the virus and the fires, according to The New York Times.
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley told ABC News that he drove 600 miles up and down the Oregon coast and could not escape the smoke. In the same broadcast, Washington Governor Jay Inslee said, "We have a blowtorch over our states in the West, which is climate change."
The pall of smoke that has shrouded Portland and its surrounding areas has reduced visibility so much that it's dangerous to drive and difficult for rescue crews and fire services to navigate bridges and roads.
"Our challenges remain reduced visibility, limiting our aerial reconnaissance, and rapidly changing fire conditions," Clackamas County fire officials said in a statement Saturday, as The Washington Post reported.
Some moisture and rain is expected to bring relief Tuesday and dying winds raise hope that firefighters will soon be able to contain the blazes engulfing the West Coast, according to The Washington Post.
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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.
More than 100 major fires in California, Oregon and Washington have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes during a pandemic, destroyed entire towns and claimed at least 23 lives, USA Today reported Friday. The flames have charred more than three million acres in California alone, a record for the state, The New York Times reported.
While the individual fires have different causes, including a gender-reveal party, scientists agree that changes in the climate make larger fires like the ones burning now more likely. This is because warmer temperatures mean more extreme heat waves and drier air and vegetation, creating ideal conditions for fires to spread, as CBS News explained. While climate change can feel abstract and distant as a prediction, these seven photos of the West Coast fires make it devastatingly real.
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
People in Northern California looked out their windows Wednesday to a scene out of a science-fiction movie as the sky glowed orange. Clouds of smoke covering the state filtered the sun's light and energy, tinting skies and lowering temperatures, Al Jazeera reported. 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, ABC 7 News explained. The effect was so remarkable that Hillary Clinton shared the image above, taken in Oroville, on her Instagram. "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.
Creek Fire Destruction
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
The Creek Fire started on Friday, Sept. 4, just as large swaths of California were facing record-breaking heat for Labor Day weekend. 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 KABC in Los Angeles. So far, the fire has burned through 175,893 acres and was only 6 percent contained Thursday, according to the Fresno Bee. Cal Fire's statistics 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 CNN.
Mass Evacuations in Washington
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
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, The Seattle Times reported. 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 The News Tribune.
Animals Affected by Wildfires
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
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 National Geographic. 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 Vallejo Times-Herald, "Everything around him was incinerated." He added, "People are really afraid. And people are hurting because their animals are missing."
The Human Toll
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
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 deadliest and most destructive in the state's history. 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 The Mercury News 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 The Sacramento Bee. "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."
Communities Threatened and Destroyed in Oregon
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
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 BBC. 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."
Wildfires During a Pandemic
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
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 HuffPost. 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."
Note: This article has been updated to clarify that orange skies are being seen in areas of Northern California including Oroville and San Francisco.
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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.
The town of Malden in eastern Washington lost 80 percent of its structures including its fire station, post office, City Hall and library after a fast-moving blaze roared through on Monday, NPR reported.
"The scale of this disaster really can't be expressed in words," Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said in a statement reported by NPR. "The fire will be extinguished, but a community has been changed for a lifetime. I just hope we don't find the fire took more than homes and buildings. I pray everyone got out in time."
Per @PalouseNews these photos show the near total destruction of Malden, Wa. hit by an unbelievably fast wildfire j… https://t.co/1hQQAVp6ML— Zanders (@Zanders)1599523505.0
As of early Tuesday, there were no reports of injuries from the fire.
In the rest of Washington state, fires consumed more than 330,000 acres in a 24-hour period, fueled by strong winds and dry vegetation, NBC News reported.
"More acres burned yesterday than in 12 of the last entire fire seasons in the state of Washington," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a Tuesday press conference, as NBC News reported.
Yesterday, 330,000 acres burned in WA. That’s more than 12 of the last 18 entire fire seasons. In a single day. https://t.co/Op7UEfhTNA— Governor Jay Inslee (@Governor Jay Inslee)1599603875.0
The two largest fires burning in the state are the 174,000-acre Pearl Hill Fire, in Douglas County, and the 163,000-acre Cold Springs Fire near Omak. Neither was contained at all as of Tuesday's press conference. The Babbs-Malden Fire, the blaze that destroyed Malden, had spread to 8,943 acres and was also not contained.
West of the cascades, a fire burned through Graham, Washington Monday, destroying six homes and forcing around 100 people to evacuate, The Seattle Times reported.
"You didn't have time to pack clothes, it was like, get out, now," 55-year-old construction worker Tim VanBrocklin told The Seattle Times. "It was pretty nasty here, embers flying around our faces."
A drone shot capturing the destruction and devastation after a brush fire exploded overnight in #Graham. Firefighte… https://t.co/h043ssF4HM— Graham Fire & Rescue (@Graham Fire & Rescue)1599573628.0
The wind that drove the fires also carried their smoke into the Seattle area Monday night and Tuesday morning.
"It was so smoky you couldn't see across the water, you couldn't see the ferry boats coming across until the last few moments," Andy Lipscomb, who works in Seattle, told KOMO News Tuesday.
Puget Sound Clean Air Agency scientists predict that air quality in the area will remain at "unhealthy" or "unhealthy for sensitive groups" levels through Wednesday and possibly into Thursday as easterly winds continue to blow.
Smoke arrives. #wawx A short animation of satellite images late this afternoon (as downloaded from the excellent C… https://t.co/znJnvM1pdE— NWS Seattle (@NWS Seattle)1599528618.0
In neighboring Oregon, wildfires have prompted thousands to flee their homes, ABC News reported.
One of those people was Jody Evans of Detroit, Oregon.
"Fire on both sides, winds blowing, ash flying — it was like driving through hell," Evans told NewsChannel 21. "Did you lose everything, or is the only thing you saved yourself?"
There were 35 active fires burning more than 367,279 acres in the state, ABC News reported early Wednesday morning. The fires prompted Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to issue an emergency conflagration declaration. This frees up state resources to battle blazes too big for local crews to handle on their own, USA TODAY explained.
"This is proving to be an unprecedented and significant fire event for our state, and frankly for the entire West Coast," Brown said, as USA TODAY reported.
Listen up: We're in an unprecedented fire event. Several significant, growing fires across the state continue to sp… https://t.co/TVaCf3n7lQ— Governor Kate Brown (@Governor Kate Brown)1599605189.0
The climate crisis has increased fire risk in the Pacific Northwest.
"We can't attribute single fire events to climate change. But the trends in large fire events that have been occurring in the region are consistent with expected trends in a warming climate," University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences assistant professor Brian Harvey said in April.
Fires are encouraged by wetter winters that swell vegetation growth and drier summers that dry it out, creating more fuel, Washington state climatologist Nick Bond told The Seattle Times. This weather pattern is expected to increase as the climate warms.
Inslee, who ran for president with a campaign centered on climate action, acknowledged these changes.
"This is an unprecedented and heartbreaking event … We're living in a new world. This is not the old Washington," Inslee said Tuesday, as The Seattle Times reported. "A fire that you might've seen that was going to be OK over time isn't OK anymore because the conditions are so dry, they're so hot, they're so windy — because the climate has changed."
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
Over the next couple of weeks, crews will fully remove the 125-foot-wide, 25-foot-tall dam, allowing the Middle Fork Nooksack to run free for the first time in 60 years. With the dam's removal, 16 miles of river and tributary habitat will open up to help boost populations of three threatened Puget Sound fish species: Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
"This project has always ranked at the top of the list for fish recovery projects in this area because of the sheer number of miles of river habitat that are available upstream in a fairly remote and pristine area," says Renee LaCroix, assistant public works director for the city of Bellingham, which owns the dam. "There's no other single project in this area that can match this."
Two local tribes, the Nooksack and Lummi Nation, have been behind the effort to help restore fish passage and the river's ecological integrity.
"Our natural resources are our cultural resources," says Trevor Delgado, the Nooksack tribal historic preservation officer. "With this removal we get a little piece of our home back — a place where our people have visited for hundreds of generations."
LaCroix says the project has no downsides for the city, and it's expected to increase the resilience of the municipal water supply, remove a safety hazard for kayakers, help fish recovery and restore culturally significant resources for the tribes.
Proponents also hope to see indirect benefits for endangered Southern Resident killer whales. This population of orcas ranges across Pacific Northwest coastal waters and relies on dwindling numbers of Chinook as a main food source. Fewer than 80 of the whales remain, and Chinook populations have fallen so low that the orcas have started altering their traditional migration patterns as they search for fish to eat.
But even with the dam removal's many benefits and municipal and tribal support, the path to this moment hasn't been easy.
The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.
For generations the river and its surrounding habitat have physically and spiritually nourished Indigenous peoples — including the Nooksack Indian Tribe and the Lummi Nation.
But all that changed when the dam was built in in 1961 to divert water to the city of Bellingham to supplement its main water supply in Lake Whatcom — the drinking water for the now-85,000 residents in the city and county. As soon as it went up, the dam obstructed fish passage, altered the river's flow, and disrupted the ability of tribal members to use a culturally significant area.
For the past four decades, Delgado says, the Nooksack have pushed for dam removal. They got close in the early 2000s, when the Nooksack and Lummi Nation entered into an official agreement with the city and state to work on a solution that would allow fish passage, including the possible installation of fish ladders. But despite years of work, a suitable fix wasn't found, and the effort had completely stalled by 2016.
The following year the nonprofit American Rivers, which works on watershed restoration and has extensive experience in dam-removal efforts, stepped in with financial backing from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. American Rivers' April McEwan assumed a project management role and brought parties back to the table and soon into agreement on a plan to remove the dam and reengineer the city's water intake from the river.
"What we know about dam removal is that if you can remove the infrastructure and restore the channel to natural conditions, that's always the best way to get fish passage," says McEwan.
The final cost of the project came in at around $20 million — way more than the city could afford on its own. About half of the cost eventually came from the state and the city is collaborating with federal agencies on the distribution of another $2 million in Pacific Salmon Treaty funds. But before applying for that money, the city had to complete costly initial design and permitting work. Private foundations — largely the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, along with Resources Legacy Fund — picked up 70% of those initial costs.
LaCroix says help from American Rivers and the foundations was hugely important in getting the project "shovel ready" so it could apply for the construction funds it needed.
Removing the dam infrastructure was just part of the cost, though. Reworking the city's water intake also required some tricky engineering.
A Plan Comes Together
The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.
Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.
They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.
"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham
Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.
"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."
Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River, a major tributary of the Columbia River.
Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.
Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.
Most notably the 1999 demolition of Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.
The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record 90 dams were removed in 26 states, including 20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest.
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS
The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of two dams on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack
McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.
Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.
The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.
"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.
Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.
That could help Southern Resident killer whales.
"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.
Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.
Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.
"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.
But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.
"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."
After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Akito Y Kawahara
Editor's note: According to recent press reports, two Asian giant hornets – a species not known to occur in North America – were found in northwest Washington state in late 2019, and a hornet colony was found and eliminated in British Columbia. Now scientists are trying to determine whether more of these large predatory insects are present in the region. Entomologist Akito Kawahara explains why headlines referring to "murder hornets" are misleading.
1. How Common Are These hornets in Asia, and How Much Alarm Do They Cause?
The Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is fairly common in many parts of Asia, where it is called the "Giant hornet." Growing up in Japan, I saw them relatively frequently in the mountains outside of Tokyo.
These insects are large and distinctive, with a characteristic orange head and black-banded orange body. Like any other social wasp, they will defend their nest if the colony is disrupted. But in most cases they will not do anything if people aren't aggressive toward them.
Giant hornets have longer stingers than a honeybee's, and hornets do not break off their stingers when they sting. Because hornet stingers can puncture thick clothing, people should avoid hornets and their nests whenever possible.
Giant hornets frequently are attracted to tree sap: I was stung by one when I was looking for butterflies on trees. The sting is painful, but the swelling and pain in most cases subside in a few days.
Just as with honey bee stings, an allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, can occasionally put people in the hospital. In rare cases, severe reactions can become fatal. But wasp and hornet stings killed less than 13 people a year in 2017 and 2018 in Japan – less than 0.00001% of the national population – in a country where many people spend time in the woods.
If you are allergic to bee and wasp stings, it is best to avoid getting close to these insects and their nests, wear white clothing outdoors (they are attracted to dark colors), and avoid carrying open-top sweet drinks such as sodas in the woods.
2. Are You Surprised That the Hornets Have Appeared in North America?
To some degree, yes. Most likely, a single, fertile queen hornet entered Canada via shipping packaging and created the colony that was discovered in 2019.
It's easy for invasive species to travel this way. More than 19,000 cargo containers arrive daily at U.S. ports, and inspectors can only do random searches of shipping containers. One estimate suggests that just 2% of shipments are searched for evidence of harmful organisms such as plant pests. Many invasive species are intercepted, but some do get through.
It's very unlikely that an entire colony of hornets was transferred to North America. Colonies of this hornet are often large, and the hornets would be visible and potentially aggressive if their nest were disturbed.
A genetic test indicated that one of the hornets found in Washington was not related to the Canadian colony, but those results have not been published or peer reviewed. The Giant hornet has not been found in 2020 in either the U.S. or Canada.
Four wasp and hornet species often confused with the Giant hornet. Upper left: European hornet (Vespa crabro). Upper right: Common aerial yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arenaria). Lower left: European paper wasp (Polistes dominula). Lower right: Baldfaced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). gailhampshire (upper left), Gilles Gonthier (upper right), Judy Gallagher (bottom images), all via Flickr, CC BY
3. What Kind of Conditions Do These Insects Need to Live?
Giant hornets are fairly common in mountainous regions of Asia, but they're not often seen in large cities or highly urbanized areas. They usually nest at the base of large trees and inside dead logs. The fact that they can't tolerate extremely hot or cold temperatures makes it unlikely that they would spread to very hot or cold areas of North America.
If active colonies are discovered in 2020 in the Pacific Northwest, which has a more temperate climate, it's possible that they could spread there. However, it is unlikely that this would happen quickly, as foraging ranges of Vespa are only about 2,300 feet (700 meters) from their nest.
The key to prevent spread is surveillance. Anyone in the Pacific Northwest should be alert for Giant hornets while they are outdoors this summer and fall.
4. If More Hornets Are Found, Could They Threaten Honeybees and Other Pollinators?
Possibly. Some media posts have described destruction of honeybee nests by what could have been Giant hornets, but honeybees are not these insects' only prey. The hornets feed on different kinds of insects, and bring captured dead prey back to their hive to feed to their young.
In Japan, beekeepers surround their hives with wire screen nets to protect them from hornets. North American beekeepers can replicate these with wire netting from local hardware stores.
Many honeybees in Asia have the ability to protect their hive from intruding Giant hornets by scorching them. They wait for a hornet to enter their nest, then mob it by surrounding it completely with their bodies. Each honeybee vibrates its wings, and the combined warming of honey bee bodies raises the temperature in the center of the cluster to 122 degrees F (50 degrees C), killing the hornet. Carbon dioxide levels in the nest also increase during this process, which contributes to the hornet's death.
5. Are News Stories About “Murder Hornets” Overreacting?
Yes, very much so. In parts of Japan, people consider these hornets beneficial because they remove pests, such as harmful caterpillars, from crops. They are also thought to contain nutrients, and have been used as ingredients in Japanese food and some strong liquors. Some people believe the hornets' essence has medicinal benefits.
People who live in Vancouver, Seattle or nearby should certainly take note of what these insects look like. They are 2 inches long or more, with a 3-inch wingspan, and have distinctly orange heads and broad striped orange and black-banded abdomens. That's different from typical North American hornets, which have yellow or white bodies with black marks.
In the unlikely case that you see a Giant hornet in Washington state, do not try to remove nests yourself or spray hornets with pesticides. Cutting down trees to prevent nesting sites is also unnecessary, and can affect many other kinds of native wildlife, including beneficial insects that are needed for pollination and decomposition. Many native insects are declining globally, and it's important to make sure these insects are not affected.
Instead, take a photo from a distance and report it to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Photos are essential to verify that identifications are accurate.
Consider also uploading your images to iNaturalist, which is one of the primary sources for information on tracking wildlife. The images are archived and carry data, such as location, time of observance and the insect's morphological features, that scientists can use for research.
Akito Y Kawahara is an Associate Professor and Curator of Insects at Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida.
Disclosure statement: Akito Y Kawahara does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Washington State has seen a slowdown in the infection rate of the novel coronavirus, for now, suggesting that early containment strategies have been effective, according to the Seattle NBC News affiliate.
While Seattle was the early epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., the number of deaths and positive cases there has started to slow down. The number of positive COVID-19 cases continued to rise — however, slower than in other states — as there 568 new cases on Sunday, bringing the state's total to 4,896, with a death toll of 195, up six from Saturday, according to The Seattle Times.
While 37 of the first 50 coronavirus deaths happened in Seattle, the state has kept its streets empty, its businesses shuttered, and its hospitals from being overwhelmed. Statistical models have shown state officials that the virus is decreasing its spread recently. The model showed that each infected person was spreading the virus to an average of 2.7 other people earlier in March, but that number appears to have declined down 1.4, according to one projection, as The New York Times reported.
"It's a small reduction in the rate of increase, but a glimmer of hope," Gov. Jay Insee said, as the Seattle NBC News affiliate reported. "[I]f you look at the line you have some slight reduction in the rate of acceleration, the curve. And we've all heard about turning down the curve."
The new data and new projections were put together by the Institute for Disease Modeling, a private research group in Bellevue, Wash., that has been watching a variety of data points since the onset of the outbreak. While the initial projections are positive, officials exercised an abundance of caution before expressing optimism, since the data is slightly uncertain, according to The New York Times. Expansive social distancing will continue for some time.
Officials in Washington State first began to ask residents to keep their distance from one another at the end of February. That is when they learned several people had the virus in the Seattle area with no known exposure or history of foreign travel. That was followed by an outbreak at a suburban nursing home, which led to dozens of deaths, according to The New York Times.
"We made a huge impact — we slowed the transmission," Seattle's mayor, Jenny Durkan, said in an interview, as The New York Times reported. However, she was clear that lifting restrictions would cause the number of cases to rise quickly. She predicted that social distancing in one form or another will continue for several months.
"There is evidence that doing the aggressive measures can have a benefit," Inslee said in an interview, as The New York Times reported.
Inslee has heard from some residents that the actions taken to reduce the spread of coronavirus, including the stay-at-home order, are overly restrictive, damaging to the economy and not necessary.
"We are only in the first two weeks and people need to understand that order may need to be extended," he said, as the Seattle NBC News affiliate reported. "We cannot allow this virus to be slowed, then spring back upon us. We've got to pound it and pound it 'till it's done."
The governor added that the way for the economy to recover— including reopening the bars, restaurants, hair salons, construction sites and other day-to-day business — is to get rid of the virus.
"There's no way we can have an economy and have it ravaging us for years," according to the Seattle NBC News affiliate.
"It would be grossly irresponsible to stop these measures now," Mr. Inslee said as The New York Times reported.
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Removing one gigantic dam can have a massive effect on restoring a river ecosystem.
But bringing down more than 80 smaller dams? That can also cause a transformation.
This spring the Forest Service, aided by U.S. Marine Corps members, will blast apart 13 more dams in the Trabuco ranger district in Southern California's Cleveland National Forest.
It's the last phase of a groundbreaking project that began more than five years ago to remove a total of 81 dams from four streams in the mountains of Orange County.
"Nobody's really taken on a project this large and with this many partners and methods," says Forest Service fish biologist Julie Donnell, who's been working on the project.
The mammoth undertaking is designed to help boost populations of native aquatic species — most importantly Southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), which are federally listed as endangered.
It may also be a crucial learning tool due its sheer scope. Last year an estimated 90 dams were removed across the country, and nearly a quarter of those were in the Cleveland National Forest. That makes what's happening in California the place to watch as organizations plan for other multi-dam removal efforts around the country.
"Looking at what the Forest Service did is a really smart way for other agencies to begin to think about their infrastructure," says Serena McClain, the director of river restoration at the nonprofit American Rivers, which tracks dam-removal efforts. "The Forest Service is showing that the federal government can lead on this and demonstrate the possibility for the private sector and municipalities."
In addition to the work in the national forest itself, the ecological success of the project hinges on a downstream effort to remove two more barriers that prevent steelhead from reaching the forest as they migrate from the ocean.
The two projects have brought together a diverse, and unlikely, coalition of transportation departments, federal agencies, environmental nonprofits, local governments, and even the U.S. Marine Corps to help complete an ocean-to-headwaters restoration of more than 35 miles.
"This addresses one of the major threats to endangered southern steelhead," says Sandra Jacobson, the South Coast regional director of California Trout, which is leading the downstream effort. "Once you open up the rivers, it allows a tremendous change in the accessibility of steelhead to their historical habitat so that they can go in and reproduce."
A Group Effort
Large dam removals, like those on the Klamath River in California and Oregon, or the hotly debated Snake River dams in Washington, get lots of media attention. But smaller dam removals are quietly happening all across the country.
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.
That's the story in the Cleveland National Forest, too.
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.
Most of these original dams would likely have washed away over time, but in the Cleveland National Forest, Orange County increased the size of the dams using native rock and mortar from the 1940s through the mid-1970s. Gates were lowered in the spring and raised in the fall to control the flow of the rivers. The impounded water was used mostly for fish stocking and recreation and was also available for fire suppression.
But eventually, Winter says, the dams aged, and the county got tired of maintaining them. Many washed out in storms. A few were removed in the 1980s by the county, and the gates were taken out of the remaining dams. Most fell back under Forest Service jurisdiction.
In recent years it became clear that some of the dams posed safety hazards and impeded fish migration. As part of a federal recovery effort to recover populations of endangered southern steelhead, a plan was developed to remove the 81 dams in the San Juan watershed on Upper San Juan Creek, Trabuco Creek, Holy Jim and Silverado Creek.
Projects of this scope require environmental assessments under the National Environmental Protection Act. Because the Forest Service had the forethought to take a watershed view of the project from the get-go they only needed to complete one environmental assessment for the removal of the whole kit and caboodle, which helped make the permitting process more efficient.
With that in place, the dam-removal work began in December 2014. The project has a $1.2 million price tag, but the majority of funding hasn't come from the Forest Service itself.
Before and after dam removal on San Juan Creek in the Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell / USFS
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.
"People are really pretty enthused about removing dams," says Winter.
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.
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.
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.
They're also a key indicator species, says Jacobson. "When they disappear, that means there are probably multiple issues within a watershed."
In the San Juan, dams are one of them.
Endangered Southern California steelhead spawning in Maria Ygnacio Creek in Santa Barbara County, Calif. Mark H. Capelli / WCR / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
"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."
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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."
A Connected Watershed
As groundbreaking as the Cleveland National Forest's efforts are, the benefits for steelhead hinge on the downstream initiative.
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.
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.
The second barrier sits a half-mile downstream, where another 20-foot drop under a bridge for the Metrolink regional railway poses an insurmountable roadblock for steelhead.
To solve both of these problems, California Trout is leading the multiagency design effort for a technical fish passage that will enable steelhead to navigate these obstacles using staggered weirs. At the I-5 obstacle, an additional fish transport channel will provide steelhead with an express lane to avoid the flood control channel and pass under the array of bridges.
The organization is working with fellow nonprofit Trout Unlimited, as well as Orange County's flood control district and public works office, the city of San Juan Capistrano, California Department of Transportation, and the Metrolink railroad association.
"We just received funding to complete the design," says Jacobson. The fish passages are expected to be completed around 2023 to 2025.
It's one part of a larger regional effort by the South Coast Steelhead Coalition, which consists of more than 35 organizations working to recover stable populations of the species in Southern California. Removing barriers to fish passage is a key element of the strategy, as are ensuring adequate water quantity and quality and removing nonnative species that compete for limited resources.
But there's one more objective: helping native rainbow trout. These resident trout are the same species as steelhead, but with a different life history — they don't migrate to the ocean. Since steelhead have been blocked from the upstream waters for nearly a century, resident trout populations have suffered from genetic isolation.
Only two resident trout populations remained in the region and one had to be emergency evacuated by a bucket brigade following the Holy Fire in 2018, which burned across the forest and threatened the water quality in the streams.
The removal of all the stream barriers — on and off the forest — will provide an opportunity for aquatic species to be more resilient. The wildfire is a perfect example of why that's needed, says Jacobson.
"It really gives the aquatic species the mobility they need to move around in response to drought, floods and wildfires," she says. "It's good for all sorts of species, too, not just fish."
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.
"We've definitely heard from other forests and other districts wanting to know how we went about it, because this is new," she says.
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.
San Juan Creek in the Cleveland National Forest shortly after a dam was removed. Julie Donnell / USFS
But it also makes sense fiscally. Why spend money maintaining dams we don't need?
"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.
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.
"We're not only restoring their environment, but also ours," Jacobson says. "We're actually improving the rivers overall."
And in the process, they may have established a model for mass dam removal across the country.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Bottled water manufacturers looking to capture cool, mountain water from Washington's Cascade Mountains may have to look elsewhere after the state senate passed a bill banning new water permits, as The Guardian reported.
The state, with its glacier-fed springs and rainforests, will become the first state in the country to put a total ban on new bottling operations looking to plunder the state's natural resources. The proposal is one of several in the works in Washington to protect local groundwater and to fend off the growing bottled-water industry, as the Tribune News Service reported.
The bill, once signed into law, will go into effect retroactively and apply to all new permits filed after Jan. 1, 2019, according to The Guardian.
"Washington State is carving the path towards a groundbreaking solution," said Mary Grant, the director of Food & Water Action's public water for all campaign, in a statement, as The Guardian reported. "This legislation … would ban one of the worst corporate water abuses – the extraction of local water supplies in plastic bottles shipped out of watersheds and around the country."
Across the country, local activists have warned that bottling companies are taking their water almost for free and then shipping it elsewhere, leaving local aquifers depleted.
"I was jolted to the core to realize the depth and breadth and magnitude of how they have lawyered up in these small towns to take advantage of water rights," said Washington state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who sponsored the bill to ban bottling companies from extracting groundwater, as the Tribune News Service reported. "The fact that we have incredibly loose, if virtually nonexistent, policy guidelines around this is shocking and a categorical failure."
One of the jolting actions was revealed in leaked emails after Crystal Geyser planned to open a bottling plant near Mount Rainier. Locals feared that the company's plan to pump 400 gallons a minute from the site would lead to dry wells. In emails, Crystal Geyser mounted a legal campaign to sue the local subdivision opposing the plant and then it intended to conduct an underground public relations campaign to garner support for their proposal, as the Tribune News Service reported.
"Pumping water out of the ground, putting it in plastic bottles and exporting it out of the state of Washington is not in the public interest," said Craig Jasmer, a leader of the Lewis County Water Alliance, the group that sprung up to oppose the Randle plant and has pushed for the statewide ban, as the Tribune News Service reported.
Crystal Geyser has recently proven its disdain for public safety. Last month, the company pleaded guilty to storing toxin-laden wastewater in arsenic in eastern California, and then delivering the water to treatment plants without disclosing its hazard, as The Guardian reported.
The Environmental Priorities Coalition, a network of groups including Americans Rivers, Audubon, and Sierra Club Washington State, advanced the legislation on its highest priorities list, saying it would stop "new water bottling plants from proliferating in Washington state, effecting small rural community water supplies necessary for both agriculture and threatened salmon species," as Common Dreams reported.
"Washington's waters belong to the people of Washington," said the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, according to Common Dreams. "There has been an increasing number of proposals to locate commercial water bottling plants in Washington. These plants would allow Washington's water to be taken for the benefit of corporations and users outside of the local area, perhaps out-of-state."
The Guardian noted that the tide is turning against bottle-water manufacturers, with bills also introduced in Michigan and Maine, and local measures introduced in Oregon and Montana.
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The Washington Department of Ecology responded to an oil spill that took place Friday night when a Crowley Maritime Barge was transferring five million gallons of oil to the Shell Puget Sound Refinery, CNN reported.
Around 20 gallons spilled, of which five entered the water, and that oil was contained within an area that was boomed before the transfer began. The cleanup was completed by 8:30 a.m. Sunday, the department said.
"There were no impacts to the shoreline or wildlife," department spokeswoman Cheryl Ann Bishop told CNN in an email.
The spill occurred at around 11:45 p.m. in Anacortes, Washington, according to the department. The barge was transferring an Alaska North Slope crude-oil blend at the end of a pier that extends into Fidalgo Bay when crew members saw oil spilling from the barge, The Seattle Times reported.
An oil sheen was visible on the water inside the containment boom, which covered an area of 225 by 30 feet, roughly the size of a tennis court.
The amount of oil is still unknown but there is a crude oil sheen on the water inside the containment boom covering… https://t.co/Yp4D3v3AVJ— WA Dept of Ecology (@WA Dept of Ecology)1573916688.0
Washington state law requires that containment booms be put in place before transferring oil over water as a preventative measure, and Bishop told CNN that the law was one reason the spill was so successfully contained and cleaned.
"In this case, it was pre-boomed, as it's supposed to be," Ty Keltner, the Department of Ecology's communications manager for spill response, told The Seattle Times.
The crew identified the cause of the spill as a pressure relief valve that was then secured, stopping the spill.
"No oil in the water is acceptable for any of us who do this kind of work," Suzanne Lagoni, deputy public information officer for Shell Puget Sound Refinery, told KOMO News. "It's not acceptable to the people of Washington or to the people of Anacortes."
Shell said that there were no injuries as a result of the spill, and that it did not impact air quality, The Seattle Times reported.
The Shell refinery where the spill took place was opened in 1958 and was originally owned by Texaco. It currently processes around 5.7 million gallons of crude oil from Alaska and Central and Western Canada daily.
The risk of more oil spills is one reason why environmental advocates and indigenous groups oppose the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, which would lead to a seven-fold increase in the number of oil tankers moving through the Salish Sea between Washington State and British Columbia, according to Earthjustice.
"The Tulalip Tribes are extremely disappointed with Prime Minister Trudeau's approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline," Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin told Earthjustice after the approval was announced in June. "We face the very real threat of an oil spill that puts the Salish Sea at risk. We will continue to oppose this and other projects that threaten our ancestral waters in the Salish Sea."