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I know Dailykos is a political website, and I most certainly am a political animal, but sometimes you get a shot of perspective that causes politics to take a back seat for awhile.

Yesterday, just before 8:00AM, a fire started in the foothills of northern Colorado, about 15 miles west of the city of Fort Collins.  Since about 2004, much of the west has been in an historic drought.  We've had a couple years of normal or above normal precipitation, then we go right back to drought.  This past March, our wettest month, we had 0" precipitation.  Since then, we've had just over 1" of precipitation.

In our changing climate, extremes are the new normal.  The winters, here in Colorado, just don't get cold enough to kill the pine beetles, and now they've decimated our beautiful forests.  In the area I live in, maybe 90% of the pine trees have died, and are ready to burn like they were made of gasoline.  Did I mention how much I hate Global Warming denialists?  

More, and pictures of the fire, below the fold.

Where I live, it seems like Global Warming has intensified the effects of ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation).  In the El Nino year of 2010, we had over 17 feet of snow, with three storms of 2 1/2 feet, 3 feet, and in April, 3 1/2 feet.  This year, in a La Nina year, we barely had 2 feet of snow, with this horrendous drought condition starting at the beginning of the year.

This is what's happening in my area, but I'll bet just about everyone reading this can report very, very, weird weather in their area.  From floods to droughts to warm winters to cold winters to too much snow to who knows what, the climate is changing and it's hurting in ways we've just begun to realize.

Now let me put the political spin on this very bad situation.  We know the Republican denialists are not going to do a thing to try and stop the rapidly decaying climate situation that we all face.  And we Democrats have some party cleaning to do (too many blue dogs), and we need a lot more Democrats throughout the country, if we want to leave a livable environment to our children.  The next person who says, I'm so bummed out about Wisconsin, or Obama, or the Democrats, that I'm not going to vote or help out in the next election, I'm going to harass and scream at every post like that until Kos kicks me out.

So here is what has been happening in my neck of the woods over the past 24 hours.  There's another large fire to my north in Wyoming that I can see smoke from, and numerous other fires in Colorado.

This picture is looking out my back door from about 30 miles away:
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This picture is from a friend who lives in Fort Collins and was taken a couple of hours ago.Photobucket

The rest of these were taken yesterday and posted in the Denver Post.
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Comment Preferences

  •  wow. I would be afraid to see that coming even (8+ / 0-)

    from so far away. thanks. I come to dkos for the personal views, political or not, and other people's local news.

  •  90% of your trees are dead? Ugh. That is terrible. (11+ / 0-)

    Here in soCal you can look into the forests and see the dead trees from beetle kill. But it certainly isn't that high. It makes me sad.

    Poverty = politics.

    by Renee on Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 08:05:15 AM PDT

  •  Fire is a historically natural component (4+ / 0-)

    of western forest ecology.

    In ponderosa pine ecosystems, which are the most common western forest type, fires should occur as often as every 3 to 5 years in some places. If they do, then they're generally low intensity fires which don't kill trees and are much less of a threat to property.

    Fire suppression, which was Forest Service policy from 1910 until recently, has allowed the buildup of high fuel densities, which cause unnatural high intensity fires that do kill trees (although beetle outbreaks may also have devastated ponderosa stands).

    Lodgepole pine ecosystems should experience fires every 100 to 400 years. Colorado has lots of acres of relatively even-aged forest, due to the deforestation of the mining years from about 1870 on.

    Where you have extensive beetle kill in lodgepole (which is more or less inevitable, as beetles prefer large, mature trees) there are only two solutions. One is to log off the dead trees and reduce forest density to protect the remaining trees (both from beetles and subsequent fires). The Forest Service had a program to do just that in the 1970-80s. It was stopped due to citizen complaints about people cutting trees in forests - mostly complaints from newly arrived citizens. That would have slowed the tree kills, reduced the amount of fuel available to burn in subsequent fires, and allowed for reproduction - new trees would be as much as 30-40 years old now.

    The second alternative is to let dead lodgepole burn. Lodgepole seeds are encased in a waxy substance which prevents the seeds from germinating - often for tens of years or more - until a high enough temperature releases the seeds. Usually fires are needed to achieve that temperature.  Fires in lodgepole are almost always "stand replacement" fires, where the entire forest is killed and replaced by new growth. The classic example is the 1980s Yellowstone fires, which have long since been considered an ecological success.

    This was a situation waiting to happen, even without climate change (drought is a naturally recurring weather cycle). Climate change may have accelerated it and made the problem more widespread, but it was going to happen sooner or later anyway because of forest mismanagement.

    This isn't a surprise - I wrote a diary about large Colorado fires 3 years ago:

    In the 1970s, Colorado produced over 100 million board feet of lumber annually from lodgepole pine. By the 1980s that was down by 80%, and is probably less today. I have no idea of how that program was run - whether it was actually done in a way to improve forests. But selective cutting and some small clearcuts in infected areas over that period would have left Colorado forests in better shape.

    What stopped that? Public outrage over trees being cut.

    That outrage leaves Colorado facing basically two choices: let the forests burn, or cut down the forests before they burn and yes, that's spelled "c-l-e-a-r-c-u-t", because less drastic prevention wasn't carried out in time. The trees are already dead.

    The logging option may have gone with the mortgage crisis. British Columbia (which has an even larger problem than Colorado with MPBs) fostered a logging/lumber boom in its dying forests in an area roughly from Quesnel and Fort St James north to Prince George. It was exceptionally good for the BC economy until the bottom fell out of the US construction market.

    Had cutting and reforestation continued from the 1970s onward, Colorado would no longer have only the old, even-aged forests that beetles thrive on, that are timed to die almost all at the same time. And instead of the millions that will be spent in coming years defending from wildfire the homes of people who stopped the logging in Colorado, Colorado would have a sustainable forest products industry, along with growing forests.

    Logging isn't usually a solution to forest problems, and can often exacerbate them if done unintelligently. But when you have dead trees it's one of only two alternatives. The other alternative is operating now.

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood - Tom Robbins

    by badger on Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 08:41:30 AM PDT

    •  This is nowhere near normal! (8+ / 0-)

      We have always had beetle kill in pine forests, but this a difference of degree so large, that it is a difference of kind.

      The largest fire ever recorded in Colorado took place just a few years ago, the largest fire ever recorded in Arizona was last year, and the largest fire ever recorded in New Mexico is still being fought.  And I haven't even begun to talk about total acreage burned.

      Sorry, but anyone who thinks this is anywhere near a normal situation doesn't understand the climate induced change in the ecosystems that is taking place in the west.

      •  It's a beautiful day here (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        the fan man, Kestrel228, walkshills

        and I'm going out to work on the section of forest I'm restoring at the moment. You seem to believe that would be wasting my time.

        Apparently the difference we have is that you'd like to blame everything on climate, and I can look around here and see what problems I can deal with that both protect my forest and make the impact of climate change less devastating.

        It's never too late to have a happy childhood - Tom Robbins

        by badger on Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 10:16:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  i don't know the particulars of this fire, but I (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Kestrel228, RunawayRose

          like going out and doing something constructive. Kudos.

          “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

          by the fan man on Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 10:39:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I think you overstate pollwatcher's views (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pollwatcher, RunawayRose

          and by contrast, your own virtuousness as compared to him.

          A bit tacky, I think.

          •  Tacky yeah, virtuous, probably not, but (0+ / 0-)

            consider that in the 1970s the USFS already knew this was going to be a problem, they implemented a plan that probably would have worked, they could have implemented more ambitious plans (for example creating more of a mixed forest) that would have nearly fire-proofed the forest, but citizen complaints (not science) put an end to all that.

            At least 5 years ago the beetle infestation was known to be a problem, yet today, there are still 2 million acres of standing dead trees in CO alone (and this is a problem throughout the western US and BC). Apparently nobody could have predicted the outcome of 2 million acres of dead trees, drought and maybe one bolt of lightning or tossed cigarette. If so, that would be because of the altitude or thin air in CO.

            Maybe the beetles would have only killed 25% of the trees instead without warmer winters - that's enough to create conditions favorable to a fire that would kill the remaining 75% (lodgepole aren't fire tolerant) - cf Yellowstone fire, 1988, which wasn't put down to either beetles or climate, but is the same situation. Eventually, the beetles would have reached the same point as now - it just might have taken a few more years. That's what happens in dense lodgepole forests, and foresters know that.

            But to come along 40 years later, when this endpoint was completely predictable and avoidable, even as recently as last year when trees could have been cut, and now blame it all on climate change is negligent and stupid on the part of responsible people who knew better and did nothing.

            I'll take tacky over that any day of the week.

            It's never too late to have a happy childhood - Tom Robbins

            by badger on Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 05:36:23 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Your longer post is more to the point... (0+ / 0-)

              and probably accurate.  Living in CO for the first time in 35 years, the beetle damage is way beyond anything I saw back in the 60s or 70s .... and you are right about the impact of leaving a bunch of dead or dying trees standing.  We are in the midst of one more of what will be quite a few bad fires this year -- a combo of dead trees and a very dry year.

      •  Ghost ForestS of 30s and 40s (0+ / 0-)

        I read an entomology paper in 2001 that predicted the pine beetle outbreak based on large kills in the thirties and forties so much so they were called ghost forests. They were caused by the abnormally warm winters. From that experience the author predicted based on global warming that there would be more ghost forests in the future. Now we have a pine bark beetle fed mega fire.

        http://www.usu.edu/...

      •  wrong (0+ / 0-)

        you are spreading misinformation.  The largest fire in Colorado did not take place "just a few years ago".

        There have always been wildfires in Colorado, much larger than anything in recent years.  They are not increasing in frequency or magnitude.  In fact, the overall trend for wildfires in the U.S. is down about 70% since the 1970s.  Fires don't care about climate change.  When it's hot and dry, there are fires.  Alarmists count on the fact that most people aren't old enough to remember the horrible fires of years ago, or that they don't know how to use Google Newspapers.  Here are a few examples that destroy your claim that the largest fire ever recorded in Colorado took place just a few years ago.  You really should research this stuff before you make such bold and false statements.  This is normal, stop scaring the children.

        http://i24.photobucket.com/...

        http://i24.photobucket.com/...

        http://trove.nla.gov.au/...=

        http://i24.photobucket.com/...

  •  I have live in Arizona and New Mexico (7+ / 0-)

    A few years ago we lived in the four corners (NE) area of Arizona.  I made some calls to some forestry science people and learned about pinon, juniper and ponderosa ecology.

    It seems that the pine bark beetles naturally thin out trees in drought years and fire cleans them out.  

    By various people's estimates, the region has been in a drought condition for over a decade now.  

    I have been living in Albuquerque, where smoke can be seen from the record acreage burning in the southwest part of the state, over on the Arizona line.  

    What a lot of people don't seem to appreciate is that these trees are very slow to grow, compared to trees in Colorado or anyplace where there is more rainfall normally.

    The climate scientists won't connect local conditions to overall global temperature trends.  However, to me, it looks like the sort of thing that could very well change the landscape forever.

    The longer the drought conditions we have been experiencing go on, the further into the future re growth will be seen.  

    Water is already a big issue, and will do doubt continue to become a bigger issue.  

    Even progressive state legislators think that renewed growth and development will solve budget dilemmas and restore the prosperity of former times.  

    We see to be in a new world, but its dimensions are unknown to us and we as a culture are having a very hard time adjusting our minds to the new normal.  This would seem to indicate that if change is upon us and comes too fast we may not have the capacity to deal with it.

    hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

    by Stuart Heady on Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 10:10:23 AM PDT

  •  I used to live in Ft. Collins (10+ / 0-)

    I haven't been in Colorado in a number of years now, but I do remember some of the dry years and obviously the bad fires in 2002 (Hayward, Haywood?...I forget the exactly name)  

    I was in BC for three years and the pine beetle problem there is unreal.  If there's a more obvious canary in the coalmine than what's going on with their forests, I don't know what it is.  Except maybe polar bears.  

    I hesitate to point to any one single event as "proof", but it's definitely yet another part of the overall sweeping big picture.

    •  Here's some data behind your anecdotes (9+ / 0-)

      March was the driest in the historical record. Spring was the fourth driest. At the press conference this morning it was noted that the grass never greened up. Pine bark beetle infections are the result of global warming because there is not the cold winters to kill them. This makes for more dry timber. The 12-month period from June 2011 to May 2012 was the warmest ever in the historical record for any other 12-month period. It's not only warmer but much warmer. The National Climatic Data Center said the odds of attributing this to random chance, aka weather, is one in half a million. Note all the record highs and how unusual it is in the following link, particularly how many cities exceed three sigma. Three sigma means that this is warmer now than 99.9% of the other years.

      http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/...

      •  Nice stats, thanks for posting. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, rblinne, G2geek

        Here in lies the dilemma.  Of course no one or even several rare events can be linked to Global Warming, but the stats show that the "rare" events are becoming much more "normal" now.

        This is the 3rd significant fire we've had in the county in the last month, and there are several other fires throughout the southwest.  At what point do we get to say that the overall unusual conditions are due to Global Warming?  The denialists will say never, because there's always been droughts, there's always been beetle kill, there's always been fires...  At some point the difference in degree makes it a difference in kind, and we are well beyond that point now.

        •  Another Aspect of Global Warming (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pollwatcher, G2geek

          More and more of the area will be hot at the same time. That means more simultaneous heatwaves crashing the electrical grid and more simultaneous wildfires during fire season. Again this is the "new normal". Governor Hickenlooper this morning said we already have 1/3 of the national resources. There are only ten heavy tankers in the country and three of them are flying over us right now. During the Hewlett fire we were sharing with Arizona and fortunately we could get by with two heavy tankers. Governor Romney does not believe that fire fighters are worth supporting. That just makes me mad when my friends are evacuating.

  •  Here in Fort Collins (7+ / 0-)

    we had ash fall on the deck during the night, but the air is pretty good right now. I have COPD, so may have to make a run for it.

    GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

    by gzodik on Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 10:46:06 AM PDT

  •  3P.M. in S. Fort Collins. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pollwatcher, G2geek

    Air still good right here.

    It looks like there's a river of dense gray smoke maybe a few hundred feet high, streaming from W to E a few miles north.

    Surface wind from the SE, however.

    GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

    by gzodik on Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 02:08:33 PM PDT

  •  I don't get it (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pollwatcher, G2geek, rja

    My daughter is an intern with the Obama campaign. She called up her supervisor and asked about this fire noting particularly Romney's tone deaf comments on firefighters on Friday. He said she should come into the office and do voter registration. This is while her best friend will probably be evacuating in a few hours. I understand why Corey Gardiner says nothing as he's sold out to the oil and gas interests long ago. The Obama campaign in Colorado really, really needs to pick up on this, though. Long story, short, my daughter will be coming into the office on Monday loaded for bear. Knowing her all her life you really don't want to get her mad.

  •  Stop lying (0+ / 0-)

    Here's some perspective.  There have been a lot of stories in the last few days about the Ft. Collins fire being "unprecedented" and "caused by global warming"    Check out the map at the link below.  

    http://i24.photobucket.com/...

    The red dots represent last week's fire in Ft. Collins.  The blue rectangle represents the fire of 1898 (back when CO2 levels were much, much lower and below the 350 safe threshold).  The 1898 fire was hundreds, if not thousands of times larger.  I wonder if people back then blamed it on horses or bean farmers?  Next time someone says these fires are unprecedented and caused by global warming, you can safely assume that they either

    a)  Have no idea what they are talking about.

    or

    b)  They are lying to promote a political agenda.

    Also, As far as frequency of fires, the National Interagency Fire Center reports that fire frequency is down 70% since the 1970s.  

    http://www.nifc.gov/...

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