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.
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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."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>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."</p><p>"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. </p><p>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. </p><p>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.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>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.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>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 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>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.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>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. </p><p>"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. </p><p>"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."</p><p><span></span>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. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>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." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>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. </p><p>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.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>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."</p><p>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. </p><p>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."</p>
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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>
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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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.
The History<p>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.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"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.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>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.</p><p>"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."</p>
Restoration Success<p>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 <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>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.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> 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.</p><p>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 <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>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 <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> 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.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"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.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>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.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"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."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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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?<p>The Asian giant hornet (<em>Vespa mandarinia</em>) 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p>
2. Are You Surprised That the Hornets Have Appeared in North America?<p>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.</p><p>It's easy for invasive species to travel this way. More than 19,000 cargo containers <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/policing-americas-ports-108008881/" target="_blank">arrive daily at U.S. ports</a>, and inspectors can only do random searches of shipping containers. One estimate suggests that just <a href="https://www.ncrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/jrnl/2001/nc_2001_haack_004.pdf" target="_blank">2% of shipments</a> are searched for evidence of harmful organisms such as plant pests. Many invasive species are intercepted, but some do get through.</p><p>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.</p><p>A genetic test indicated that one of the hornets found in Washington was <a href="https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2020/05/06/murder-hornets-invade-headlines-not-us" target="_blank">not related to the Canadian colony</a>, 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.</p>
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?<p>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 <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/25008806" target="_blank">cold temperatures</a> makes it unlikely that they would spread to very hot or cold areas of North America.</p><p>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 <em>Vespa</em> are only <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185172" target="_blank">about 2,300 feet (700 meters) from their nest</a>.</p><p>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.</p>
4. If More Hornets Are Found, Could They Threaten Honeybees and Other Pollinators?<p>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.</p><p>In Japan, beekeepers surround their hives with <a href="https://shop.r10s.jp/diokasei/cabinet/suzume/imgrc0068904247.jpg" target="_blank">wire screen nets</a> to protect them from hornets. North American beekeepers can replicate these with wire netting from local hardware stores.</p><p>Many honeybees in Asia have the ability to protect their hive from intruding Giant hornets by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2007.07.033" target="_blank">scorching them</a>. 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.</p>
5. Are News Stories About “Murder Hornets” Overreacting?<p>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 <a href="https://www.splendidtable.org/story/the-japanese-tradition-of-raising-and-eating-wasps" target="_blank">Japanese food and some strong liquors</a>. Some people believe the hornets' essence has medicinal benefits.</p><p>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 <a href="https://extension.psu.edu/asian-giant-hornets" target="_blank">3-inch wingspan</a>, 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.</p><p>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 <a href="https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-ento-011019-025151" target="_blank">declining globally</a>, and it's important to make sure these insects are not affected.</p><p>Instead, take a photo from a distance and report it to the <a href="https://agr.wa.gov/departments/insects-pests-and-weeds/insects/hornets" target="_blank">Washington State Department of Agriculture</a>. Photos are essential to verify that identifications are accurate.</p><p>Consider also uploading your images to <a href="https://www.inaturalist.org/" target="_blank">iNaturalist</a>, 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. </p>
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.
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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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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.
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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.
A massive winter storm dumped snow on the midwest Friday, killing at least nine, before moving east to bring snow and freezing rain to the Mid-Atlantic and the Carolinas Saturday and Sunday, AccuWeather reported.
"We have a strong snowstorm that's stretching 1,400 miles from Kansas to the East Coast," CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said. "St. Louis is seeing its worst snowstorm in five years. We're going to see a significant snow event for the mid-Atlantic to start the year for 2019."