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Old 06-28-2012, 09:58 AM
 
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"A U.S. Forest Service analysis found that 40 percent of homes built in the U.S. between 1990 and 2000 were in the WUI [wildland-urban interface]. In Colorado, the figure in that time was 50 percent." [1]


This is in part in response an editorial in The Denver Post, which raises several poignant questions concerning residential development and our forests. Also, in outlook what might be expected.

As significant wildfires are still threatening many areas of Colorado, and currently most significantly incorporated areas of Colorado Springs, the fuller discussion of this topic may perhaps wait for the lull of late autumn and winter snows. But it is something spoken of even now, and will be all the more in time. Moreover in result in direct effect on how people live, as well as the state and welfare of our forests and greater environment.

It might be seen, first, that our global ecosystem is in peril. Within the portion of it defined by Colorado's borders, no less. This takes many forms, but the topic here focused on this state's renowned and loved mountain areas, and the forests which so much make them what they are. These forests are in danger. Principally due mankind, from atmospheric influences which have caused a rapidly warming and drier climate that they cannot well tolerate. And as well due the increasing encroachment of residential development within them.

In the aftermath of these many fires, and what may well be but a repeat of these disasters next summer, there will surely be calls for various "reforms." Much of this can only be bad news for our forests. No one wants to see their home burn down, and yet the projection is all the more of us will be building them in precisely the forested places where this is most likely. There will be discussion of, and possibly even mandates of defensible fire perimeters around dwellings. This may take the form of statutes, the effect the same in new insurance dictates, as well as the notion of the day in what is right and proper.

But it should be seen to the extent that people move into a forest and then turn it into a "thinned" and somewhat fire-proof version of suburbia—they have destroyed the very thing they sought. There might remain a few trees in their neighborhood (at a distance), but no longer a semblance of natural wilderness, or a functioning forest ecosystem.

Colorado may as well lose some of its frontier atmosphere, which frankly has been in decline since it was officially lost in 1890. But still today very much remaining in part in the many visitors who visit this state each year to enjoy these mountains and a sense of true wild. Also those fortunate enough to build homes within these mountains, and in some cases at a good remove from the greater civilization and aspects of this 21st century. But this may change.

We might even see mandates that no one any longer allowed to live beyond the confines of a town, for "safety" reasons. Although more likely doing so with more strictures insofar how their house is built, the landscaping, and what they can do with it. In the near panic of what we have done to this environment, and how it is responding, even more may be lost in what constitutes a life in Colorado.

This will be a discussion of evolving presumptions and expectations in years to come, as what we have wrought on this planet has only begun to play itself out. We might meet such challenges with measured, prudent responses, if that probably often not the case. But these are troubling times for all lovers of nature and what it might best be, whether living in a forest or without. What at last will define Colorado and one's life within it?

1) 'Editorial: Tough questions as Colorado homes burn,' The Denver Post
Editorial: Tough questions as Colorado homes burn - The Denver Post
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Old 06-28-2012, 11:38 AM
 
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This question goes to the heart of what I have been saying for years: First, with any freedom should come responsibility. If you have the freedom to build wherever you want, you should take full responsibility for the consequences of the decision. Second, it is improper when the profits of an endeavor are privatized and the costs socialized upon the taxpayers. When these two tenets are violated, you wind up with the kind of mess that we now have in Colorado's urban-wildland interface.

If homeowners who choose to build (and developers who choose to develop land) in very fire-prone areas were told upfront that they could not rely upon taxpayer-funded fire protection and that the homeowner would bear full responsibility for fire protection, I suspect most of them would choose to build elsewhere. Similarly, if local fire districts knew that they would bear the full responsibility of protecting structures from wildfire within their districts, without the federal "crutch" upon which to depend in the case of a wildfire, you can bet that they would take a much more active role in assuring that the potentially astronomical costs of wildland firefighting caused by land development in fire-prone locations would not be socialized upon their district.

No doubt someone will bleat that such policies deprive private landowners of the right to develop and use their land as they want. Bull****! All it does is insure that people accept the responsibility about how they use their land and that the costs of misusing it are born by the landowner and not by the greater taxpaying public.

The problem is that Colorado's land use and planning machinery is dominated by the land development interests that have shown time and again that they are more than willing to subordinate the risks of developing in bad places to the taxpayers. They frequently have willing, if often unknowledgeable, buyers who, obsessed with their dream of living in a pretty spot, are willing to purchase such properties in high-risk areas without fully realizing the potential consequences. That leaves the only restraint against "stupid" development to the planning, zoning, and building regulation departments and agencies who have to answer to political leadership that is "owned" by the land development interests. The result is what we are seeing today--wildland fires invading urban/suburban/wildland interface areas, many of which where development should have never been permitted to begin with, with high risk to lives of both property owners and the firefighters bravely trying to protect the often indefensible, at a gigantic firefighting cost to the taxpaying public. We can't undo the many places where development has been permitted in a potential tinderbox, but we should learn a lesson from this disastrous year and tell our public officials to adopt land use polices that discourage any more "stupid" development in fire-prone areas--and tell the people who insist upon developing land and living in such areas that they must accept full personal responsibility for what they do.
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Old 06-28-2012, 11:56 AM
 
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This ecosystem has evolved around a process of burning. If I understand the scientists, in the past our forests would burn every 100 to 400 years - depending upon the particular forest. The grasslands burned somewhat more often.

Forest litter does not decompose here. When enough accumulates a fire will accelerate to such proportions as to be very difficult to stop. Add a period of drought - a fairly common occurrence here - and it may become absolutely unstoppable.

The only remediation possible is to approximate the effect of a fire by clear cutting. While clear cutting does remove the large tree fuel source, it generally does not remove the forest litter. Nor does it return the minerals back to the soil. Replanting can only approximate the natural biodiversity, and not a very good approximation at that.

The problem remains - this ecosystem is SUPPOSED to burn from time to time. It appears that no action man can take will alter that fact. How we can maintain cities in such an environment - much less mountain communities like my own - is beyond me.
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Old 06-28-2012, 12:28 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jazzlover View Post
If homeowners who choose to build (and developers who choose to develop land) in very fire-prone areas were told upfront that they could not rely upon taxpayer-funded fire protection and that the homeowner would bear full responsibility for fire protection, I suspect most of them would choose to build elsewhere. Similarly, if local fire districts knew that they would bear the full responsibility of protecting structures from wildfire within their districts, without the federal "crutch" upon which to depend in the case of a wildfire, you can bet that they would take a much more active role in assuring that the potentially astronomical costs of wildland firefighting caused by land development in fire-prone locations would not be socialized upon their district.
To the extent government is to involve itself at any level the Federal Government must be involved - it is by far the largest landowner. The two biggest fires in the state currently involve federal lands almost exclusively. Now, the Federal government might well take the position that fire is natural and expected and therefore they will take no steps to stop it. In which case there would be no "elsewhere" to speak of in the state. There are few locations west of I-25 that could divert a truly uncontrolled fire. Boulder certainly could not. Denver likely not. Rocky Ford might if they kept a defensive perimeter large enough.

And then there are the watershed issues. Uncontrolled fires in Colorado will affect the water supplies of people dependent upon the Arkansas, Colorado, South Platte. It is not likely the people downstream are going to stand by idly whatever you choose to do.

The point is, at present it appears that policy demands that wildfires be fought. The presence or lack of development in fire prone areas does not seem to be an issue.

If we do make the decision to fight wildfires - and we have - it would be better for the states and even counties to accept far more responsibility. Why on earth do we want to wait for the Feds to decide if and when to deploy aircraft? The western states could certainly afford to own and staff their own firefighting aircraft. They could even enter into compacts to share resources.
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Old 06-28-2012, 02:23 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Arrby View Post
And then there are the watershed issues. Uncontrolled fires in Colorado will affect the water supplies of people dependent upon the Arkansas, Colorado, South Platte. It is not likely the people downstream are going to stand by idly whatever you choose to do.

The point is, at present it appears that policy demands that wildfires be fought. The presence or lack of development in fire prone areas does not seem to be an issue.
The illusion is that all large watershed-threatening wildfires can always be controlled--they can not. If a fire starts in one of Colorado's major watersheds as things stand right now--millions of dead lodgepole, live trees drier than lumber, low humidities, and often strong and unpredictable winds--the odds are actually against controlling them, no matter how much we might want to. The belief that we humans can control nature when she sets her mind to do what she is going to do is a faulty belief that is especially common in people with little or no familiarity with ecology or natural systems--and that is, unfortunately, most of the population of this country and state, especially in the metro areas where most people are somewhat insulated from the natural world.

I have posted elsewhere about the issue of Colorado's metro areas escalating dependence on water supplies that, because of natural forces, are much more precarious than anyone wished to admit. Even pervasive on this forum is "stovepipe" thinking, where we try to segregate issues and problems into single issue topics, when, in fact, many of the issues we now face--wildland fires, water issues, pollution issues, and many more--all stem from the same base problem: too many people trying to use too many resources with little or no thought toward the unintended and long-term consequences. Nature tends to abhor that and will usually do something about it, sooner or later. That is what is happening now.
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Old 06-28-2012, 08:07 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Idunn View Post
We might even see mandates that no one any longer allowed to live beyond the confines of a town, for "safety" reasons. Although more likely doing so with more strictures insofar how their house is built, the landscaping, and what they can do with it. In the near panic of what we have done to this environment, and how it is responding, even more may be lost in what constitutes a life in Colorado.
I remember when the Cold War was over, I breathed a sign of relief, the marxists were defeated and a chance for freedom came about for many people.

But as we have seen in recent years, these people never go away, they just assume other forums and environmental lunacy is just another cover for the marxists and all their loony ideas for control of individual freedom and sovereignty.

Living herded into a city for "safety" reasons because fire may sweep through every 300 years in that exact spot on my rural lands? So I can breath the air of 2 million people farting and smoking pot and get run over by a cross town bus or have someone jacked up on bath salts knife me or have someone stoned on prescription drugs run a red light and clobber me? Great fun.

If you would like to live in an eco gulag, please do so, but leave the rest of us alone.

Last thing we need is more hysteria government loonies with more rules, more taxes, more bureaucrats, more regulations, more agencies just because 300 homes burned down. The government and all it's associated clowny bureaucrats have already made a mess of fire and forest management over the past 100 years. Instead of letting nature take it's course, slowly over time, government fiddles and faddles and have made a big mess. The more government gets involved the bigger mess they make.

The environment is not in peril. The USA has more trees than ever before. Did you know that for almost 200 years New England was bare ass naked of trees? Yep that is right, Connecticut in the 1700's, you could see as far as the eye could see like you were on the prairie. You can low fly over the state in winter and other parts of New England and see the rock wall outlines of farm fields, now covered with trees for miles on end.

New England is alive and well and so is the rest of the world. Maybe a little bit dirty here and there, but then again the Earth always has been not a pristine place.

The fact is whatever you built will one day be gone. It will be claimed by wind, fire, earthquake, cold, heat, humidity, etc. And that is not a bad thing. The old has to die to make room for the new. The old and dead Colorado trees need to go so new trees, some maybe never seen before, so they can grow anew.
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Old 06-29-2012, 12:22 AM
 
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Wink That which is, and likely to be

I do not live in town, nor the desire to. But that I spoke of is a definite possibility. These major fires may well prove a turning point, in at least the perception of many, if often through ignorance and fear.

There are thankfully always examples of how well this Earth and life upon it can regenerate—if given the chance. But it is still in peril. Particularly so to the extent of that we have known it. Areas burned along the Cache la Poudre River and elsewhere will not be the same in our lifetimes. Many of those trees were many decades old. Moreover, these large fires only possible due these very dry conditions, with increasingly warming temperatures. A situation which is not conducive to the regrowth of the same type of vegetation. While such fires, in measure, are natural and regenerative, many may assume nature will slowly regrow that they are familiar with. But nature adapts, and our climate is rapidly moving beyond the tolerances of much life that we assume customary. Think New Mexico, and the lower elevations of that state in a similar dilemma, and one may begin to have some appreciation of where we are headed. These trends will not be short-lived, and we are only beginning to experience what is in store.

There will be much discussion of wildfires in general in the sober aftermath of these fires, come another colder season, and also likely ill-considered motions towards greater defensible fire perimeters around residences, etc. Even now, homeowners have welcomed fire crews cutting down trees in their yard to save residences which can be rebuilt, while the trees wantonly taken cannot be replaced in decades. But look at the photos of Colorado Springs and it should be obvious that suburban neighborhoods in the WUI often had no chance whatsoever against a determined wildfire, despite being surrounded with pavement, green lawns and relatively few trees.

If wishing to truly protect Colorado as she is, we must look to our habits as global citizens. 400ppm of greenhouse gases is already well beyond the cusp of very bad news. We might start there. Because unless quickly shifting course then Florida, Colorado and everyone else can only expect more of the same.
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Old 06-29-2012, 08:19 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Idunn View Post
I do not live in town, nor the desire to. But that I spoke of is a definite possibility. These major fires may well prove a turning point, in at least the perception of many, if often through ignorance and fear.

There are thankfully always examples of how well this Earth and life upon it can regenerate—if given the chance. But it is still in peril. Particularly so to the extent of that we have known it. Areas burned along the Cache la Poudre River and elsewhere will not be the same in our lifetimes. Many of those trees were many decades old. Moreover, these large fires only possible due these very dry conditions, with increasingly warming temperatures. A situation which is not conducive to the regrowth of the same type of vegetation. While such fires, in measure, are natural and regenerative, many may assume nature will slowly regrow that they are familiar with. But nature adapts, and our climate is rapidly moving beyond the tolerances of much life that we assume customary. Think New Mexico, and the lower elevations of that state in a similar dilemma, and one may begin to have some appreciation of where we are headed. These trends will not be short-lived, and we are only beginning to experience what is in store.

There will be much discussion of wildfires in general in the sober aftermath of these fires, come another colder season, and also likely ill-considered motions towards greater defensible fire perimeters around residences, etc. Even now, homeowners have welcomed fire crews cutting down trees in their yard to save residences which can be rebuilt, while the trees wantonly taken cannot be replaced in decades. But look at the photos of Colorado Springs and it should be obvious that suburban neighborhoods in the WUI often had no chance whatsoever against a determined wildfire, despite being surrounded with pavement, green lawns and relatively few trees.

If wishing to truly protect Colorado as she is, we must look to our habits as global citizens. 400ppm of greenhouse gases is already well beyond the cusp of very bad news. We might start there. Because unless quickly shifting course then Florida, Colorado and everyone else can only expect more of the same.
It's interesting to me that your mind can create a desire/dream/plan for people to be herded into "safety zones"/cities to be safe from fire which may come through their property every couple hundred years. It always concerns me when people "do as I say, but not as I do". Big ideas, but only if everyone else does it and pays the price, while the "enlightened" people get to do as they want because they have "awareness".

The Earth is not in peril. Long after you are gone there will be plenty of plants and trees, animals and people, all thriving and changing, as has always happened. The Earth is a self cleaning entity, it's just that people have to separate their big ego from thinking life began when they were born and will die when they die. The trees in some parts of Colorado may be in transition and that transition may be longer than your lifespan.

"Greenhouse gases" are not a pollutant and anyone that says so is someone that didn't pass biology in high school. Trees and plants need CO2 to create oxygen and the more CO2 they have the faster they grow. You also need those gases to produce rain and weather. Anyone that has been sold that fantasy that CO2 is evil, needs to follow through and stop polluting by pinching their nose, closing their mouth and holding their breath because every time they exhale, they exhale large quantities of CO2, more than any car or their home heating system.

It's funny idnit how we exhale CO2, plants eat CO2 and put oxygen back in the atmosphere so we can breathe. And when plants get too old and reach the end of their growth cycle, fire comes through to clean out all the old crap, so new plants can grow quickly and eat more CO2. Wow.

I don't want to "protect" Colorado. Nothing stays the same and it never will. These are not even major fires. The total acreage burned is tiny compared to the total sq area of Colorado. 300 homes burn and there is lunacy and panicky people that want to change how everyone lives. Pole vaulting over mouse turds is what I call it.
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Old 06-29-2012, 09:14 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Idunn View Post
We might even see mandates that no one any longer allowed to live beyond the confines of a town, for "safety" reasons. Although more likely doing so with more strictures insofar how their house is built, the landscaping, and what they can do with it. In the near panic of what we have done to this environment, and how it is responding, even more may be lost in what constitutes a life in Colorado.
I think what's more likely to happen is that insurance companies will no longer cover homes built in fire-prone areas, or even worse, rates for fire insurance will go up across the board because of these homes. Given the purported lobbying power of developers in this state, the latter is more likely to happen.

I could also possibly foresee home values in these areas dropping like a rock, as people are always going to think "It could never happen to me" until extreme examples like Colorado's current situation come to pass. Of course, I wouldn't put it past developers to purposely engineer such price drops as a way to get more people to move into the foothills and prime history to repeat itself once more.
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Old 06-29-2012, 09:32 AM
 
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I can see both Idunn's and wanneroo's points of view. That said, it is an absolute fact that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased dramatically in the 100 years. wanneroo is right--CO2 is natural component in the atmosphere, always has been and always will be. It is the AMOUNT of it and what its potential effects on climate and weather may be that is troubling. In that sense, I'm reminded of the old Spanish saying, translated to say, "Too much of a good thing is never a good thing." That is true about everything in life and in nature.

What many ecologists are concerned about is not that the climate and biosphere is changing, it is that it is now changing so quickly that said change will overwhelm many plant and animal species--including us--abilities to adapt. The discussion about adaptation is esoteric until WE can't adapt fast enough, and WE get to die. Then, it's change we CAN'T live with.
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