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A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

As wildfires rage, Trump administration plans to slash fire science funding

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No real surprise in the Trump administration actions: after the hottest summer ever with global warming clearly increasing, the Trump administration is strongly supporting the burning of fossil fuels (coal) and reducing gas-mileage requirements for automobiles. Trump seems to be actively trying to damage the US.

Randy Lee Loftis reports at

Bill Allen pointed to a north-facing slope of blackened pine and juniper forest. A thin vortex of pale white ash, picked up by a hot morning wind, rose from the black and gray landscape a wildfire left behind.

“It started right there,” said Allen, a rancher and retired hardware store owner.

Igniting May 31 on mountainous terrain, the fire grew quickly. Soon, more than 600 firefighters struggled to protect about 200 homes along the Cimarron River. When the fire was declared over 17 days later, it had burned 36,740 acres of forest and grassland.

Like all wildfires, the Ute Park Fire was dangerous and expensive. But no one died and crews saved every home – thanks in part to a century of hard-won firefighting knowhow.

Science played a vital role in this success story by helping develop the best ways to battle wildfires. But the Trump administration wants to slash federal funding for wildfire science, at a time when forest and brush fires are getting bigger, happening year-round and becoming increasingly erratic.

Federally funded scientists have been seeking new methods and technologies to predict, prepare and respond – critical for safeguarding people and property. They have discovered ways to reduce risks before fires and restore land and waterways afterward. And they explore how fuels, flames, terrain, smoke and weather interact.

Defunding those efforts will endanger lives, researchers told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

“A wildland fire (budget) cut is a human health cut,” said Donald Falk, a University of Arizona professor who has received research funding from some of the federal programs the White House has targeted.

Last week, the latest wildfire tragedy struck Redding, California, where scientists said a super-hot, tornado-like “fire vortex” reached almost 5 miles high. Six people, including two children, have been killed and more than 1,400 homes and buildings have been destroyed so far in the Carr Fire.

Since 1983, about 72,000 fires  have burned the American landscape every year. That number has not grown. But the acreage has – 10 million acres burned last year, which is nearly eight times as much as in 1983.

Nevertheless, fire science funding has been eroding for more than a decade, even before President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts.

Nancy French, a senior research scientist at the Michigan Tech Research Institute who has federal funding, said she is “extremely frustrated, more so than I’ve ever been in my life.”

“You would think with people’s houses burning in California and the concern that we have for air quality that it wouldn’t be hard to find a way to fund someone like me to make sure that my capability is used to help solve some of these problems,” she said.

Interim U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen did not respond to requests for comment about fire research, and the administration’s budget documents contain no explanation for the cuts. But during a Senate hearing in April, she said the administration’s new budget “does reflect hard choices and difficult tradeoffs.”

Wildland fire science emerges from a small community of physicists, chemists, ecologists, meteorologists and others working for government agencies and universities to understand one of nature’s most violent forces.

The U.S. Forest Service, Interior Department, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and even the Defense Department have roles. Fire research budgets at these agencies, always small and declining for decades, would take a major hit under Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget.

One proposed cut would eliminate the Joint Fire Science Program, a cooperative venture by the Forest Service and six Interior Department agencies. Even if Congress steps in to fund the program, the financial uncertainty already has forced it to suspend new research proposals for next year.

In the past 10 years alone, the program funded 280 projects by 1,045 scientists at various universities and other institutions, with studies designed to meet the needs of local and state firefighters. This year’s budget is $3 million.

The program’s research “is indeed being utilized in decision-making on the ground,” said University of Arizona research scientist Molly E. Hunter, a science adviser to the program.

Northern New Mexico’s Ute Park Fire, ignited by an unknown cause, is an example of science’s contributions. Homes, mostly vacation retreats, stayed safe during the fire due in part to a fuel reduction plan that Colfax County adopted in 2008 after studies funded by the federal program.

Bea Day, incident commander of a federal-state wildfire team based in New Mexico, said fire and smoke models developed at forestry department research labs – whose budgets are targeted for cuts – helped map her team’s daily strategy to fight the Ute Park Fire. Also in the toolbox are geographical information systems, global positioning systems, satellite observations, air quality monitoring and other science products.

“We utilize all these tools daily,” Day said in an email.

John Cissel, who retired this year as the program’s director, called the Trump administration’s move to end the program a major mistake.

“It seems so short-sighted, especially with a program that’s so meticulously constructed,” he said. He said his decision to retire wasn’t related to Trump’s budget cuts.

The research “has changed the culture and knowledge base around wildfire,’’ said Zander Evans, a scientist and executive director of the nonprofit Forest Stewards Guild, a group of foresters.

The Trump administration has offered no reason for targeting the Joint Fire Science Program. It’s among dozens of areas the White House has proposed slashing or eliminating science funding.

As in the White House’s 2018 budget request, only the Pentagon, Department of Veterans Affairs and NASA would get increased research funding in 2019.

Fire appears only once in the White House’s explanation of its 2019 research and development budget: “In the wake of natural disasters, including a devastating hurricane season and catastrophic forest fires, it is more important than ever to invest in the tools necessary to predict, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from natural disasters.” There’s no mention of wildland fire science.

In the budget proposal, the Forest Service’s spending for all research would drop by 16 percent, or $46 million, from the 2018 level. Interior Department science spending would decrease 21 percent, or $205 million. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2018 at 10:47 am

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