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Why you should care about wildfires

Recently everyone in the Midwest has been talking about the smoky haze that has settled onto our communities from the Canadian wildfires. Wildfires have been a natural part of many ecosystems for thousands of years. Some tree cones need to be heated before they open and release their seeds. Wildfires also help keep ecosystems healthy. They can kill insects and diseases that harm trees. By clearing underbrush, and weak trees, fires can make way for new grasses, herbs, and shrubs that provide food and habitat for animals and birds. At low intensity, flames can clean up debris and underbrush on the forest floor, add nutrients to the soil, and open up space to let sunlight through to the ground. That sunlight can nourish smaller plants and give larger trees room to grow and flourish. Climate change has been responsible for warmer temperatures which intensify drought and dry out forests, making fires more likely to become very destructive and hard to control. So far the 2023 Canadian fire season has burnt around 24.7 million acres shattering all previous records. For comparison 40 years ago the 1983 season only burnt 2.5 million acres of land. Although wildfires are a natural process, high-intensity fires have been making more frequent appearances due to climate change.

It may come as a surprise that these wildfires have appeared at the same time as other extreme climate and weather events across the world, but that isnt very unreasonable. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as of July 11, 2023, of the lower 48 states, 12 are in an excessive drought. From South Florida to Northern Nevada more than 100 million Americans are under heat alerts this week, with temperatures in the southwest well over 100 degrees daily. Just a week prior to countless heat records being shattered, Vermont experienced historical catastrophic flooding. Widespread rainfall of six to eight inches was observed up the spine of Vermont, with isolated pockets of over nine inches in places like Plymouth. This is only the beginning of extreme weather. As we further enter a climate crisis, extreme weather is more likely to happen each year around the globe.

So why should we care? Well, the most direct answer is that it clearly affects our everyday life. Whether that be air quality or flood damage to houses, extreme weather is harmful to health. Not just human health, but other species as well. The consequences include habitat loss; shifts in climatic conditions and in habitats that surpass migrational capabilities. This puts many plant and animal species at risk, including some of the crop species that our diet relies on. This was Lazlow with River Action, thanks for listening!