I woke up at about five o’clock in the morning coughing. Not from a cold but from the smoky air in my bedroom. While there is no immediate danger in Missoula, air quality here has finally reached hazardous levels in one of the worst wildfire seasons ever. Having hoped for a clear summer after a long and cold winter followed by a wet spring, I was disappointed. Summer came full force with hotter than average temperatures and almost no rain. Montana is now the state with the most wildfires and acres burned as well as home of the number one priority fire in the nation. Evacuation orders are in place for some communities. Two firefighters have lost their lives fighting the fires. And there is no end in sight.
Earlier last century, forest management relied on fire prevention and suppression only to realize that could not stop massive wildfires from occurring. In fact, we have learned that fire suppression can eventually increase wildfire occurrence and intensity. By now we look at natural wildfires as essential to a working ecosystem and even use prescribed burning in hope to reduce catastrophic wildfires. However, after decades of fire suppression and under the influence of global warming (Yes, Mr. President!), we today see more wildfires and longer wildfire seasons.
Seems to me we now get what we asked for. While humankind has acquired a wealth of knowledge, we still know so little. And most importantly, we do not yet understand complex systems. But we often behave as if we would. Obviously human life has an impact on this planet. Are we willing to live up to that?