Fire season is now upon us - and local experts are speaking out on best practices for dealing with large wildfires, which seem to be Nevada's "new normal."
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Continuing drought and high temperatures, linked to climate change, have created the same conditions that led to 610 fires last year, which burned more than 134,000 acres.
University of Nevada, Reno Assistant Professor Christina Restaino directs the "Living with Fire" program that teaches communities how to get ready.
"You need to prepare your own home and the property around your home," said Restaino, "by doing proper defensible space. Also through creating an evacuation plan for both family and your animals."
In addition, Restaino said people need to plan for smoky skies and poor air quality. And she said she believes more people are needed to help educate the community, study wildfire risk, and reduce the fuel load on the wildland/urban interface.
Tim Brown, the director of the Western Regional Climate Center at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, said the impact on people will be twofold.
"It's going to be respiratory issues - last year, compounded with COVID," said Brown. "On the mental side, it's the stress of dealing with those physical impacts, but also wondering just how bad is this season going to be?"
Jennifer Cantley - Nevada field coordinator for Moms Clean Air Force and an advisor to Gov. Steve Sisolak's Environmental Justice Team - said she relies on Environmental Protection Agency data from the website 'Airnow.gov.'
At one point, she said, it showed Douglas County with more 'red' air-quality days than Washoe or Clark counties.
"It showed that the rural communities do have dirty air just as much as the big cities, even though it's overlooked," said Cantley. "And most of the time, they don't have air monitoring systems."
Data from the Nevada Department of Wildlife indicate the problem is only getting worse.
More than 9 million acres of Nevada's landscape burned between 2000 and 2020, which is double the acreage lost to wildfire between 1980 and 1999.
The Bureau of Land Management has auctioned off another 10,000 acres of New Mexico public lands to the oil and gas industry, despite a local rally and national letter writing campaign requesting its cancellation.
The letter, signed by 272 local and national groups, unions, businesses and institutions, failed to stop the May 25 sale and the BLM did not respond.
Miya King-Flaherty, Our Wild New Mexico organizing representative for the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, said four Western states have the highest concentration of federal oil and gas leases.
"New Mexico is ground zero," King-Flaherty asserted. "We are essentially -- I use the word 'sacrifice zone' -- but lands in New Mexico are continually being held up for lease."
King-Flaherty pointed out the BLM has another sale of leases planned for November. At the same time, the Biden administration took action last week to protect the cultural and historic resources surrounding the state's Chaco Culture National Historical Park from new oil and gas leasing and mining claims.
New Mexico is the number two oil producing state in the nation, mostly in the San Juan and Permian Basins. Last month, the American Lung Association said ozone pollution, or smog, is getting worse in the Permian, with Eddy County having some of the worst air quality in the country.
King-Flaherty argued the dominance of fossil fuels is exacerbating the warming climate, which can be traced to the state's largest wildfire ever recorded in 2022.
"If this leasing continues, we are only going to see climate disasters worsening," King-Flaherty contended. "And public health impacts worsening for vulnerable populations, and Black and brown and Indigenous populations that continue to be on the front lines."
King-Flaherty added the letter sent to the BLM pointed to recent findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, showing time is running out to avert catastrophe.
"Our window continues to narrow, and yet our government is doing the absolute opposite of what we need to do to ensure a habitable climate for all of us," King-Flaherty concluded.
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Two Florida graduate students are part of a Forage Fish Research Program. They are looking at how altering water flows in coastal estuaries affect fish, and learning the best ways to manage popular recreational fish.
Dakota Lewis, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Florida, is assessing how increasing or decreasing freshwater discharge can disrupt critical links between predator fish and their prey, like menhaden and pinfish.
Lewis has tracked impacts in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary. She said she is now focused on Florida Bay and the Everglades restoration efforts, using machine learning techniques to analyze data.
"Seeing if those two systems that are pretty close in space," Lewis explained. "When you think of St. Lucie and the Florida Bay, if some of the same patterns and trends of the fish will look the same down south, and kind of using some new techniques that allow for more variability in the system."
Lewis is still in the early stages of the Florida Bay project, but her just-published research in the journal Ecological Indicators showed for the St. Lucie project, restoring lower natural water flow stabilized the relationship between both forage fish and sport fish communities and their environment.
Barry Walton, a Ph.D. student at Florida State University, is examining biomarkers to study how two popular sport fish species -- red drum or redfish and spotted seatrout -- use their habitat and food resources. Walton said he is learning more about their shared resources and diets, including forage fish.
"Better understanding their diets and how they're feeding will help with their management," Walton pointed out. "The better that we manage these important sport fish, the better off we will be able to protect them for the long term."
Walton noted so far, he's learning both species are using different food sources, to a small degree, and he is working to get the research published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Since 2016, the Forage Fish Research program, a public-private partnership between the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, leading academics, and Florida Forage Fish Coalition, has provided these fellowships to grad students at Florida universities.
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By Liam Jackson for Great Lakes Echo.
Broadcast version by Brett Peveto for Michigan News Connection with support from the Solutions Journalism Network
Urban wood could help save the environment and small businesses at the same time.
“When I walk through the woods now compared to 20 years ago, I notice the trees getting smaller and smaller because they are getting over-forested,” said Jason Tervol, the owner of Tervol’s Wood Products in Hillsdale County, Michigan.
Getting lumber from urban sources is a growing alternative in Michigan and nationwide.
Urban wood can mean wood from city trees, but the definition is broader, said Paul Hickman, the CEO of Urban Ashes, an Ann Arbor consultant who helps municipalities recycle wood.
“Urban wood can be defined as any wood that was not harvested for its timber value and was diverted from or removed from the waste stream and developed or redeveloped into a product,” Hickman said.
That includes wood from demolished buildings, fresh-cut urban trees and salvaged lumber, Hickman said. This wood can be found in urban forests, urbanized areas, highways, orchards and generally any area where people live and work.
Michigan is one of eight states that are part of the Urban Wood Network, a national coalition of urban wood industry professionals and stakeholders. Hickman is the representative for the Michigan chapter.
The idea has been around for over 20 years, but execution has taken off only over the last few years. A nationally unified approach to urban wood collection and the creation of universal standards for the definition have helped boost the practice, Hickman said.
“In the last five to seven years, it has picked up a tremendous amount of speed around the country,” Hickman said. “You are starting to see national manufacturers and national retailers using it.”
Live Edge Detroit is a company that supplies urban wood to people and businesses. The wood is used to make items as diverse as pencils, bowls and headboards, said John Kwiecien, who is in charge of Live Edge’s business development and operations.
“We have a variety of customers,” Kwiecien said. “Everyone from the weekend warrior that wants to come in and build their own coffee table up to custom home builders who are coming in to buy big pieces of wood to make mantels.”
Before his urban wood endeavors, Live Edge Detroit owner Mike Barger spent decades running a tree care company called Mike’s Tree Surgeon. His interest in conservation was the reason for beginning an urban wood company.
“We are trying to be as sustainable as possible,” Barger said. “It gives the trees a new life. It gives them a life to live on”
Live Edge Detroit tracks nearly every log that comes in. When it is turned into a new product, the customer knows where it came from, Kwiecien said.
“So when somebody buys a piece of wood from us, we can tell them exactly what city in the Detroit Metro area that it came from,” Kwiecien said.
There are many smaller mills around Michigan, including in Traverse City, Detroit and Hillsdale, that recycle wood that large mills won’t, Hickman said.
Large mills, which have automated systems and large, expensive machines, have criteria for the quality of wood that they use, Hickman said. Smaller mills, on the other hand, can work with wood that isn’t as “pure” because it is easier to change saws and work by hand.
“Urban wood has greater levels in variation of the character than you would see in traditional wood,” Hickman said. “Instead of it being a character flaw, it becomes a character that is embraced, highlighted and showcased.”
Tervol’s Wood Products in North Adams is “the biggest little saw mill” in Michigan, Tervol said.
The family business views the recycling of wood as important to the environment and to local communities.
Another benefit: Using the wood rather than burning it or letting it rot keeps it from releasing carbon that contributes to climate change.
“The tree is not going to release the carbon dioxide it has captured over its lifetime because it is going to be a finished product,” he said.
Urban wood producers say they are optimistic about the industry’s future.
“I believe that the last five years have laid down the groundwork for what the future holds,” Kwiecien said. “I do believe that this is not a fad and it is something that is real.”
Liam Jackson wrote this article for Great Lakes Echo.
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