We’re in peak fire season and, sadly, early predictions for a high-risk season are coming true. The National Interagency Fire Center’s predictions for August show continuing above normal fire risks for the western U.S. and Alaska. Today the Forest Service released a new report showing that firefighting costs now consume over 50 percent of their annual budget, and could get up to two thirds of their budget by 2025, up from 16 percent a decade ago. The good news is that there are multiple bipartisan efforts underway in Congress to deliver a fix for the budget woes outlined in the report. Now we just need to see strong legislation enacted. Read More
August 5th, 2015
February 9th, 2015
Perhaps it seems strange to be writing about wildfires in February, even as the Boston area (where I live) has just experienced its snowiest week on record. But it’s during the “off-season” that we have the opportunity to take stock of the causes and costs of past wildfires and take steps to better prepare and protect communities for future ones. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country like California there is no “off-season” as they face the threat of year-round fire seasons. Read More
November 12th, 2014
The last time I attended a World Parks Congress, 20 years ago in Venezuela, there was scarcely a mention of climate change. Back then, it was seen by conservationists as largely a problem they would have to deal with in the future. Well I’m sorry to say that the future is here, and so are the consequences of climate change. Read More
September 29th, 2014
During the past several weeks, my phone weather alert has repeatedly shown Corvallis and Portland, Oregon, having fire and low humidity alerts. I did my postdoc there and remember the smell of burning woods during August and September. There have been record-setting wildfires this year in the Pacific Northwest and climate scientists argue that climate change is likely to make it worse due to increasing temperatures. Read More
October 23rd, 2013
My parents are almost 80 years old and live in Sydney, the place where they were born and raised. Yesterday I phoned them to ask for news of bush fires that are raging just beyond the western edge of the city. As they described the pall of dark smoke that has covered the city of over four million people, I thought of my childhood summers. We knew there would be searing temperatures and days of “total fire bans” when not even backyard barbeques were allowed. But I remember those days being during my summer vacations – that is, in December and January. Now they are happening in October, in springtime. Read More
August 28th, 2013
There are many reasons to enjoy living in the West — the large number of sunny days each year and low humidity immediately spring to mind. Driving through the high country is another reason, as I did last week from the Front Range of Colorado to Aspen. Among the highlights (depending on the route you take) is passing through Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,152 feet. There’s also the drive over Independence Pass, which definitely qualifies as white-knuckle driving with no guardrails for drop-offs that seem to go on forever. Another highlight was always the drop into Summit County (home of Breckenridge and other ski resorts) coming down from the Continental Divide after passing through the Eisenhower Tunnel.
However, what was a stunning vista in years past is now marred by dead trees virtually everywhere you look. Read More
July 19th, 2013
Climate change is a main driving force behind the huge uptick of dangerous wildfires the western U.S. has been experiencing during the last decade — and this year is no exception. In terms of total acreage burned, the eight worst wildfire seasons since 1960 have all occurred in the last 12 years. Read More
May 6th, 2013
Friends and family gathered last weekend at a memorial in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to celebrate the remarkable conservation legacy of Theodore McRoberts Smith, known to one and all as Ted. It was an inspiring, warm, and wonderful commemoration of a visionary leader — and Ted would have hated it. Read More
October 15th, 2012
There are two Washingtons – the unrepresented one in the District of Columbia, and the state way out west of the Beltway. Here in DC life is going well: It’s a beautiful fall day, Congress is out of town, and the Nationals had the best record in baseball this year.
In the other Washington, though, things are different. The old quip about Washington’s ball team — “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League” — used to be about the Senators; now it’s about the Mariners. But more seriously, the landscape is burning up.