Dueling climatic wildfire studies

It seems that for every alarming press release these days, we can find an opposite and equal reaction. Perhaps we should dub it the First (or maybe third) Law of Climate Skepticism. We have this from the National Science Foundation this week:

Photo of a wildfire.Press Release 11-193
Scorched Earth: The Past, Present and Future of Human Influences on Wildfires

Fires have continuously occurred on Earth for at least the last 400 million years. But since the 1970s, the frequency of wildfires has increased at least four-fold, and the total size of burn areas has increased at least six-fold in the western United States alone. Steadily rising, the U.S.’s bill for fighting wildfires now totals $1.5 billion per year.

How much of the increases in the frequency and size of fires are due to human activities? No one knows for sure.  But a paper in this week’s issue of the Journal of Biogeography puts the role of fire in natural ecosystems into context and provides support for efforts to plan for future risks from wildfires.

Produced by an international team of researchers, the paper presents a new framework for considering wildfires based on the Earth’s pre-human fire history, ways that humans have historically used and managed fire and ways that they currently do so. “We need to look into the past to understand our current and future relationship with fire activity,” says Jennifer Balch of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

This research emphasizes the importance of understanding the relative influences of climate, human ignition sources and cultural practices in particular environments in order to design sustainable fire management practices that protect human health, property and ecosystems.

More information about this research, partially funded by the National Science Foundation, is provided in the accompanying interview with Balch, as well as in a press release issued by the University of California at Santa Barbara.

-NSF-

===============================================================

Reading that, you’d get the idea that the only the supposed recent climate change drives wildfire increase, right? Welll…not so fast. There’s more to the story. First, I think wildfire data suffers from the same sort of technology and media driven statistical bias near the present as do thunderstorm and tornadoes. Second, just like with Mannian team insistence that trees are accurate treemometers, there are many other factors and drivers in play. Liebigs law rules the issue, and water is often the most influential factor rather than temperature. Read this press release from 2009 by the Ecological Society of America below. Emphasis mine.

================================================================

Plants Could Override Climate Change Effects on Wildfires
Paleoecological data reveal strong influence of vegetation changes on wildfire frequency

The increase in warmer and drier climates predicted to occur under climate change scenarios has led many scientists to also predict a global increase in the number of wildfires. But a new study in the May issue of Ecological Monographs shows that in some cases, changes in the types of plants growing in an area could override the effects of climate change on wildfire frequency.

Philip Higuera of Montana State University and his colleagues show that although changing temperatures and moisture levels set the stage for changes in wildfire frequency, they can often be trumped by changes in the distribution and abundance of plants. Vegetation plays a major role in determining the flammability of an ecosystem, he says, potentially dampening or amplifying the impacts that climate change has on fire frequencies.

“Climate is only one control of fire regimes, and if you only considered climate when predicting fire under climate-change scenarios, you would have a good chance of being wrong,” he says. “You wouldn’t be wrong if vegetation didn’t change, but the greater the probability that vegetation will change, the more important it becomes when predicting future fire regimes.”

Higuera and his colleagues examined historical fire frequency in northern Alaska by analyzing sediments at the bottom of lakes. Using meter-long samples, called sediment cores, Higuera and his colleagues measured changes in the abundance of preserved plant parts, such as pollen, to determine the types of vegetation that dominated the landscape during different time periods in the past. Like rings in a tree, different layers of sediment represent different times in the past.

The researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine the sediment’s age, which dates as far back as 15,000 years. They then measured charcoal deposits in the sediment to determine fire frequency during time periods dominated by different vegetation. Finally, they compared their findings to known historical climate changes.

In many cases, the authors discovered, changes in climate were less important than changes in vegetation in determining wildfire frequency. Despite a transition from a cool, dry climate to a warm, dry climate about 10,500 years ago, for example, the researchers found a sharp decline in the frequency of fires. Their sediment cores from that time period revealed a vegetation change from flammable shrubs to fire-resistant deciduous trees, a trend which Higuera thinks was enough to offset the direct effects of climate on fire frequencies.

“In this case, a warmer climate was likely more favorable for fire occurrence, but the development of deciduous trees on the landscape offset this direct climatic effect. Consequently, we see very little fire,” Higuera says.

Similarly, during the development of the modern spruce-dominated forest about 5000 years ago, temperatures cooled and moisture levels increased, which – considered alone – would create unfavorable conditions for frequent fires. Despite this change, the authors observed an increase in fire frequency, a pattern they attribute to the high flammability of the dense coniferous forests.

Higuera thinks this research has implications for predictions of modern-day changes in fire regimes based on climate change. These findings, Higuera says, emphasize that predicting future wildfire frequency shouldn’t hinge on the direct impacts of climate change alone.

“Climate affects vegetation, vegetation affects fire, and both fire and vegetation respond to climate change,” he says. “Most importantly, our work emphasizes the need to consider the multiple drivers of fire regimes when anticipating their response to climate change.”

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58 thoughts on “Dueling climatic wildfire studies

  1. Cost of fires should not even be considered. If people insist on building homes in areas where fires can occur (which is anywhere there is combustible vegetation of any kind), then there is always the chance the homes will burn. Especially if the people prevent any active fire prevention actions such as controlled burns, fire roads etc. And just imagine the pre-mankind prairie fires that must have raged in the Plains states! It boggles the mind. Mother Nature has always used fire to change and renew habitat. Man is the one that keeps preventing her from doing what periodically needs to be done.

  2. Second Law of Climate Skepticism : the time lag in hours between publication of a wildly alarmist and mostly baseless CAGW article or blog and its total debunking on a realist article or blog is a quantity forevermore approaching zero.

  3. I live next to a nature preserve in Austin, TX. This preserve is choked with Ash Juniper and is dry in the wettest of years. The keepers of the preserve SHOULD be using a system of cutting and prescribed burns in an attempt to rehab the land to it’s state prior to the introduction of grazing cattle. However, their science only includes building fences and keeping mountain bikers and dogs out. As a result, we have hillsides full of tinder-dry material just waiting to burn down the whole city. I live in fear of this scenario. It’s a perfect example of shoddy science putting us in danger.

  4. It is clear from both these articles that fire events have to be considered in the context of climate change. Assessing risk involves looking at all factors and the way they interact. For example, when a forest is devastated (weakened) by pine beetles, as in California, or Spruce Bud Worms (Alaska), and rising populations encroach into forested areas, AND there is a prolonged period of drought, small fires can become out-of-control wildfires very quickly. Yes, fire has always been a natural event, and a means of assisting the forest to regenerate, but humans have greatly changed the landscapes, and in many areas we have replaced diverse forests with monoculture tree farms, which are far more susceptible to fire and disease. Remember too, that in the past 50 -60 years our populations have tripled (roughly 2 billion to 6 billion)and we continue to add about 90 million to our numbers every year. This increase ensures that the threats described above will continue and worsen.

  5. Jay Davis -exactly right. I am a former airtanker pilot.. I cannot tell you how how may time I have seen homes surrounded by brush, trees and having no defensible space. Then they complain about retardant on the shake roof….
    However the USFS and BLM has helped this idea along because they now do not really fight fires any more. The grounding of already meager air resources ( Chico’s own Aero Union) and the closing of forest roads contribute to the current state of the problem with wildfire.
    The lack of thinning of forests is another factor. An example of interference in the nautral process
    is the replanting of non approprite species after a fire, the non thinning of replanting after the
    reach a certain size….
    Then you blame global warming…

  6. Were not some of the fires in California caused by people not being allowed to clear brush etc away from homes? And this drives up the cost of fires as California then had very expensive homes as compared to other areas of the country. Climate had nothing to do with those fires.

  7. “The increase in warmer and drier climates predicted to occur under climate change scenarios has led many scientists to also predict a global increase in the number of wildfires. …”

    Predicted? By whom? I thought the consensus re climate change was warmer and wetter.

  8. There is a US Forest Service journal with a paper describing how natives of the pacific northwest set low-intensity fires ever few years in the fall. Most likely this was for the benefit of big game, which do not eat trees. This would have stopped in the late 19th century, when euro-settlers arrived.

    The accumulation of dead wood set the stage for high-intensity fires in the 1930s, which resulted in fire supression, eventually leading to more fires when logging was stopped by eco fascists.

  9. Agree with Jay Davis.

    And, we can’t compare a wild, unmanaged continent with what we have now. Fires were most likely a more common occurance, but less devastating. It would appear the natural state of a forest doesn’t include much underbrush.

    Sure, humanity’s fingerprint is all over the changes. But it definitely has nothing to do with CO2…

  10. I was under the impression that fires are larger now, but less frequent than previously, due to man’s interference.

    Environmentalists discourage little fires by building firebreaks and trying to stamp out every little fire as it occurs. Consequently, dead twigs and undergrowth build up over many years until such time as they provide a huge store of fuel for a very big fire.

    Of course, we should not forget the hand of man in the form of your friendly neighbourhood arsonist.

  11. Human factors for increasing wildfire incidence and intensity – sure:

    * many more people, often urban/suburban idiots using their new found (and undeserved) wealth to buy up pieces of wild land in the forest, and plopping a house down in the middle creating an indefensible space

    * same increase in people with no land ethic whatsoever moving into the woods, doing stupid things

    * federal agencies (primarily Forest Service * BLM) reneging on their promise to the rural west, refusing to manage several hundred million acres of forest, permitting it instead to grow old and moribund, and much more fire-prone

    * refusal by same federal agencies to use aggressive tactics (retardant, bulldozers, large airtankers) in wilderness areas, allowing small fires to become much larger

    Adding the above “human factors” to a landscape that is characterized by summer drought under normal situations, and occasionally exacerbated by cyclical drought, and we get more, larger, and more intense wildfires when a dry cold front blasts through with a spectacular lightning bust.

    I don’t see a climate signal, but clearly several important human factors that have nothing to do with anthropogenic CO2.

  12. “Despite this change, the authors observed an increase in fire frequency, a pattern they attribute to the high flammability of the dense coniferous forests.”

    This is one of the factors driving the Texas hill country wildfires, an area of dense juniper and cedar scrub forests.

  13. I have seen the tops of pine trees blowup – without outside influence or excessively high temperatures. It is lack of humidity [ Relative humidity less than or equal to 25% ]and the types of trees [ Pines have a high pitch content ]. When they do, the burning pitch spreads creating more burn.

    Look to humidity and tree types.

  14. I thought there was a huge conspiracy among scientists to demonstrate a solid consensus on the science being settled? And I thought sceptics here argued that contrary or non-negative climate science change wasn’t publishable? Appears to me that the science is still being done – it’s just that the climate science house of cards “sceptics” want to believe in just does not exist.

    First Law of Climate “Skepticism”: Be willing to make several conflicting arguments concurrently.

  15. LK
    You’re parenthetical swipe at ‘undeserved’ wealth
    has a strong tang of leftist envyism.
    Wealth is only undeserved when it’s stolen, whereas
    when its earned it’s by definition deserved,
    since it was given voluntarily.
    Most ‘undeserved’ wealth comes from stealing legally thru govt,
    especially ruinous tax rates to pay for high salaries at Fannie & Freddie
    and to bail out the Wall St firms that were Obama’s biggest donors.
    For example, Al Gore’s wealth is 100% ‘undeserved’,
    being garnered via govt-supported AGW lies.

  16. DeanL says:

    I thought there was a huge conspiracy among scientists to demonstrate a solid consensus on the science being settled?

    97% is the ridiculous alarmist claim.

    And I thought sceptics here argued that contrary or non-negative climate science change wasn’t publishable?

    Read The Hockey Stick Illusion and get educated. The deck is heavily stacked against scientific skeptics – the only honest kind of scientists.

    “Appears to me…” Baseless opinion. Pf-f-f-ft.

    First Law of Climate “Skepticism”: Be willing to make several conflicting arguments concurrently.

    You are conflating the cognitive dissonance endemic to the alarmist contingent by inventing your already debunked “Law.” Got anything actually worth posting? You can start any time.

  17. mkelly says:
    September 21, 2011 at 8:18 am
    Were not some of the fires in California caused by people not being allowed to clear brush etc away from homes?
    ========================================

    No, you’re thinking of Australia, where I still find it amazing that people were not charged with manslaughter for that (e.g. compare with Italy where scientists are being tried currently, for providing incompetent, generic information regarding the recent big earthquake there).

    Here in N. California, brush clearing was heavily encouraged even before the 1991 inferno. Now it’s mandated in the Oakland/Berkeley hills, complete with inspections. Also, many eucalyptus trees have been removed. It’s all a lot safer here now.

  18. Interstellar Bill says:
    September 21, 2011 at 9:33 am
    LK
    You’re parenthetical swipe at ‘undeserved’ wealth
    has a strong tang of leftist envyism…

    Bill, my apologies. I’m not a frequent poster here (although read and thoroughly enjoy this site!), so will take my 40 lashes for not including the /sarc tag.

    If you knew me, you’d understand. Indeed, it’s altogether possible we’ve met at a Tea Party event.

    Many in the CAGW crowd, even in my own forestry profession, point to the huge expanses of dead lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce in the interior west and proclaim loudly, “see, see, the extended drought was caused by man sourced CO2, resulting in the death of these trees.”

    Not so much. Most of these forests were unmanaged, and overmature and dying. Made them ripe for mountain pine beetle, and a huge conflagration should a lightning bust happen at the wrong time. The only human fingerprint is lack of management, nothing more.

  19. >>DeanL says:
    September 21, 2011 at 9:21 am
    I thought there was a huge conspiracy among scientists to demonstrate a solid consensus on the science being settled? And I thought sceptics here argued that contrary or non-negative climate science change wasn’t publishable? Appears to me that the science is still being done – it’s just that the climate science house of cards “sceptics” want to believe in just does not exist. <<

    Really? Which one of the two articles quoted above goes against the cAGW dogma? Neither.

    There is, however, an easy experiment any academic without tenure could do to prove us wrong, If you fit that category then just publish an article that points out any discrepancy in the cAGW dogma, and see how long you keep your faculty position. It doesn't even need to be much of a discrepancy, and could just be an article written for WUWT. Go ahead, dare to prove us wrong.

  20. Mr. Pepper
    I don’t at this time recall any studies showing monoculture tree farms being more susceptible to fire. Disease, yes, but I fail to see how they affect fire susceptability, since they are seldom of particualrly flammable species.
    “Hugh Pepper says:
    September 21, 2011 at 7:55 am
    ….. Yes, fire has always been a natural event, and a means of assisting the forest to regenerate, but humans have greatly changed the landscapes, and in many areas we have replaced diverse forests with monoculture tree farms, which are far more susceptible to fire and disease. …..”

  21. Perhaps a scientist could investigate the relationship that the number of fires is proportional to the human population and how that relationship changes with the affluence of that population. Alternatively it could be proportional to the number of matches/lighters that are sold in the aforesaid affluent population.

  22. “since the 1970s, the frequency of wildfires has increased at least four-fold, and the total size of burn areas has increased at least six-fold in the western United States alone.”

    Not according to this data from the US National Interagency Fire Center

    or NOAA

    or Canada:

  23. I am surprised that some Aussie hasn’t brought up the wildfires in the State of Victoria in 2009. Then there was a tinderbox of firewood that caught fire and swept across the land burning houses, trapping people when fleeing in their cars, and making international headlines. The few surviving structures had had the surrounding combustibles removed, which is against the law, and the people who removed the combustibles were fined, steeply. It is amazing that the laws against combustable removal still stands and that the people who had made the correct decision are out the money for doing the “right” thing. Fast forward to May 2011. The same State, the vast formerly fire ravaged lands are now a verdant green. Cows and sheep lowing in the lush rich pastures. Livestock ponds brimming with water. Streams and rivers cascading down the mountains and hillsides. Then dry, now wet; growing the kindling for the next wildfire. The lesson of prudent brush clearing lost on the State’s environmental regulatory structure.

  24. How about when fire was used to hunt, ie. drive herds to a place of slaughter, box canyon, cliff, waterway, etc.
    Despite a transition from a cool, dry climate to a warm, dry climate about 10,500 years ago, for example, the researchers found a sharp decline in the frequency of fires.
    During dry times there was no game = no fires from hunting.

  25. Would some forester from east of the Mississippi who has considerable experience with forest management please explain why there are no fires east of the Mississippi that compare with those west of the Mississippi? Florida is a special case. The fires in Florida occurred mostly in savannah or dry swamp not in forests.

  26. @LKMiller (aka treegyn1) says:
    September 21, 2011 at 8:59 am

    How are we to tell those who deserve their wealth from those who don’t?

  27. The incidence of fire over the last 400,000 years (at least) has been largely due to human beings. We are fire creatures, the only animal that can set fires. Fire lighting is as human as opposable thumbs. And we have done so with gusto for our entire existance as a species. Note that cooking with fire dates back 1.6 million years. Landscape burning has been a human trait since pre-humans roamed the globe with torches alit.

    Mankind has occupied North America for at least 15,500 years. That’s 3,500 years BEFORE the end of the Younger Dryas. When the continent finally warmed up, people were already here, setting fires.

    It has been estimated that over the last 12,000 years the incidence of human-set fire surpassed lighting ignitions by 10,000 to 1.

    http://westinstenv.org/histwl/2008/02/26/are-lightning-fires-unnatural-a-comparison-of-aboriginal-and-lightning-ignition-rates-in-the-united-states/

    So prevalent has been human fire that there are no “natural” plant assemblages in North America.

    http://westinstenv.org/histwl/2010/03/04/aboriginal-use-of-fire-are-there-any-%E2%80%9Cnatural%E2%80%9D-plant-communities/

    The climate has changed significantly during the Holocene. There have been warmer times, cooler times, wetter and dryer times. Yet during the Holocene human ignition has been a constant, so much so that all our ecosystems have been modified by human beings wielding torches.

    Has recent (20th Century) climate change altered fire regimes? Heck no. Humanity is in full control. Modern megafire holocausts are not “natural” but rather the result of human choices. One such choice has been to eliminate human-set fire and to allow fuels to build up to a-historical levels.

    It’s the fuels, not the climate. Catastrophic wildfires can and do burn in cool weather, and from Alaska to Mexico. Fire is not a climate phenomenon. It is a human-driven phenomenon.

    The UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) report can be criticized, and should be, but it marks a toe-dip by “naturalists” into the realm of anthropogenic fire. They didn’t get it right, but they did acknowledge the possibility that the climate-fire connection might be weak (or even non-existant). For that they get one star. The Ecological Monographs article is complete tripe and merits no more than a frowny face :(

  28. A little perspective:
    1871 the Peshtigo fire in Wisconsin burned 1.2 million acres, killed 2500 people. Little known, because it burned at the same time as the Chicago fire.
    In 1910, 3 million, yes, million acres burned in the northern Rockies.
    I remember the Sundance fire in northern Idaho, which ran 16 miles in 9 hours.
    And the Bel Air fire in southern California, in November of 1961. Not really very big, but it burned in populated hills with relatively good fire fighting capabilities, not in some remote forest. 16,000 acres, 484 homes destroyed.
    There have been many others, all before global warming.

  29. @LKMiller (aka treegyn1) says:
    September 21, 2011 at 8:59 am

    How are we to tell those who deserve their wealth from those who don’t?

    Nuke,

    Apparently you missed my follow-up, where I freely give up my mea culpa for not attaching the /sarc tag to a portion of my original post.

    You will never read class warfare rhetoric from my keyboard.

  30. Theo Goodwin says:
    September 21, 2011 at 11:41 am
    Would some forester from east of the Mississippi who has considerable experience with forest management please explain why there are no fires east of the Mississippi that compare with those west of the Mississippi? Florida is a special case. The fires in Florida occurred mostly in savannah or dry swamp not in forests.

    I’ve worked both sides, in the West since ’96. Forests east of the Mississippi have the luxury of laying geographically in the path of regular wet weather. In other words, for the most part, precipitation in the region east of the Miss. is more or less evenly distributed throughout the year. Yes, there are times when it can be drier, but that is relative. Except for times of cyclical and exceptional drought, in this region sufficient precip falls during the time when forests can burn to keep them almost asbestos in nature.

    West of the Mississippi, summer drought EVERY year is the norm. Even on the Oregon coast, a stupendously wet region from November through May, gets very little rain from June through Sept/Oct. Amazingly, the tree species in the West have adapted extremely well to this moisture regime, growing to very large sizes and very old ages, living on the water stored in the soil from winter precip.

    Add to this mix, dry thunderstorms. When a thunderstorm occurs east of the Miss. it is almost always wet, very wet. Snags struck by lightning are quickly extinguished. In the west in the summer, so-called “dry” cold fronts are the bane of wildland firefighters. Strong gusty winds, with abrupt changes of direction are accompanied by thousands of strikes, and little to no rain that reaches the ground (virga). After the passage of a dry cold front, thousands of new fires can appear in a bad fire season.

  31. It’s hardly surprising the number of fires has increased, because in the natural state fires burn very large areas. These areas then don’t burn again for a number of decades.

    Here in Western Australia we have the largest forest fires in the world. In 1974/75 one bushfire burnt 29 million hectares (about 70 million acres) of forest and burnt continuously for 2 years.

    Over the last decade the Australian government has compiled detailed statistics on vegetation fires in Western Australia and concludes,

    : Overall, the total number of fires that occurred within individual postcodes increased
    as population of that postcode increased, consistent with the fact that people are the principle causes of vegetation fires

    http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/E/0/4/%7BE0456E04-B449-4F4F-A35C-8B7B27410C21%7Dtbp027_05_wa.pdf

  32. LKMiller (aka treegyn1) says:
    Not a forestry type but as a frequent hiker both in Southeast and West you explanation agrees with my intuition.
    IMHO, controlling small fires (which allows fuel to accumulate and restricting logging which allows trees to “die of old age” adding to fuel in forests are the big reasons for bigger fires in West, although fires happen everywhere and most seem to be set by people (inadvertently or otherwise).

  33. LKMiller (aka treegyn1)
    Yep pard been there done that too. My intro to aerial firefighting was Yellowstone,’88. Truly a
    Mongolian, ah, well, I never saw anything like it. Simply put, a show for the tourists Poltical at worst..SW US to Alaska. California to Florida. All of the west that burns every summer. from the Cockpit of a four engine Douglas. DC 6/7. What always amazed me was the folks on the West coast that think because the Ocean was close the trees wouldn’t burn…
    DO not get me stared about Eycaliptus (Gasolinus Australus )…
    Do not miss the Politcs of firefighting that got worse under Clinton/Gore and worse and worse…

  34. .RE: “Theo Goodwin says:
    September 21, 2011 at 11:41 am
    Would some forester from east of the Mississippi who has considerable experience with forest management please explain why there are no fires east of the Mississippi that compare with those west of the Mississippi?”

    Google “The year that Maine burned.” October 1947. Here’s one of many links:

    http://www.nps.gov/acad/historyculture/fireof1947.htm

    Usually fall rains end summer droughts. 1947 was different.

    There are not so many plants in the east which, like some western pines, require fire to even open their cones. I think the ecology is simply more rain-based. It takes a special sequence of events, (called in these parts, “Damn bad luck,”) to create a worst-case-scenario, but it does happen.

    One strange peak in forest fires occurs in early May, in New Hampshire. It doesn’t seem to matter all that much how wet the winter has been. If you get around two weeks of brilliant sunshine before the leaves are out, then the forest floor, which is usually snow-covered or leaf-shaded, can get bone dry because the sun bakes it. It may only be dry a couple of inches down, but I’ve seen some fairly alarming fires get going in the understory, especially if there is any wind.

    The old timers say there never used to be so much dead wood in the woods, because there were a fair number of poor people and no heating assistance, and the poor would either ask permission, or “poach,” firewood. People kept an eye out for a fallen tree, as it was free wood. Now there is much more dead stuff lying around, which is asking for trouble.

    In New England lore is a tale of “The Withering Gale,” way back in Puritan times. Just when the trees were at their most tender, leafing out, some sort of unusual pattern brought hot air up from the Southwest, and blew it as a fair-weather gale. The air was so hot and dry the new growth got burned on the boughs, and oaks went from being lacy and golden to being blackened. I’m not sure how long it took the forests to recover, but I imagine there was the set-up for bad fires, for that brief period in the spring where the forest floor was neither snow-covered nor leaf-shaded was extended.

    Of course, in those times, and right up to the time shown by sepia photos from the Great Depression, people in New England tended to have the area around their homes clear of trees and even shrubs, (for every painter knows lilacs rot the clapboards.) A yard might have a shade tree or two, but those old Yankee were so frugal you can bet it either was a maple they could tap, or a tree with nuts they could eat.

    The few of those old timers still left alive shake their heads at our modern suburbs, especially the suburbs where you can hardly see the houses for the trees, (and shrubs and vines and gazebos.) Mostly it is because we grow so little to eat, and rather than making money we have to hire ten landscapers. However a few have mused, “….and if there’s evah a dry yeah with fiahs….” and left the sentence unfinished.

  35. All of the fires burning in New South Wales here in Australia these recent two weeks or so ALL Of them were deliberately lit.

  36. philincalifornia says:
    September 21, 2011 at 10:05 am

    mkelly says:
    September 21, 2011 at 8:18 am
    Were not some of the fires in California caused by people not being allowed to clear brush etc away from homes?
    ========================================

    No, you’re thinking of Australia, ………….
    =========================================

    mkelly is correct.
    In the huge ’91 fires many homes were lost in the Riverside area. The Feds were sued because they had disallowed firebreaks to be cut even as the flames approached.- would have disturbed the habitat of some obscure ‘endangered’ rat.
    One of the homeowners in the area saved his home using his bulldozer to clear brush – he was cited by the Feds for doing so. He in return sued them.
    Don’t remember how that turned out…

    Bob.

  37. Hmmm. Fires up since the 1970s? Nothing makes an arsonist happier than a lit match, and rolling coverage of his handiwork on TV news.

  38. Hum, let’s see. First it was only temperature and soil moisture content that were important in making ‘accurate’ estimates of fire risk, now lo and behold, it’s determined that vegetation changes over time are significant also. I dare say that over time a number of other significant factors will be discovered (some of which may have already been discovered but lost in old literature that didn’t get discovered for newer papers).

    The entire system is intricate and complicated, not reducible to a simplistic two or three factors – or at least I’d sure be willing to bet on the former rather than the latter. I’d also be willing to bet that many of the interrelationships will turn out to be yet more ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ conundrums, along the same lines as debates now about whether clouds can be forcings or only feedbacks wrt global climate.

    So, from that, let’s just segue into a little tangential speculation and correlation – after all, isn’t that what ‘climate scientists’ do so well? (/gratuitous unnecessary but somehow satisfying ad hom)

    So… fewer sunspots = lower solar magnetic field = higher incidence of cosmic rays impacting the earth = greater cloud cover = changing climate regime towards lower temperatures = greater temperature differential between poles and equator = increased winds, more extreme storms = more thunderstorms over land masses = more lightning strikes = more forest fires… which brings us very nicely round to the apparent finding of ‘paradoxically’ increased forest fire levels during times of cooler global temperatures.

    Darn it, I should have written the paper first, kept it secret, gotten very large grant to ‘research’ the impact of global warming on expected future forest fire number and size which could result from the 2 to 8 degree C temperature increases as projected to occur by 2100. Then divided said paper into approximately 4 papers each covering various aspects of my above ‘equation,’ which of course really needs to be developed into a full fledged model (another few papers there), and then started presenting said papers for publication. /off sly but often academically successful strategic planning cynicism

    Where upon full body slam against brick wall would almost certainly immediately occur, as results of said papers would fail to meet the currently preferred paradigm. /gratuitous insult of anonymous group, who knows who they are but we can only speculate as the peer reviewers are anonymous and this group insult certainly doesn’t include ALL of them.

  39. R. M. Lansford says:
    September 21, 2011 at 8:05 pm
    philincalifornia says:
    September 21, 2011 at 10:05 am
    mkelly says:
    September 21, 2011 at 8:18 am
    Were not some of the fires in California caused by people not being allowed to clear brush etc away from homes?
    =======================================

    I’ll take your word for it Bob, although I’m not sure which one you’re talking about. The 1991 inferno was up here in the north – #1 on the list for structures destroyed:

    http://www.fire.ca.gov/communications/downloads/fact_sheets/20LSTRUCTURES.pdf

    Whatever, what I said was true for around these parts. I oughta know, my house was among the first 10 to go.

  40. LOL!! Seek, and ye shall find. I wish I knew how to copy selected text from an online google book page… Henderson and Peter 1981 identifed large fire years for Wash. state Olympic Mountains region of 1309, 1442, 1497, 1668. Each of which falls into the temporal envelope of the Wolf, Sporer, and Maunder Minimums respectively, and all of which were of course periods of low sun spot activity and lower temperatures. Page 33 http://books.google.com/books?id=52x1XvcUA0AC&lpg=PA26&dq=percentage%20of%20%22naturally%20occurring%20forest%20fires%22&pg=PA33#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Then Swetnam and Betancourt, 1990 tied SW USA wide spread fire extent years to La Nina, and conversly, low extent to extreme El Nino years. The book goes on to use the example of the strong 1982-3 El Nino years relation not only to low fire extent in SW USA, but to wide spread fire years in Borneo and Australia – all because of a shift in the intertropical convergence zones associated with strong El Nino’s. So again, contrary to general perceptions, it appears that hotter temps aren’t associated with fire extent nearly to the degree that changes in precipitation and other factors effect the system.

    I’ve briefly tried to find some stats (that seemed reasonably unbiased/reputable) regarding the percentage of forest fires started naturally vs. by man. Not having much luck, but it’s my recollection that supposedly the large majority of fires start naturally – and that this fact was the reason the iconic “Smokey the Bear – Only YOU Can Stop Forest Fires” campaign was eventually stopped (or drastically decreased). I did run across one bit that gave an example of a single month, (or summer?), in either Washinton or Oregon where over 600 fires were started by natural lightning strikes which resulted in a very large area, IIRC, something like 17,000, ha being burned.

  41. re posts by:
    philincalifornia says: September 21, 2011 at 10:34 pm
    R. M. Lansford says: September 21, 2011 at 8:05 pm
    philincalifornia says: September 21, 2011 at 10:05 am
    mkelly says: September 21, 2011 at 8:18 am

    For whatever it’s worth, this San Diego County government document states that failure to sufficiently clear brush etc., from around homes significantly contributed to the 2003 ‘Firestorm.’

    http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dplu/fire_resistant.html

    This one is along similar lines wrt to the 2007 Lake Tahoe area fire: http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/982057/failure_to_clear_brush_aided_fire_officials_say/index.html

    I seem to recall quite a few similar articles over the past 10 to 15 years related to major California and SW USA fires.

    Meanwhile, on the ‘what causes wildfires most, man or nature’ front…. I rather hate to go here because wikipedia is so notoriously inaccurate, but it’s just too convenient. Here’s what they say on the matter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildfire

    …The most common cause of wildfires varies throughout the world. In the United States, Canada, and northwest China, for example, lightning is the major source of ignition. In other parts of the world, human involvement is a major contributor. In Mexico, Central America, South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Fiji, and New Zealand, wildfires can be attributed to human activities such as animal husbandry, agriculture, and land-conversion burning. Human carelessness is a major cause of wildfires in China and in the Mediterranean Basin. In Australia, the source of wildfires can be traced to both lightning strikes and human activities such as machinery sparks and cast-away cigarette butts.”[6]…

  42. re post by Mark Albright says: September 21, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    It turns out a significant portion of the enhanced fire danger in SE Arizona earlier this year was due to frost damaged oak trees which suffered through the great freeze of early February 2011: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/swasafety/alerts-advisories/0501_CNF-fuels-advisory.pdf
    For some reason this did not receive much coverage in the press which seemed fixated on blaming the fires on global warming.

    Thanks for posting that – I sure hadn’t heard it before and its fascinating. Immediately reminds me of the articles about the extreme Florida cold snap doing what appears to be far greater damage and bleaching of coral reefs than any high temp excursions have.

  43. Wildfire is natural and in many cases is a help rather than a hindrance because it clears forests of insects that destroy trees as they found in Yellowstone with the Lodge Pole pine. Many forest species rely on fire to help the germination of seeds for a new generation. So these benefits must be weighed against the costs.

    The wildfires in Australia were made worse, and deaths caused, by environmental policies that forbade the removal of undergrowth from round habitation to help wildlife. Unfortunately it provided a good source of fuel to help burn houses down.

  44. This is rank cherry-picking. From my forthcoming book, Don’t Sell Your Coat:

    “In the 1920s, according to the U.S. Forest Service, fires burned an average of 26 million acres a year. During the 1930s, they burned an average of 39 million acres a year. During the 1940s, the total was 22 million acres a year. During the 1950s, 10 million acres a year. During the 1960s, the total burned was 5 million acres a year. During the 1970s, 4 million acres a year. During the 1980s and ’90s, fires again burned an average of 5 million acres a year. The record for the 2000s shows an annual average of 7 million acres a year.

    “Thus, the overall trend for the past century is overwhelmingly in decline. If the number of acres burned increased next year to the levels of the 1920s and ’30s, what do you suppose the newspaper headlines would read?”

    The NSF signed off on these false claims? Really? For shame…

  45. @Caleb:

    “There are not so many plants in the east which, like some western pines, require fire to even open their cones.:

    Actually, lodgepole pine is essentially the only widespread species in the west with serotinous cones, and even that is not complete across the range. In the east, a very close relative of lodgepole, jack pine, has serotinous cones across its complete range. Where ranges of jack and lodgepole come together in Manitoba, hybridization occurs and we see a broad range of cone serotiny.

    Western species co-evolved with fire. Thus, combined with ever-increasing bark thickness with advancing age, completely unmanaged stands (no fire control whatsoever) in the interior west developed a regime of light intensity surface fires, thereby cleaning out the understory of brush and thickets of small trees. The larger trees with very thick bark protecting them from light intensity fires, thrived.

    Another human influence on fires comes via our friend Smokey – the rush to jump on every smoke and “put them out by 10 o’clock,” lead to stands in the interior west choked with young trees, and much more prone to a stand-replacing fire.

  46. Guess I Rip Van Winkled. Didn’t the AGW “scientists” proclaim and explain to the press
    that the snow driven spring floods were caused by the modeled, predicted increase
    in water vapor?

  47. I agree Natural fire is important. But,I’m not against Smokey Bear. There are way too many human caused fires. The big fire on the Apache-Sitgraves this year was due to careless campers, Arson, and accidents happen. BTW the “Out by 10:00″ has long been gone. More like “Out when it rains/snows”. Reason has to used when managing fire. A good example
    is the Tillamook Forest. Now the state of Oregon has been looking at a “Green” option, since the replanted trees (at the hads of the good people of Tillamook county in the 1950’s ) Green meaning “no/little cut” the stand needs to be thinned. to not thin is foolish…

  48. How much of the increases in the frequency and size of fires are due to human activities? No one knows for sure.

    Many of these recent fires in the US could have been started by arsonists, terrorists, technocrats, or careless campers.

  49. Australian Police have arrested two teenagers (19 and 13) who are suspected to have started all the recent fires in New South Wales. I wonder if they are involved with any pro-agw groups?

  50. The Park Service line included a big dose of nonsense after the Yellowstone fire. “It’s part of a natural process and is really a good thing”. Well, not quite. They let the fuels build up to unnaturally high levels so that when the fire occurred, flames were twice as high as the trees. Natural fires in the area are generally ground fires, not nearly so intense.

    The bit about the fires killing the bugs that would otherwise kill the trees is questionable at best. Sure, the bugs died, but so did the trees. “We have to destroy the forest to save it” kind of thinking.

    The Yellowstone fire fire did release a lot of seed from the lodgepole cones. But a couple years after the burn, I walked several acres and saw only half a dozen seedlings. The fire not only released the seed, but it also burned a lot of them. I haven’t been back there, so the forest may have come back, but it didn’t look like a good start, at least in the area I surveyed.

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