Archive for the ‘wildfires’ Category

Climate change AND the Forest Service’s perfect budgetary firestorm

August 4th, 2008 No comments

On a Mises blog thread last year, I noted:

controlled burns might of course be useful in some places, especially along the WUI (wildland-urban interface), but Randal O`Toole at Cato has done a good job showing that generally fuel accumulation is not a major factor in the increasing number and severity of fires, but climate change, and the fuels build-up argument has been one that suits the forest service`s budget desires

On that post I cited and linked to a very interesting essay by O’Toole:  The Perfect Firestorm; Bringing Forest Service Wildfire Costs under Control (Cato, April 30, 2007); allow me to post here for the interested reader a few excerpts that I consider most pertinent:

Blessed and cursed by a Congress that gives it a virtual if not literal blank check for fire protection, the Forest Service’s fire spending is out of control. … The Forest Service’s program—which consists of spending close to $300 million per year treating hazardous fuels and as much as $2 billion a year preparing for and suppressing fires—will not restore the national forests to health or end catastrophic fire in most of those forests. In many forests it may do more harm than good.

Significant structural changes in the Forest Service are essential to control fire costs. … 

The Forest Service distorts its own research and other scientific information about fire ecology to justify huge budgets for hazardous fuels reduction and fire suppression. As the next section of this paper will show, the claim that a century of fire suppression has left most western forests highly vulnerable to fire is greatly exaggerated, which means that much of the billions of dollars that the Forest Service is spending today on fire is unjustified. …

If protecting homes and other structures is the goal, only a few million acres need treatment, most of which are nonfederal land.

If fuels are not the huge problem the Forest Service claims, then what is the explanation for recent large fires and record fire seasons? A recent article in Science concluded that the reason was drought, not fuels. The authors studied fire data since 1970 and found that the greatest increases in fires have been in fire regimes III, IV, and V, “where land-use histories have relatively little effect on fire risks.” Instead of fuels, they found a strong correlation between drought and fire. “Thus, although land-use history is an important factor for wildfire risks in specific forest types (such as some ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests), the broad-scale increase in wildfire frequency across the western United States has been driven primarily by sensitivity of fire regimes to recent changes in climate over a relatively large area.”43  Similar correlations between drought and fire have been found going back to 1931.44

Another explanation for the large fires in recent years can be found in the changes in firefighting strategies aimed at improving firefighter safety. To fight large fires, incident commanders often backburn tens of thousands of acres in an effort to create large firebreaks that wildfires cannot cross. One study of the Biscuit fire, the largest fire in Oregon history, estimated that 30 percent of the acres were burned by backburns, not the natural fire.45

All of this research—some of it done by Forest Service scientists—indicates that Forest Service leaders have greatly exaggerated the excess-fuels problem. By concentrating on this issue, they have deftly persuaded Congress to increase funding for hazardous fuel reduction in national forests from less than $8 million in 1992 to nearly $300 million in 2007. Meanwhile, because of the perceived threat of hazardous fuels, Congress has increased funding for presuppression (which the Forest Service now calls preparation) from less than $180 million per year in the early 1990s to more than $650 million per year since 2004.

(emphasis added)

FN43: 43. A. L. Westerling et al., “Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity,”
Science 313 (August 18, 2006): 943,  [This is the report that I discussed in this previous post.]

More work by O’Toole (who is also associated with The Thoreau Institute) and other libertarians on wildfires is here:

More on the climate change connection to Western wildfires is in this previous post.

Categories: AGW, Cato, climate change, forests, O'Toole, USFS, wildfires Tags:

Alarmists (scientists and the Bush administration) claim "climate change" is causing Western wildfires and stressing watersheds

July 22nd, 2008 No comments

[Warning:  Snarky.  Sorry, but as I got going I couldn`t resist.]

1.  As I noted on several Mises wildfire threads last year, a 2006 study showed that the wildfire season in the West has increased on average by 78 days over the past three decades (1987-2003 vs. 1970-1986), with the average total area burned increasing by six and a half times.

According to the 2006 study,

“At higher elevations what really drives the fire season is the temperature. When you have a warm spring and early summer, you get earlier snowmelt,” said [Anthony] Westerling [of Scripps Oceanography]. “With the snowmelt coming out a month earlier, areas then get drier earlier overall and there is a longer season in which a fire can be started–there’s more opportunity for ignition.” …

“I see this as one of the first big indicators of climate change impacts in the continental United States,” said research team member Thomas Swetnam, director of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at The University of Arizona in Tucson. “We’re showing warming and earlier springs tying in with large forest fire frequencies. Lots of people think climate change and the ecological responses are 50 to 100 years away. But it’s not 50 to 100 years away–it’s happening now in forest ecosystems through fire.”

2.  A March 2008 study based on NOAA data shows that the 11 Western states have, over the five-year period 2003-2007 as compared to the 20th Century, heated up twice as fast as the global average.  The average temperature in the Colorado River Basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, was 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the historical average for the 20th Century.  Of course this particular analysis was prepared by an environmental group, so we can hope it will be quickly debunked by a reasonable skeptic organization.  But since us skeptics know that the Earth has been cooling over the past 10 years, it does seem a bit puzzling that such a large jump in temperatures could still be found in government data. 

The report, in Science Daily, further noted:

The Colorado River Basin is in the throes of a record drought, shrinking water supplies for upwards of 30 million people in fast-growing Denver, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. Most of the Colorado River’s flow comes from melting snow in the mountains of Wyoming, Utah and Wyoming. Climate scientists predict even more and drier droughts in the future as hotter temperatures reduce the snowpack and increase evaporation.

To date, the governors of Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington have signed the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), an agreement to reduce global warming pollution through a market-based system, such as cap-and-trade. The WCI calls for states to reduce their global warming emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Surely someone will rise to the occasion, soon, to contest these pernicious “facts”?  The data fudging must be pretty blatant.  Hopefully, at least we can get a policy analysis that we are better off not merely hiding this information from the American public (like Bush nobly did), but that affirmatively adopts the view that a “do nothing” approach – other than to build massive new public infrastructure to catch early mountain runoff and continuing to give an open checkbook (now $1+ billion annually) to USFS and BLM to fight fires – will clearly serve the public interest better than taking any mitigation measures, since the effects of climate change are already upon us?  Why should we pay even an ounce for prevention if we’ll be long dead before our children regret any further pain we might bestow on them?

3.  Unfortunately, a report released in February 2008 by an alarmist group of “scientists” from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Scripps Institution of Oceanography reached similar conclusions:  that the “Rocky Mountains have warmed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The snowpack in the Sierras has dwindled by 20 percent and the temperatures there have heated up by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit” over the past 30 years. further have pinpointed the cause of that diminishing water flow on a regional scale: humans.  What’s worse is that these alarmists had the gall to link such warming to human actions:

“We looked at whether there is a human-caused climate change where we live, and in aspects of our climate that we really care about,” said Benjamin Santer of LLNL and co-author of the paper. “No matter what we did, we couldn’t shake this robust conclusion that human-caused warming is affecting water resources here in the Western United States.”

“It’s pretty much the same throughout all of the Western United States,” said Tim Barnett of Scripps and a co-author of the paper.*  “The results are being driven by temperature change. And that temperature change is caused by us.”

The team scaled down global climate models to the regional scale and compared the results to observations over the last 50 years. The results were solid, giving the team confidence that they could use the same models to predict the effects of the global scale increase in greenhouse gases on the Western United States in the future.

The projected consequences are bleak.

By 2040, most of the snowpack in the Sierras and Colorado Rockies would melt by April 1 of each year because of rising air temperatures. The earlier snow melt would lead to a shift in river flows.

What a joke!  We all know that puny man, with his massive, mighty industrial economies, has no ability to affect the climate.  These “scientists” should get real jobs.  Models?  Ridiculous!  We are fortunate that God made the world too complicated to ever think about anticipating consequences to our actions.  And risks?  Pah – we laugh at them!  We just build many, many more dams (covering them to limit evaporation) when the time comes.  Who needs rivers, anyway?

4.  Fortunately, a new July 2008 study by more “scientists” helps to understand while the melting of Western snowcaps is occurring sooner:  an “albedo” feedback, whereby earlier melting leads to sooner ground warming, which then leads to more early melting.  So maybe all of this warming and melting is just due to a natural feedback to a natural warming cycle!  And we can even counter it technically by covering our mountaintops with white paper or other highly reflective materials!  Even if we do nothing the albedo feedback will of course start to reverse even if we do nothing – as we burn off of our forested mountains, the resulting dead zone will have much higher reflectivity that the prior green forests!  Sadly, the scientists could not resist polluting this useful information with more hysteria:

Noah Diffenbaugh, senior author of the paper and an associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue, said the influence of melting snow on regional climate is far greater than that of increased greenhouse gases alone.

“The heat trapping from elevated greenhouse gases triggers the warming, but the additional warming caused by the loss of snow is what really creates the big changes in surface runoff,” said Diffenbaugh, who also is a member of Purdue’s Climate Change Research Center. “Scientists have known about this general effect for years. The big surprise here is how much the complex topography plays a role, essentially doubling the threat to water resources in the West.”

Sara A. Rauscher, visiting scientist at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, and lead author on the paper, said the melting snow contributes to a feedback loop that accelerates warming.

“Because snow is more reflective than the ground or vegetation beneath it, it keeps the surface temperatures lower by reflecting energy from the sun,” Rauscher said. “When snow melts or does not accumulate in the first place, more solar energy is absorbed by the ground, warming the surface. A feedback loop is created because the warmer ground then makes it more difficult for snow to accumulate and perpetuates the effect.”

The amount and timing of the runoff from snowmelt is critical to the success of water management in the western United States. Water resources for the area are reliant on snow acting as a natural reservoir during the cold season that melts and releases water in the warm season.

Changes in this timing could create problems in meeting the increasing demand for water in large urban and agricultural areas during the hottest summer months, Diffenbaugh said.

“If the snow melts earlier or if it comes as rainfall instead, it would create a strain on infrastructure,” he said. “The current system relies on water being stored in the mountains as snow. So earlier runoff could mean too much water for the reservoirs early in the year and not enough available later in the year.”

Gregg M. Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona, said dry summers could lead to more severe wildfires and changes in the ecosystems of the West.

Early snowmelt and warmer soil temperatures could result in further massive forest mortality and an increased risk of wildfire activity,” Garfin said. “If these projections become reality, then the ecosystems of the northern and central Rockies will undergo dramatic changes with ramifications for wildlife habitat, fire potential, soil erosion and tourism.”

The study suggests a substantial change in the runoff season, with the peak date more than two months earlier than today in some regions, Diffenbaugh said.

“Ecosystems”?  Bah – we toy with them!  It’s just our release of GHGs from our fossil fuel economy that we can’t do anything about.  Too bad these weak-kneed scientist have no faith in our ability to IMPROVE every ecosystem that we disrupt!

Anyway, I’m hot on the path of these obvious misanthropists, who are barely disguised enviro-Nazi/commies.  They like their cushy academic/government jobs, but want the rest of us to live as primitive hunter-gatherers.  For those of you who think it’s high time we do SOMETHING about these man-haters, I have previously noted that Czech scientist Lubos Motl, concerned about the present wave of irrational hysteria, has incipient plans to take action, before it’s too late.


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Citizens fight wildfires in Northern California …

July 8th, 2008 2 comments

as this article in the July 7 NY Times shows.  This is not at all surprising, as owners all have incentives to protect their property, and relatively small communities of people can work together well when needed.

One can expect to see increasing sophistication in voluntary fire-fighting and in fire prevention, particularly if limited resources and relative remoteness makes it difficult for government “ride to the rescue”.

PS:  Don’t look now, but the Western wildfire season is now 78 days longer than it was thirty years ago, as I noted on several Mises blog threads last year.  This is one of the manifestations of climate change that the Bush administration was forced to recognize – four years late – in a report released last month.