Tuesday, July 9, 2013

News & Views

For months now, I've been sorta tinkering with a rather large, educational blog post about how rivers work, and haven't been able to tie it up in a nice little bow, and I've been kicking around the idea of a big post on biomagnification and how that works, but haven't made any progress. I've realized these larger projects are just keeping me from writing, and the blog begs for more attention than that. I know I don't have a lot of actual loyal readers, but I want to write more than I actually am anyway, so here goes.

My news feed is what prompted this post. I got a slew of articles to poke through in my inbox, and I noticed a theme tying three of them together. It was pretty disturbing, actually, but the kicker in the third article is what made me decide to post.

First was this piece about the drought hitting the Klamath Basin, and how it's affecting the wildlife refuge there. Turns out the allocation of water between the tribal, ranching, and other interests in the area, doesn't leave a lot for the wildlife refuge. Since there aren't any officially endangered species there that require water be set aside for them, the 54,000 acres of refuge are likely to stay dry until the fall rains hit, which means a major part of the Pacific Flyway is not going to function as a wetland.when it needs to for all the migratory birds that could really use a pit stop on their long trip.

The next article was this one about coal exports, and the big crowds expected to protest at the DEQ office meeting today (Tuesday, July 9th). DEQ only wants public comments narrowly focused on the technical role of their permits and what they can authorize in one place, but the public is concerned about all the much larger issues related to exporting energy, to the global warming effects of all that coal being burned regardless of where it gets burned, and to the myriad issues related to transporting all that coal across large swaths of the country to get it to an export terminal. Even the Army Corps of Engineers is refusing to look at region-wide effects. Are they abdicating their authority? Shouldn't someone be responsive to the very clear will of the people in this?

The last was an article about how scientists are warning of bigger and badder forest fires. It talks about how the average fire s now 5 times bigger than it was in the 80's, and how all the scientific modelling doesn't predict the crazy huge blazes we've seen because all the models are based on historical data, and the conditions have changed. But what really got me was the irony of the ad placement. 


In case that isn't displaying right, the highlighted text says: 
Along with an extended drought and wild weather extremes, fire profilers have to take into account a new, explosive fuel type on the Western landscape: houses. By the Forest Service’s reckoning, nearly one-third of the homes now built in the United States are on the fringe of settled areas, where timber and chaparral meet stucco and cul-de-sacs.

These houses in fire-prone zones are referred to by some fire professionals as suicide subdivisions, and their popularity drives up the cost and complication of firefighting.
And the big red arrow points at an ad for a new housing development in Madras, Oregon, which is in a fairly dry part of the state, and located east of Mt. Jefferson.

Suicide Subdivisions, indeed. I wish someone had put that ad there on purpose, but I know it tends to just be electrons shuffled into place almost at random according to some ad allocation algorithm. If you visit the link, it looks like someone decided to take it down, though. Smart, if a little too late for me to catch a screen capture. Just HAD to share.

Anyway, I saw these three articles and it worried me how often these days we're seeing stories that are so connected, yet so rarely are the connections drawn. Seeing themes like this in the news will be an everyday occurrence very soon, and the juxtaposition of "more development, more coal, more new neighborhoods" against the global warming-related problems of "bigger fires, drier wildlife preserves, agricultural challenges" will seem an everyday thing. Our natural resources are scarce and delicate, and we're not treating them that way.


  1. One of the students in my current masters program worked their thesis on the latter topic of Wildfires. It was a pretty interesting read.


    I put the link to if you're interested.

    It made me think of clearing brush from our friends' houses in San Diego back in 2003 or 2004 to prevent them from burning down.

  2. Thanks! I'll give it a read. "Using Mobile Mapping for Wildfire Mitigation" sounds pretty cool. I pray the tech develops to keep things like the recent tragedy in Arizona from happening again.

    I get that we need more houses for more people, and that's not going to change, but our practices should in so many ways. How we develop, where, all that. SubUrban sprawl is really having some nightmarish consequences.

  3. Loyal reader here. The timing of this post comes as the Spring Mountains, which lie just to the west of my Las Vegas home, are my favorite place to hike and are some of the only true greenstuffs in a 100-mile radius,have been burning for more than a week. Lightning caused the fire, and some 12,000 acres are already gone. Full containment is not expected until at least July 17. New-ish housing lies at the base of the mountains, and residents are complaining about ash falling in their yards and the smell of burning forest on the air. But no one is talking about why the fire is so bad, why it's so hard to contain, or the impact these types of fires will have on the future. I am sad about all of this.

    1. Thanks for reading, and for commenting. I agree that there needs to be a bigger discussion about the why, and more work needs to go to addressing the problem with more than incident-by-incident band-aids. The problem is not an individual fire, the problem is not an individual housing development; the problem is much bigger than these things.