Colorado’s New Usual: Dry, Windy, and Burning

In 2013, Colorado’s wildfire season arrived two months earlier than it used to. Right now, the Black Forest fire has already claimed some 360 homes. Black Forest is–or was–a magically beautiful area just north of Colorado Springs. I haven’t visited for decades, but I remember its mix of open meadows and thickly treed areas populated with impish, tufted-ear black squirrels.

I’m saddened but not surprised by the fire. Most of us who follow scientific reports were not surprised. Even some conservatives whose work forces them to be aware of the outdoor world are coming around to reality, that is, things are changing rapidly in Colorado and most of the rest of the world and, for the most part, not for the better.

For example, over the last few years, I’ve watched one right-leaning friend–yes, I have some conservative friends–reverse direction on climate change. Several years ago, I mentioned climate change and he said he didn’t “believe in all that.” Then, after a brief pause, he said, “Well, there are the pine beetles.”

The number of dying trees had become epidemic and, since he’s a wild-land firefighter who also does wildfire mitigation for people living in Colorado’s mountains, he had to admit something was up. People who just glance at the mountains now and then might not notice the progressive changes, but his job wouldn’t allow him to avoid knowing. Snow was melting earlier each year. Trees were dying. This meant more fires.

Then the pine beetle epidemic got worse. His wife is a forester, so he knew about the role of warmer nights as well as hot days on the beetle’s breeding cycles. Now, given increased temperatures–suitable for pine beetle orgies–Colorado now gets not one but two crops of pine beetles during one summer. Mountain forests now resemble war zones, dead pines and water-stressed aspen stand at attention awaiting their ultimate fate–wildfires.

When I last saw him, my conservative friend mentioned talking to someone who did wind research in the mountains. That person had talked about unprecedented wind speeds of 160 mph. The once-denier shrugged and said, “Well, it’s all good for me. I’m going to have a lot of work.”

According to this article, yes, he will:
“How Climate Change Makes Wildfires Worse”

I wonder if he’ll appreciate being in agreement with an article in Mother Jones.

Perhaps I’ll be kind and not tell him. Or I’ll be my normal self and gloat. Does it matter? Either way I now get to go back to worrying about the Big Meadows fire. It’s far away from us in Rocky Mountain National Park, but that land is part of the drainage which supplies us with irrigation water, something we aren’t getting much of this year because of the drought. Next year, we could get even less as the burned land spills debris into the reservoirs.



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