Giant forest fires roam across northern Alberta

Strange May blazes burn a third of Slave Lake, Alberta, and threaten to cook the tar sands area-

It’s only mid-May, and it still struggles to get much above 60 degrees here in Eastern Idaho, but forest fires are torching northern Alberta, not all that far from the Arctic Circle. A third of the town of 7000 at Slave Lake burned.  In the general area, many of the giant tar sand pits have been evacuated.  This is near Ft. McMurray.  Temperatures have been in the high 70s and 80s.

Hundreds of homes now just smouldering rubble.  Premier, mayor shaken by scope of devastation in Slave Lake. Edmonton Journal. By Mariam Ibrahim, Ryan Cormier and Ben Gelinas

Other fires continue to burn across northern Alberta.   By Ryan Cormier, Edmonton Journal.

Raging fires stop oil and gas operations.  Hundreds evacuated from facilities.  By Dina O’Meara, Calgary Herald

Federal firefighting promotes building in the wildland interface

So then, maybe it should stop?

Economist Ray Rasker spoke the obvious at University of Montana’s Conservation and Climate Change lecture series. He also talked a little politics. If there is no guarantee of the feeds throwing money to the wind to save houses along the national forest boundaries the counties might be a lot less willing to grant building permits there because the costs would fall on them.

Speaker: Rethink who pays costs of fighting fires to protect homes in woods. By Rob Chaney. Missoulian.

It would be nice to see this building reduced because of its impact on water quality, scenery, wildlife habitat. A lot of the nasty “remove or shot the deer, elk, bears, cougars, wolves” complaints come from people who live in the woods and their pooch gets got or their shrubbery eaten.

Natural restoration advances rapidly in the big Castle Rock burn near Ketchum/Hailey, Idaho

The 50,000 acre fire was 3 years ago-

The Idaho Mountain Express has an article detailing the regrowth in the big burn next to Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho. This is a very popular recreation area, so its restoration is noticeable to a lot of people. Similar articles could be written about several million more acres of burns in central Idaho — burns of the last decade.

The Idaho places where restoration is not going well are the millions of acres of rangelands (more properly sagebrush steppe) where cheatgrass has fueled vast fires, destroying native grasses, forbs and shrubs, creating more of itself for future fires. This year about 3/4 million acres of Idaho rangeland has burned.

Related. Utah has mildest wildfire season in a decade. By jason bergreen. The Salt Lake Tribune

More related. Rain, snow and lower temperatures help tame central Idaho wildfire. Idaho Statesman.

Numerous forest fires breaking out in northern rockies

Much delayed forest fire season now upon us-

Although there have been a few large range fires, such as the 110,000 acre Jefferson fire on the Arco Desert (INL) in Eastern Idaho, now forest fires are quickly emerging in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, etc.

Wildfire breaks out in Packer Meadows, atop Lolo Pass
. Missoulian.

Fire in Bob Marshall Wilderness now burning 1,200 acres. Missoulian.

Yellowstone Park: Beach Fire continues in the Bridge Bay area. Jackson Hole Daily

Oregon: 2,000 lightning strikes spark about 30 fires. Bend Bulletin

East Idaho: Firefighters close in on controlling Blacktail wildfire. Idaho State Journal

Wyoming: Lightning sparks multiple fires in Bridger-Teton. Star Valley Independent

Here is the master source for national forest fire information.

What’s Killing the Great Forests of the American West?

Worse, die-offs are not limited to North America-

Next summer will probably be a pretty bad forest fire season in the Pacific Northwest due to a dry winter, and so many of the forests are dead.  This is not a local problem, however, as Jim Robbins discusses in the feature article below.

What’s Killing the Great Forests of the American West? “Across western North America, huge tracts of forest are dying off at an extraordinary rate, mostly because of outbreaks of insects. Scientists are now seeing such forest die-offs around the world and are linking them to changes in climate.” By Jim Robbins. Yale Environment 360.

As for myself, I have been following the politics of forest fires since 1980 when Idaho had its first large forest fire in a generation or so. In the 30 years, I have learned that forest (and range fires too) will always be used for political purposes to further the agenda of the timber and grazing industries.

Their lobbyists know that most people don’t know that the pine beetle kill covers the entire West. They know the people don’t know that logging an area has no effect at all in stopping the spread of the beetle. They know that the public doesn’t know that dead forests are probably less flammable than green, but dry (droughty) forests.

So it is easy to predict there will be an effort to blame conservationists for the forest fires.  They have been doing it for 30 years, and they will do it next summer.  The news media should be prepared for this. I can also confidently predict most of the media won’t be.

Summary: It was a very modest fire season in Idaho

2009 third-smallest fire season since 1970. By Todd Adams. The Challis Messenger.

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Breathtaking and misleading fire story in the Missoulian

“Red and dead” forests make extreme fires; but most bug-killed forests are not in this stage-

Beetle-ravaged trees change wildfire behavior in western Montana. By Rob Chaney the Missoulian

Beetles are changing the fire regime in Western Montana. Unfortunately, this story did not get to the key until the end – – “Dead trees will lose those red needles within three to five years. The bare-branch trees tend to be less burnable than either green live trees or red dead ones.” . . . Rob Chaney

These needles are so flammable that they will burn when dripping wet and a cold temperature! In fact, most just killed, and, therefore red lodgepole pine, the most common beetle killed tree, are red for just one year. Then the needles drop. As a result, most dead trees present less of a fire danger rather than more. There are exceptions, such as piles of windthrown, jackstrawed dead timber.

The story also failed to mention that this is not a problem limited to Western Montana. The great die-off extends from the Yukon to New Mexico, making local efforts to deal with the problem with salvage logging or spraying of no use.

I’d mention global warming but all the tea partiers will probably jump down my throat. It’s really too late to do much. The pine forests are pretty much all going to die.

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Related. Weather wipes out wildfires in Montana. Great Falls Tribune.

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