SciSun: Taking it to Eleven   Leave a comment

As the summer heat grows hotter, the drought effecting much of the west is worsening. Livestock, trees, and wildlife are suffering, with thousands of acres of forests dying and animals becoming desperate, their search for food and water overpowering their fear of humans and resulting in more human/wildlife conflicts that are dangerous for both the humans, and the animals. In any year these events can lead to a strain on all involved, but this year, as conditions continue to deteriorate with little relief in sight, it seems things are only going from bad to worse. It may not be the apocalypse (next: Zombies!? Or maybe just really bad movies about zombies); but now, even the systems we all depend upon are being stressed to their extreme.

In a rare event, the National Fire Preparedness Level has been raised to its highest rating, indicating things are, literally, as bad as they can be. Or at least, as bad as anyone imagined when they created the fire rating system. With over 6.4 million acres of wildlands already burned in the US this year, and thousands of acres currently on fire and threatened by spreading flames, this summer could be one of the most fire-scarred in recent history. Level 5 – the highest rating, for the lowest point conceived, is put into effect when 80% or more of all fire crews, emergency teams, and other resources are actively fighting existing blazes, and there are few resources remaining to combat any new situations that may arise. Stretched to their limit, Forest Service fire-fighting aircraft can’t keep up with their need and US Air Force C-130 transport planes have been outfitted with fire-fighting suppressant and water tanks. If the conditions worsen, Canadian fire-fighting units might be called upon to help fight our Western fires – while still keeping a watch on their own forests and grasslands, which are as dry and vulnerable as they are in the US.

Preparing for an upcoming TV awards show, technicians mix a batch of, actually this is the portable emergency fire system being readied for use by the Air Force C-130 in the background.

Preparing for an upcoming TV awards show, technicians mix a batch of SLIME…no, actually this is the portable emergency fire system being readied for use by the Air Force C-130 in the background.

And as more fires burn, costs of fighting these fires rise, ironically taking away money originally intended for fire prevention and education that would help stop or ease the effects of the major wildfires, that are now taking so much money and resources to fight! It’s a continuing spiral in which, under current conditions, no one can benefit. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are the two federal agencies with most control, and responsibility, for land in much of the Western US, where in some areas the federal government owns more land than any other organization or individual. Like any land owner, government departments must take care of their land – in this case, for the benefit and use of the people of the US; and this includes everything from licensing ranching and mining operations; providing recreation and public activities; maintaining roads, buildings, trails, and campgrounds; monitoring, researching and protecting wildlife including endangered species; environmental education; and of course, fire prevention and fire fighting. Each year the budget for these departments is distributed among the different responsibilities; but during emergencies money has to be moved from one area to another to cover all expenses, resulting in what was an ‘adequate’ budget for, say, public recreation is sacrificed and put toward transporting fire-crews hundreds of miles; or the education budget is slashed to pay for more fire-retardant, replace worn-out equipment, and hire more firefighters. (Though often mistaken – probably because of the ranger hat – Smokey the Bear works for the Forest Service, not the National Parks). To date the USFS has already committed, from other areas, $500 million over its original fire-fighting budget, and for the first time in years over 50% of the entire Forest Service budget has already been spent, the majority of that on fighting this seasons’ disastrous wildfires.

Which means that during most of the year, when the risk of fire is low and efforts should be directed to fire prevention activities such as removing dead trees and clearing brush; maintaining fire-access roads and monitoring equipment; and providing public education and information on fire prevention, the money to pay for these activities – and for the Forest Service workers to do the jobs – isn’t available, and the cycle of not-enough-now, and even-less-later continues into next fire season. (Before his job is cut, maybe Smokey should think about applying with the Park Service).

As the weeks continue into this years season – and the possibility of next year being even more severe – the Forest Service, firefighters, wildlife and environment will continue to be stressed to their extreme. While the National Fire Preparedness Level maxes out at ‘5’, we could be facing a situation that warrants raising the level to 11.


Michonne Says:  I’ve never seen a fire (except for those burning sticks the men hold in their mouth, and sometimes the pile of burning sticks they use on the ground. Probably because those sticks are too big to fit into their mouth). But I’ve smelled fire, and know other animals that were near a fire, and it sounds very scary. If the men say five fires are dangerous, what happens when there are more than five?

Posted August 16, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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