Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fall has Arrived

Sunday marked the official first day of fall for 2013. It’s about time. Summer was long, warm, and, oddly, wet. There were fires, but anymore I expect them during the summer. What I didn't expect was all the rain. That rain led to floods and mudslides in the Clockum and other canyons around the area. The scope of the damage seems surprising at first. But that’s only until you consider the fires from this year and last. Without vegetation the hills had nothing to help soak up the water and hold the soil in place, so down it came—over, under, and through everything in its way.

I say good riddance to summer. It's time for cooler temperatures, shorter days, and changing leaves. Personally, I love fall. I love the smell of damp earth after a quick downpour or a light drizzle. I love wading through a pile of freshly raked leaves.

This time of year always brings to mind apples for me. Harvest is in full swing, and fresh fruit is easily found in abundance. Just stop in at a local fruit stand or the farmer’s market.

All the kids wanted to get in on the action at Salmonfest.
The 23rd annual Wenatchee River Salmon Festival was held last weekend and it seemed to be a good success. Cascadia ran the Rolling Rivers watershed model, and eight different school groups came by for scheduled sessions during the two school days, Thursday and Friday. Saturday was a free-for-all with kids and adults alike stopping by to put their hands in the plastic sand and create watersheds and salmon habitat. At the end of three days, I’m hoping that the few hundred kids learned at least something about the importance of healthy watersheds and the salmon that live in them.

A beautiful sunny morning. This photo would work great for the contest.
Fall is a great time to go out and take some pictures. Head up into the hills and capture some photos of the mountains with the patches of yellow from the western larch, one of the few conifers that drops its needles for the winter. Find an apple orchard and take some pictures of the branches laden with colorful fruit. Hit the trails and snap a picture of a large buck flashing his antlers. And once you get back with your multitude of photos head over to www.picturethewenatchee.com and submit them for the 2013 Picture the Wenatchee photo contest. The top two pictures from each category will end up in Cascadia’s 2014 stewardship calendar. Be quick about it though. The contest closes October 1st. 

Tune in next week for another inspiring article. I hope to spend the next few weeks covering topics that have something to do with the new fall season.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fire: Bring on the Inferno

Imagine the forest and hills near Wenatchee 200 years ago, a stormy night in late August. The air is hot and stuffy. Dry lightning flashes in the night. A bolt shoots out and strikes the mountain. Flames appear. They spread. No rain to stop them. A wildfire is born.

With no controls this fire could burn for weeks or even months. Until the rain fell or it burned itself out. But this fire wasn't a raging wall razing the forest in its path. This fire burned through the brush and small trees. Clearing the forest floor, and occasionally burning tree stands. Just like it had 10 or 20 years before. Just like it would 10 or 20 years later. The cycle would keep repeating.

Except the cycle stopped. People showed up and they didn't like the fire. They feared for their lives and their livelihoods. Fire was evil. It had to be controlled. So they prepared for fires. They built fire lookouts. They watched the storms and rushed to extinguish any flames. They would control the fire.

For a time it worked. They stopped the fires. The forest grew. And grew. They harvested timber and the forest came back thicker than before. And they continued to stop the fires. But fire would not be denied. The forests were thick, but they were not teeming. Dead brush and branches littered the floor. Trees stood shoulder to shoulder where they had once stood apart.

Finally the trees grew too numerous. The underbrush too thick. Fire started and it raged. It burned. It devoured the landscape. The people had to fight so hard to contain it. And they did stop it.

But where the fire had gone nothing remained. Fires before had left tall, healthy trees relatively unscathed. Now there was nothing. The ground was dead. The trees were dead. Each trunk like a gravestone. The damage remains. It will be decades before these forests will be whole again.

Each new fire that crosses the land leaves a similar testament to our misunderstanding of the flames. A black wasteland. For years we assumed that fire was bad. How could something that burns the land be good for it? Fire is both destroyer and life giver. Fire often destroys what is there, but in return it allows new life to sprout from its ashes. The diversity of plants after a fire is astounding. There's no competition. The ground is open, free to whichever plant can get their seeds down first.

Several species require fire to propagate. Their seeds only released after a fire rushes over the landscape. Releasing their seeds from cones and other casings. Other species require fire to help them survive. Ponderosa pine grows best in open sunny locations. Its bark is thick and fire resistant, and its branches are far above the ground. It is suited to a landscape that receives fire. Without fire, other tree species can often out compete Ponderosa in its native habitat.

Fire should be embraced. Or at the very least accepted. Fire has always been here. Fire is much like a surgeon cutting out dead tissue and allowing new, healthy tissue to grow back in its place. The landscape is healthier with fire.

I'm not saying that fire should be allowed to burn and to just forget about the people. But there is a better line to walk. Strict fire suppression only leads to larger and more dangerous fires. Controlled burns are a good start. These can somewhat replicate a natural fire. It would be ideal to allow the fires to take back control, and burn what they've always burned. However, this isn't really a valid option anymore. The consequences are too severe.

Fire is not the enemy. Fire burns, but it also allows new growth. Growth that would never have occurred without a blank, blackened slate. Fire is as much a part of our landscape as the trees we are trying to protect. Accept it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hello All

Hello all, my name is Josh Smith, and I'm the new Americorps volunteer serving at Cascadia Conservation District. One of my duties will be keeping this blog updated, so I'll do my best to post once a week.

Now a little bit about me. I was born in Wenatchee, and I've lived here all of my life except for the years I attended college. I graduated from Central Washington University a few years ago with a BS in biology and a BA in political science. That's an odd mix, but it just sort of happened. My main interest in biology are plants, so anytime I'm out hiking or camping I'm always stopping to look and smell any flowers I see. This is my second year in Americorps. Last year I was at Wenatchee High School, so this site is a bit of a change.

I'm looking forward to this upcoming ten and a half months. I hope to learn a lot, and I'm excited to finally be at a place where my biology degree might be of some use to me. I also rather enjoy writing, so being responsible for this blog is a plus.

Feel free to comment and ask questions if you desire. I'll do my best to keep it interesting.