Wildfires have begun several months early this year due to drought (and mismanagement) in Idaho, California, Colorado, and Minnesota. There may be others, but that is all I could find in a short time frame.
An agency that watches for wildfire conditions (see below) predicts 2013 will be a killer season. On a personal level, news about wildfires and floods hit me hardest. It’s when good people come together to help their neighbors in such visual, visceral, and gut striking way.
First responders, like firemen, who are usually unpaid volunteers, put their lives on the line for us. They are great people. These types of disasters are at once heartening, because they impact regular people so hard, and frustrating, because our government is partially responsible for mismanaging land and not providing adequate equipment. I fear that 2013 will be the year of tears - let’s hope that I’m wrong.
BOISE, Idaho—Two small but unseasonably early fires burning in northern California’s wine country and another wind-whipped blaze farther south likely are a harbinger of a nasty summer fire season across the West.
Officials with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said Wednesday in their first 2013 summer fire outlook that a dry winter and expected warming trend mean the potential for significant fire activity will be above normal on the West Coast, in the Southwest and portions of Idaho and Montana.
“We’re looking at a combination of a low-moisture winter and a warming and drying pattern in the West that will increase the fire potential,” said Ed Delgado, predictive services manager.
If that sounds familiar to the region’s residents, it should.
In 2012, record-setting fires raged in New Mexico and Oregon, while destructive Colorado blazes torched hundreds of homes amid one of the state’s worst seasons in years.
Just like last year, Colorado experienced some of its first 2013 wildfires in March.
Outside the West, however, much of the U.S. is expected to experience normal fire conditions, with below-normal danger in the South where significant, long-duration rains saturated the landscape since Jan. 1, Delgado said.
In California, wine-producing counties Napa and Sonoma experienced early-season blazes Wednesday, as warm temperatures, low humidity and gusting winds through already-dry foothills areas east and north of
San Francisco led to warnings of extreme wildfire conditions.
Both were more than half-contained, according to crews.
And a fast-moving fire east of Los Angeles grew Wednesday afternoon to at least 1,500 acres near Banning in the San Bernardino Mountains, where winds from the east were blowing at nearly 30 mph. Some evacuations were ordered.
Evacuations were ordered for residences on two streets but the number of people was not immediately known. A KCAL-TV helicopter showed at least one structure engulfed by flames.
Pecos River is running with cows - A warning sign of climate impacts to come, drought in the southwest obliterates rivers, snow pack, and aquifers used by farmers in New Mexico. Above, the Pecos River in New Mexico is dry for the first time in recent memory.
Farmers in Carlsbad were told last week that they will be allotted 10% of their previous water supply. Thus, a southwestern water war has begun. Welcome to the Anthropocene.
Just after the local water board announced this month that its farmers would get only one-tenth of their normal water allotment this year, Ronnie Walterscheid, 53, stood up and called on his elected representatives to declare a water war on their upstream neighbors.
The drought-fueled anger of southeastern New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers is boiling, and there is nowhere near enough water in the desiccated Pecos River to cool it down. Roswell, about 75 miles to the north, has somewhat more water available and so is the focus of intense resentment here. Mr. Walterscheid and others believe that Roswell’s artesian wells reduce Carlsbad’s surface water.
For decades, the regional status quo meant the northerners pumped groundwater and the southerners piped surface water. Now, amid the worst drought on record, some in Carlsbad say they must upend the status quo to survive. They want to make what is known as a priority call on the Pecos River.
A priority call, an exceedingly rare maneuver, is the nuclear option in the world of water. Such a call would try to force the state to return to what had been the basic principle of water distribution in the West: the lands whose owners first used the water — in most cases farmland — get first call on it in times of scarcity. Big industries can be losers; small farmers winners.
The threat of such a move reflects the political impact of the droughts that are becoming the new normal in the West. “A call on the river is a call for a shakeout,” explained Daniel McCool, a University of Utah political scientist and author of “River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers.”
“It’s not going to be farmers versus environmentalists or liberals versus conservatives,” he said. “It’s going to be the people who have water versus the people who don’t.” And, he said, the have-nots will outnumber the haves.
Dudley Jones, the manager for the Carlsbad Irrigation District said that water law and allocation practice have long diverged. “We have it in the state Constitution: First in time, first in right. But that’s not how it’s practiced.” In New Mexico’s political pecking order, his alfalfa farmers, despite senior priority rights dating back 100 years, have little clout. The state water authorities, he said, “are not going to cut out the city.”
“They’re not going to cut out the dairy industry,” he added. “They’re not going to cut off the oil and gas industry, because that’s economic development. So we’re left with a dilemma — the New Mexico water dilemma.”
A priority call, said Dr. McCool, “will glaringly demonstrate how unfair, how anachronistic the whole water law edifice is.”
He added, “The all-or-nothing dynamic of prior appropriation instantly sets up conflict. I get all of mine, and you get nothing.”
The prior appropriation system on the Pecos has its beginnings in the late 19th century. Its waters flow about 925 miles from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico, ending up in the Rio Grande in Texas. It has been a focus of conflict. Texas, saying upstream users were taking its share, won a 1987 Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing deliveries under the Pecos River Compact.
The alpha female of the Fox Mountain Pack of Mexican gray wolves will be shot due to the seven-member pack preying on four head of cattle over several months. The owners of the cattle will be fully reimbursed, but the wolf family will lose their matriarch, according to a kill-order issued Wednesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to its sister agency, U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services. Last year, only 58 Mexican wolves and six breeding pairs survived in New Mexico and Arizona, their only home in the wild.” More: CBD
My readers know that I love wolves (and birds). Protection of their habitat has a special place in my heart and me wee brain. The Mexican Gray Wolf is protected by the Endangered Species Act. There are about 40 left, and they live here. They cross into Mexico, making it a trans-boundary species that, in my and some conservation lawyers’ opinions, ought to be subject to international law and protection. They’re not.
In hopes of increasing wind energy production in New Mexico while protecting wildlife and habitat, a coalition of energy companies, conservation groups and government agencies have come up with recommendations.
The group this week launched a website to list the “best management practices” for designing and siting wind facilities while protecting bats, raptors and other birds. The coalition says its recommendations are based on science but aren’t binding on any of the energy companies operating in the state.
The New Mexico Wind and Wildlife Collaborative involves eight energy companies, seven conservation groups and several agencies such as the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public Service Company of New Mexico, First Wind, Audubon New Mexico and Hawks Aloft are among the groups that met over the last two years to hammer out recommendations for wind farms.
We have already experienced close to 1 degree Celsius of that increase, which accounts, at least in part, for last summer’s colossal fires and record-setting temperatures - and it’s now clear that we’re just getting started.
Billion dollar weather disasters, by NOAA. This takes a minute to grasp. See the green bar on the far far right? It shows the number of climate related events in 2011 that exceeded one billion dollars. So far, it shows 12 event at $200 billion dollars in damage - the highest number of events and most costs in history. Background:
To date, the United States set a record with 12 separate billion dollar weather/climate disasters in 2011, with an aggregate damage total of approximately $52 billion. This record year breaks the previous record of nine billion-dollar weather/climate disasters in one year, which occurred in 2008.
These twelve disasters alone resulted in the tragic loss of 646 lives, with the National Weather Service reporting over 1,000 deaths across all weather categories for the year.
Previously only 10 events were reported; the two new billion-dollar weather and climate events added to the 2011 total include:
The Texas, New Mexico, Arizona wildfires event, now exceeding $1 billion, had been previously accounted for in the larger Southern Plains drought and heatwave event. This is in line with how NOAA has traditionally accounted for large wildfire events as separate events.
The June 18-22 Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes and Severe Weather event, which just recently exceeded the $1 billion threshold
NOAA continues to collect and assess data regarding several other extreme events that occurred this year including the pre-Halloween winter storm that impacted the Northeast and the wind/flood damage from Tropical Storm Lee. Currently, these events are not over the $1B threshold using the available data.
Above: US Drought Monitor Map update. Compared to previous maps, the drought is getting much worse. Here’s the 6-week animated .gif map showing how widespread the drought has become. It’s very dangerous, and several wild fires have burst just this week.
There is some chatter about a monsoon forming off the Pacific coast due to La Nina. If so, the southwest will receive much needed rain, but then will have to deal with massive flooding and flash flooding. What a nightmare.
The plants and animals of the southwestern United States are adapted to fire, but not to the sort of super-sized, super-intense fires now raging in Arizona.
The product of drought and human mismanagement, these so-called megafires may change the southwest’s ecology. Mountainside Ponderosa forests could be erased, possibly forever. Fire may become the latest way in which people are profoundly altering modern landscapes.
“If a few acres burn, a forest can recover. But at really large scales, the opportunity to recover is limited,” said forest ecologist Dan Binkley of Colorado State University. “The large-scale devastation has taken away the ecological future.”
A fire truck drives past trees burned during the Las Conchas fire in Los Alamos, N.M., on Thursday, June 30. Firefighters were confident Thursday they had stopped the advance of the wildfire that headed toward the Los Alamos nuclear lab and the nearby town that now sits empty for the second time in 11 years, even as they battled the blaze that crept into a canyon that descends into the town and parts of the lab. (Jae C. Hong)
Environmentalist Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico fiercely fights for climate policy in the states. In this profile by the Daily Beast, he’s portraying as David in a battle against Goliath. He’s closer to victory than many think.
His father, Stewart Udall, a pioneering conservationist, was President Kennedy’s interior secretary, and instilled in his six children a love and respect for the outdoors. Before entering political life, Tom Udall worked as an instructor taking people on monthlong trips, mountain climbing, hiking, and fishing. He has a reverential feeling for the planet. At a recent Washington event, he described his realization that the great balance between man and nature that he had grown up believing was entrusted to a higher being—and fear that this way of life was threatened, overwhelmed by greenhouse gases so voluminous that “man is now in charge of the thermostat for the globe.”
A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.
I'm a climate change consultant specializing in climate adaptation, environmental law, and urban planning based in the U.S. In addition to traveling and hiking, I research, publish, and lecture on how cities can adapt to climate change.
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