Future #1: Hot, Dry, and Out of Control

NPS WHIS Fire Management Officer (FMO)

At this point, this "Future Situation" is already a present day reality. There is no good scientific argument against Global Warming, no matter what the causal factors. We are already starting to experience lengthening fire seasons, warming global temperatures and increasingly unprecedented drought conditions. Despite advances in technology and process we in the wildland fire service continue to battle increasingly larger fires at greater costs with greater cumulative patch severity than we have in the past. Tough all of this is known and passively understood, even now we are beginning to realize that our Climate Prediction Models initialized over a decade ago are largely under predicting what we are experiencing to date. If anything we are lacking and lagging in our understanding and comprehension of where we stand and where we are headed. Based on my personal observation, we as a collective group are good at identifying, evaluating and understanding the individual elements, at best up to several concurrently, but have significant limitations with our ability to fathom the interconnected details, processes and resultant issues something such as global warming presents.

 

As things stand now, Congress is well underway with reducing Fuels funding and support based in part on this trend of increasingly large fires, at significant budgetary cost, with increasingly perceived detrimental impacts. By default the National Fuels program and funds invested to date have been generally considered ineffective and unjustifiable with regard to continued Congressional prioritization and allocation to these activities in the face of increasingly limited federal funding. Even with the National Fire Plan funding, we as a cumulative group, were not able to treat as much of the landscape as determined to be required to effectively move the meter. With a decline in Congressional support and funding this trend and gap will only increase in coming years. Add to this increasing concerns and issues with air quality, continued expansion and development into wildland areas to name a few and fuels treatment activities such as Rx Fire become even more hamstrung. None of these issues are going away either. Simply put....as population increases, pressure on limited resources will increase exponentially. Thus, greater impacts with regard to global warming trends, more development and expansion, greater concern/need for healthy air to breath and so on.....

 

With regard to this element.....the future is now. Time to look even further down the proverbial road.

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What information could help mitigate the risks presented by this future? :

Direct and open communication and education about were we are, what we know and where we think we are headed both internally and externally. Fire Is....neither necessarily good or bad, not completely within our ability to control when and where desired. This needs to be understood both implicitly and explicitly. We need to be clear that fire is a very necessary part and parcel of the environment. It will happen and it will not necessarily be a complete disaster when it does. It may type convert an area it may provide its preservation. It may destroy one species habitat while benefiting another. In the simplest form fire is part of an evolutionary process. Even if we can not call it a "benefit" from an agency accounting perspective, it for better or worse will likely be the only way we will consistently experience the potential benefits of landscape scale fire moving into the future. Especially as Rx fire treatments become increasing difficult to implement. We as a culture and society will have to come to grips with this.

What information could help capitalize on opportunities presented by this future? :

Perhaps we need to do better job of selling the fact that even with events like the Rim fire, there are still tangible benefits. Even internally we tend to view these events as complete disasters. We do a good job of quantifying and interpreting the negative impacts of these events. Perhaps if we spent equal time looking into potential benefits we may find that the overall good out weighed the negative. Keep in mind.....Fire Is......neither bad or good. It fulfills both. It just depends on perspective.

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Idea No. 59