Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Charlie Martin on Trump and forest fires

A goodly chunk of California is currently burning, and Trump tweets that the cause of this is poor forest management. Predictably, people go nuts when Trump says this. Charlie Martin offers his own thoughts on the matter.

[edited for style] Fires are part of the natural order, sparked by lightning if nothing else. Forests evolved in a world where Mjolnir started a fire every so often out of pure cussedness, burning out underbrush and deadwood. Some pine trees, in fact, need a fire to distribute their seeds—the cones won't open until heated. But small fires open up the forest floor, clear out the deadwood, and make room, at least out here in the Rockies, for aspen stands that grow up, die out after a couple of decades, and are replaced with new pines and spruce and fir.

For the last century or so, we've been diligently listening to Smokey and stopping forest fires, and now we have a whole forest full of piled-up brush, dry grass, deadfall, and dead standing trees. Kindling. When a fire does start, it burns hot and it burns long, so that even live trees burn in a devastating fire that is almost impossible to control.

There is a solution: instead of uncontrolled fires that become too dangerous—as we've just seen demonstrated—small, controlled burns kept to a manageable size allow the piled-up underbrush to be burned out without destroying whole towns. But those controlled burns make smoke, and smoke is pollution, and besides, the burned areas are all ugly and stuff.

Before some fool city folk pop up to say "but some of these fires are not forest fires—they're grass fires neener-neener," I'll just point out that it's another verse of the same song. Heavily overgrown scrub brush and grass will burn like a sonofabitch.

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