Friday, December 16, 2016

Fire research close to home

A very interesting study was done right here in Colorado by students from the school of Mines. They looked into the Clear Creek Watershed and how it is affected by wildfires. Specifically they focused the study on the Golden Water Treatment Plant. Within their study they used GIS software to analyze which areas are most susceptible to floods and erosion. Then they also used GIS to determine which areas out of the most susceptible would be the most prone to wildfires based on vegetation and aspect and slopes. Studies such as this one are extremely helpful and can be applied to other areas to figure out just how fires area affecting our water systems and therefore affects us directly. I think there should be more funding applied to encourage more studies like this one to be implemented. If we can gain more knowledge on areas that will be more prone to fires we can also put more effort into fire prevention in those areas and hopefully keep fires from happening altogether. Research is the way that we can gain a upper hand and figure out how to make fire work in our favor rather than against us.

My Encounter With Stephen Pyne

Throughout my research I stumbled upon a book by Stephen J. Pyne called, Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter’s Season at the Grand Canyon. This book encompasses 15 seasons of fire experience compiled into one summer. Pyne reflects on his experiences as a wildland firefighter and even occasionally challenges the Park Service that he was employed by. This book is not just some boring reiteration of wildfires that leaves you falling asleep and putting the book away never to open it again. It draws you in and keeps you turning pages, refusing to put the book down until you reach the end of the current adventure only to find the last page and that you’ve finished the book. I promise that if you read this book you will not regret the experience. Each reflection and story pulls you in to a point that you feel like you are right there on the front lines staring down the hot flames with a shovel in hand. I learned from Pyne that these treacherous events have an element of beauty to them and that element is a sense of kinship that is built through personal relationships. I have been fortunate enough to have had some wildland firefighting experiences of my own and I have found that these firefighters are more than rugged, unbathed, harsh individuals, they are kind, funny and I have no doubt that these people that I have just met would lay their lives on the line in order to help each other. So while fire is so dangerous and devastating, it also has a way of creating some very beautiful things that flourish in its absence.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Colorado's Ever Growing Fires

How is Colorado suffering from fire? As many of you know, the fires around Colorado seem to be getting bigger and bigger. For many homeowners that is a terrifying thing as the wildfires are building in intensity and claiming more and more of our beautiful state. But why is this happening? In the past we have let our fear take over and we have spent enormous amounts of money, resources and even the lives of brave individuals to save homes. In these frantic efforts to protect the things we hold dear to our hearts, we have created more of a problem. Through fire suppression we have stopped a natural occurrence that historically would thin the understory and clear the dead fallen debris and ground litter. These natural occurrences even acted as pest control. The bark beetle that we are unfortunately becoming all too familiar with here, feeds on trees, however, they rely on the canopies of trees touching so they can pass from tree to tree. When fires were more common, they acted as nature’s logger and maintained separation between the trees and kept diseases and insects from spreading so rapidly and vastly. Currently to help prevent fires there are measures like removing the beetle killed trees and replanting saplings in hopes of rebuilding the forest before a fire can completely wipe out the massive dead areas. This seems counterintuitive due to the fact that I mentioned that one of the issues is that we are stopping fires however, simply allowing them to claim entire forests isn’t the best way to go about it either.

How Does Something So Big Cause Such a Small Change That Alters Everything?

As afore mentioned fires have the ability to quite easily create chaos by even making the slightest changes. An interesting paper I discovered evaluated phosphorous levels in the soil. They discovered in their study that fires significantly increase phosphorous within the soils. It turns out that phosphorous is a limiting compound in aquatic systems which means that it is very influential in stream ecosystems. The tricky part is that we have no way to measure these tiny amounts of phosphorous in streams yet the slightest increase can cause complete ecosystem changes. There are studies that have proven that minimal increases in phosphorous cause algal blooms. It was previously believed that these blooms were spreading through boats and fisherman’s gear. Later it was found that phosphorous is the culprit for these ecosystem devastating blooms. Algal blooms are extremely hard to control especially since we don’t have any tools that can measure the compound that is causing them. The study found that within the loose dead soil and ash, phosphorous is increasing after fires and is then either blown or washed off into streams. They also studied how restoration efforts can help prevent this layer of ashy soil from escaping and wreaking havoc. Overall they found that mixing the soil and then planting seeds as soon as possible is the most effective way to help mitigate this if it is done soon enough before heavy rains and strong winds carry the new soil away.

Fire Ecology and Water Systems

Fire and water are two things that completely oppose each other and we never think to connect them within an ecosystem. However, in reality these two things have more in common than we tend to imagine possible. I have challenged myself to look into this relationship through an independent study course. Through this course I have begun to explore the interconnectedness of aquatic systems and the surrounding environment. Many of my sources suggest that this relationship is bound by one crucial thing, soil. Soil acts as a funnel, transporting things from the landscape into streams, lakes and other bodies of water. Soil can work as a filter and clean out impurities before they are able to pollute streams, and they can also work as a form of transportation and channel those harmful entities downhill straight into the steams. Generally, forests and valleys work to support their streams and they work well in harmony together until of course, an event occurs like a wildfire. Fires have a way of destroying and throwing off the balance of an entire ecosystem. This balance is so delicate that sometimes it doesn’t take much to throw it off and create chaos. Some results happen from something that cannot even be detected by humans because the concentrations are so minute that we have no way to measure them, yet they can change an entire form of life. While fires have been used since the beginning of mankind to sustain life, they are an uncontrollable force of nature that claims much in its path.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Prep Work: The Key to Future Campaign Success

It has been a quiet few weeks of mostly prep work for the Mountain Pact. There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to how the new administration will address the climate and other environmental issues such as energy development and public land protections. To be ready for upcoming campaigns the Mountain Pact has taken this time to research the results of local elections across the Intermountain West.

The Mountain Pact works directly with mountain towns on environmental issues, so it is imperative that we remain up to date on the governing bodies in those mountain towns. Over the last week, I have spent time researching local election results. This includes identifying any  newly elected mayors or city council members

Along with this I will begin to update key contacts for the towns that we have worked closely with on campaigns in the past. This will make outreach a smoother process in the future. Another key piece of this prep work will be to update the populations and number of visitors to each town. This provides concrete numbers to use in campaign letters when citing the number of people that may be affected by certain policy actions.
Although it has been quiet in terms of campaign work it has been interesting and informative to be working on these preparatory measures. It is not always concrete forward campaign action. But when it is, successful action comes from proper preparation. Also, while doing this research I have been able to gather a better understanding of the huge importance of local governments. Being actively involved in local government is an important way to make an impact in the political system.
I have also continued to manage the social media pages during this time. This has been an enjoyable learning opportunity. On the Mountain Pact’s social media pages we post climate change articles from a variety of sources. Searching through many articles to choose which ones to post has been a great way for me to be up to date and informed on climate change topics.
The end of November news highlights included the passing of the Outdoor REC Act in both the House and Senate chambers. This bipartisan bill  is now on the way to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law. This will require the secretaries of Commerce, Agriculture, and Interior to work with the Bureau of Economic Analysis to examine the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry on the GDP. This is a  major step forward for the recreation and conservation industry because this industry is inextricably linked to public lands and waters making the case for investments in effective conservation and management of public lands to ensure the economic power house remains steady.   

The world of environmental policy is constantly changing. Working in this field for the first time has so far been a wonderfully eye-opening experience and I am looking forward to future actions as the current environmental policy sphere continues to unfold.