At a glance, it’s obvious that The West Coast is on fire. Drought stalks these lands, and has for decades. The cost of a warmer, dryer trend equates to more burning. Climate change will reshape the world, and society is left behind in the ashes. People are at fault for these occurrences. Large timber stands, managed in mono-culture mass plantings, where crowded groves of densely planted evergreen trees, creates enough biomass to incinerate on a temperature level never reached in old growth forests. Well spaced, mature forests could easily defend against fire. Trees stand well spaced and well insulated with thick bark against low temperature brush burning below an intact canopy. With those canopies chopped down long ago, the cracked earth is parched and vulnerable to flame.
In western America, vast developments of suburban sprawl have crept up into the forest hillsides. EEC Forest Stewardship is an example of this sprawl, though on the west side of The Cascades, there is more moisture and less fire hazard. Still, the long summer months have invited fire danger into our temperate rain-forests, and when things light up in this region, it will be a living hell. Oregon, our neighbor to the south, is seeing west side burning this summer, and record breaking destruction across the state. Further down in coast in California, day has become night, with haunting orange skies of warning.
Dense fog, not unusual in The Bay Area, but certainly unusual in that this fog carries dangerous smoke particles, which harm the lungs and leave ash residue on every surface. The particles are so thick, they block out the sun, plunging daytime temperatures into what some scientists are comparing to a nuclear winter. Here in Western Washington, the daytime temperatures have fallen into the 50s and 60s (from 80s-90s), with the sun blocked out enough to turn our sky a dim orange too. Though it’s not as dramatic as the sky above in California, the air is still thick with smoke, and more than an hour working outside leaves me with a headache- even with a mask on.
In ten years living here, this is the worst smoke we’ve endured. So much gratitude for the fire staying away. We are not in any threat at this time for fire danger or evacuation. Many friends on the other side of the mountains have not been so lucky. Like the fires in 2015, 2020 is turning out to be the worst burn in state history, with whole towns wiped right off the map for good. Again, in the familiar desert step of our eastern lands, sage grouse might now be decimated, and winter kill from loss of habitat will have far reaching consequences for our wildlife populations- let alone the trees and plants which eek out a survival in these often harsh landscapes.
Take care in living away from it all, tucked in your pocket of forest somewhere off the main road- for nature can be a cruel teacher, and in this lightning fast changing world, climate will overtake us. At EEC, we “manage” our forest with the understanding that it could burn, and through we hope fire will only come to our land in a prescribed, well controlled burn, mother nature might have other plans. It is a recognized part of living in the west. For all communities, this is a time to be aware of climate change, especially how it will affect your area. If not fire, floods, if not floods, winds, ice, drought; the growing extreme of these environmental feedback loops will only intensify with time. Find out what’s in store for your region and take all preparatory steps possible to be ready for change. Regardless of what kind of change comes, it will come, and the projections are grim.
One of the biggest steps taken here at EEC Forest Stewardship, involved preparing for continued drought on our landscape. Investing in a 20,000 gallon pillow tank has given us late summer water security, should out water table ever drop below well depth (so far, it never has). This tank is also for emergency defense. If fire was threatening the property, we could use the water to dampen the land around our house, or other buildings as needed. With the aid of a water pump, we can pressurize the hose from our tank and spray down and surface in need of hydration quenching. May fire never be the reason for this use! We hope to only irrigate fruit trees and pasture space with this tank. But, it’s also a piece of mind in this wildfire nightmare in these modern times.
Without fire there is still smoke. This particulate fog in the air does a different kind of damage- one we may not see, like the charred remains of buildings in the fire, but scaring and internal injury does occur when breathing smoke. Even though we can wear masks and stay inside to protect against smoke, our livestock is outside and exposed to the toxic air. Though this exposure is limited, it will continue to lengthen as the summer turnings expand, and they will. Inside our house (a 73 double wide) there is no central air or heating. We have a wood stove in winter and open windows at night in summer. It works perfectly well when there is clean air, but now, we’re sealed in. Fans are blowing to circulate what’s here, but it’s stuffy, and the smoke is still getting in. We’ve planned to invest in portable air filtration, which we’ll hopefully only have to run a few weeks out of each summer season. I’d like to recognize that this is not the solution to climate change, in fact, a step backwards because of the energy we’ll be using to run it, the materials to make it, and replace the filter again and again. It’s not sustainable, but at this point in time, not much of humanity is.
In the haze, trees keep growing taller, sheep keep nibbling at the grass and bramble, and we keep planting for the future at EEC. There’s talk of rain the forecast later this week, and a shift in the winds from The Pacific, which might lighten the haze for a while. The map above shows how extensive the smoke is off shore, so I’m not sure where the relief will come. Note the spiraling weather system further off the coast- it’s entirely generated by smoke particulates gathering moisture. Climate scientists are still racing to compile data as records shatter, heat indexes swell, and air quality dwindles. Once we set these consequences into action by continuing to burn carbon and expecting all the amenities of modern living- well beyond the necessities, we cooked our own goose. Let us hope generations in the future will understand, if they survive.