the Wild, Wild West … on Fire

A frightening report from Climate Central details the increase in wildfires in 11 western states of the U.S.


They studied the number of large (more than 1,000 acres) and very large (more than 10,000 or more than 25,000 acres) fires, as well as the acreage burned, in forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service. By restricting to areas managed by the Forest Service, and to fires at least 1,000 acres, high-quality data sets are available since 1970 (when their study begins) — it’s highly unlikely that large fires escaped detection.

It also includes most of the forest area in the western U.S., as well as most of the fire damage.


Analyses of “large fires” reported here are restricted to fires over 1,000 acres in size. As described by Westerling et al., these large fires represent less than 1 percent of reported wildfires but they represent more than 70 percent of the total area burned. In other words, these are truly the most damaging fires, and are likely to be the ones more heavily influenced by climatic factors. In addition, the land management units from which we drew our data contain more than 60 percent of the forested land in America’s West.

All indicators point to dramatically increasing wildfire activity. Research points unequivocally to global warming as a, if not the, major factor in this increase, primarily due to increased spring/summer temperatures in western states leading to earlier snowmelt, longer fire season, and hotter temperatures during fire season.

The increases are not just visually impressive, they’re statistically significant. Here, for instance, is their plot of the number of large (> 1,000 acres) fires in Arizona each year from 1970 through 2011:

I digitized the graph (which was easy and accurate because all the numbers are integers) and performed the same analysis. This consists of “Poisson regression,” which is the appropriate choice when the data are counts. I got almost exactly the same result (more about that in a moment), undoubtedly statistically significant (greater than 99.9999% confidence):

I didn’t pick Arizona for illustration because it gave a significant result. I picked it because it’s first on the list, alphabetically. A surprising, and unhappy, result is that the increase in wildfire is so ubiquitous throughout the western U.S. They point out increased wildfire occurrence in 10 of the 11 states:


Among the Western States, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho and Montana have seen the most dramatic increases in wildfires since 1970 (Figure 7). According to our analysis, the average annual number of large fires has nearly quadrupled in Arizona and Idaho, and at least doubled in California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. On the other hand, the frequency of fires in Washington has remained steady.

I beg to differ.

I suspect they may have made a mistake in their Poisson regression. Here’s their result for Washington state:

Note that the regression line is pretty flat. It’s also not statistically significant (I digitized this data too).

But that’s only true because there are so many years with no data.

Here’s my theory: the years with no data plotted are those with no fires over 1,000 acres. In that case the correct count is zero. I strongly suspect that in fact, counts of zero are correct for those years and should be included in the analysis.

However, Poisson regression is a fit of the logarithm of the expected count to a linear function of time (or some other variable). Since the logarithm of zero is not finite, they may have omitted the years with zero counts. But Poisson regression doesn’t fit a linear time trend to the logarithm of the observed counts, it uses that model for the expected value, via “maximum-likelihood” regression. Hence the zero values can be included in the analysis (as they should be).

When I include the zero values I get this:

Now the fit is strongly statistically significant.

You can also just count the number of large fires in each 21-year long half of the time series. The first section (1970 through 1990) has 22, the second (1991 through 2011) has 71. A simple binomial test establishes that the rates are not the same, with 99.9% confidence.

Therefore it seems to me that rather than claim 10 out of 11 western states show increase in large wildfires, we should say that all 11 do.

Wildfire is an increasing threat in the western U.S. And it’s going to get worse. Each 1 degree Celsius (1.8 deg.F) temperature increase is projected to increase wildfire by disturbing amounts throughout the west:

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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106 responses to “the Wild, Wild West … on Fire

  1. Poul-Henning Kamp

    I thought I read somewhere (WaPo? or LAT ?) that the policy of extinguishing all small fires at the first whiff of smoke, means a buildup of flamable debris which makes wildfires much harder to fight once they catch on.

    I can’t remember which democratic president they blamed for this change of policy, but if it was Carter your numbers would be affected.

  2. We need to keep in mind, that there seems to be a second reason for this trend: the way fires have been managed in the past century and the resulting increase in undergrowth. As far as I can see this is only addressed in a single sentence and source (16) in the report.

    [Response: That doesn't change the fact that global warming has already made the situation worse, and will do so even more with each further degree.]

  3. Great evaluation. Thanks

    Another data distinction might be important for Washington State – location. We have the Cascade range that splits the state in two – running North South. Most all wild fires happen on the East side of the range – in more dry forests. And they will burn until the rains come.

    For the first time that I can recall, last summer we had a long duration, sizable fire on the West side of the mountains. With about 80 days of no rains, even the the wetter side dried out.

  4. I guess the question of how many fires are detected also arises here. However the fact that they see correlation with temperature over recent years is strongly suggestive.

  5. The omission of the zero-wildfire years in Washington reminds me of the chart shown in the meetings leading up to the Challenger Shuttle launch that omitted the launches with no problems with the SRB seals. In the Shuttle case that misleadingly introduced a bias by omitting more launches where the seals were warm. In this case the omission is biased in that it filters out earlier years. In both cases it’s sort of the opposite of “begging the question” (in the true meaning of the expression) – the argument for something is weakened by assuming it is itself false.

  6. A big burn will lessen the area able to burn for a number of years in the future. So the burn should be as a proportion of likely burn areas.

  7. American foresters like to point to drought to explain forest decline – and the increasing size, intensity and frequency of wildfires. Google forest dieback in the UK, however, and you will find that they are in a panic across the pond due to what was called “a tidal wave” of pathogens, which is attributed to imported nursery stock bringing alien insects, disease and fungus. They are projecting a loss of many millions of trees within the next decade, a sudden mortality which began within the past few years.

    Neither of these explanations for tree death satisfy rather obvious evidence. First, the UK has had a wonderfully mild climate and being terrific sailors and gardeners, they have been enthusiastically planting exotic species in their many parks, arboretums, and private estates for centuries. If invasive species were going to run amuck, they would have done so long ago. Something else is undermining the natural immunity trees have to insects, disease and fungus, which normally keeps them in balance to do what they are meant to do – break down dying trees and recycle them into the biosphere – not kill healthy living trees. That goes for the bark beetles out west too, which have co-existed with trees and began ravaging them in the 1950’s in the hills above Los Angeles, and it wasn’t because there were no longer freezing temperatures, because there never were freezing temperatures in the first place. It was because the trees were first debilitated by ozone.

    As for changes in precipitation from climate change, of course it will eventually cause the loss of forests. However, that doesn’t explain why young trees being watered in nurseries exhibit the exact same degree of decline as do trees growing wild in the woods. The first visible symptoms from absorbing dangerous levels of pollution appear on foliage – stippling, singing, bronzing, wilting, chlorosis and necrosis. The past few years, annual ornamental tropical plants being watered in pots have had the identical injury as indigenous trees, and so do aquatic plants like water lily and lotus, which are in water all of the time.

    How can this be explained by drought? Furthermore, trees in areas that haven’t been in drought are dying at least as fast as trees that are. Trees are normally very resilient to drought – they have to be, because they cannot pick up and migrate when adverse conditions prevail. They store huge amounts of energy for such times, but since we have been forcing them to uptake ozone they have to divert so much energy to repairing the damage from free radicals entering their stomates that their root systems shrink, leaving them more vulnerable to drought and wind – as well as to insects, disease and fungus. This effect has been conclusively demonstrated in numerous controlled fumigation experiments at several research institutions in the US and Europe.

    I live in New Jersey and ever since Sandy it looks like the ecopocalypse has arrived. The wind was not great enough to explain the 118,000 trees estimated that fell, knocking power out for weeks. There was hardly any damage to buildings, signs, outdoor furniture or cars from wind. And yet the trees fell like pickup sticks. I collected dozens of photographs of fallen trees from news reports and posted them on my blog, in which it was clear that they were rotting on the inside.

    Climate modelers, activists and policy makers should take note that we are losing the trees so fast, everywhere, it is astonishing. The implications are tremendous, for much faster heating, and changes in precipitation, to say nothing of our source of lumber, nuts and fruits. Oh, and wildfires – and landslides.

    • witsendnj: “However, that doesn’t explain why young trees being watered in nurseries exhibit the exact same degree of decline as do trees growing wild in the woods.”

      Citation needed.

      • Seconded: I’ve heard this *opinion* before, and never have seen a refereed supportive journal or article. Until such time, I call BS.

      • citation:

        http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2012/03/human-volcano.html

        This is an exercise that anyone can easily replicate. I’ve done it several times. The trees look terrible in the nurseries, despite usually being sprayed with chemicals to fight the opportunistic attacks of insects, disease and fungus.

      • HarryW, I highly recommend a book, “An Appalachian Tragedy”, written by several scientists plus Philip Shabecoff, environmental reporter for the NYTimes for many years. You can get it used on Amazon and then sadly you will no longer be able to claim that you have never seen a refereed supportive journal or article saying that ozone is responsible for widespread forest decline, because it cites many such studies. Or you can download my book for free which also has even more recent links to peer-reviewed science here: http://www.deadtrees-dyingforests.com/pillage-plunder-pollute-llc/

      • Thanks..have your, or the scientists you reference, works been peer-reviewed? If so, by whom and where could I read those references?

      • Interesting BLOG, witsendnj, and *conveniently* from what I presume is *your own blog*. Good, but not quite. Now, could you find a peer-reviewed source, from an ISI-approved publication that supports your hypothesis? Till then, I *still* call BS. Even given those parameters, the dissipation of pathogens, if wind-borne, can be fairly ascribed by changing wind patters, as well as can droughts be so attributed, which are close on the tails of…….AGW.

        Your’s is not a proper scientific citation: interesting but not refereed.

      • HarryW, it appears you don’t want to read. There are dozens of studies linked to WITHIN the links I sent you, if you’re interested in actually learning about the problem and not just being contrarian – and I was trying not to clutter Tamino’s blog – here’s one published in Global Change Biology:

        http://aspenface.mtu.edu/pdfs/Wittig%20et%20al%20GCB%202009.pdf

        Last sentence in the abstract:

        “Taken together, these results demonstrate that the carbon sink strength of northern hemisphere forests is likely reduced by current [O3] and will be further reduced in future if [O3] rises. This implies that a key carbon sink currently offsetting a significant portion of global fossil fuel CO2 emissions could be diminished or lost in the future.”

        DIMINISHED OR LOST

        from an article about the study in PhysOrg:

        http://phys.org/news148046587.html

        “Modern day concentrations of ground level ozone pollution are decreasing the growth of trees in the northern and temperate mid-latitudes, as shown in a paper publishing today in Global Change Biology. Tree growth, measured in biomass, is already 7% less than the late 1800s, and this is set to increase to a 17% reduction by the end of the century.”

        “Ozone pollution is four times greater now than prior to the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s; if modern dependence on fossil fuels continues at the current pace, future ozone concentrations will be at least double current levels by the end of this century with the capacity to further decrease the growth of trees.”

        “The study is the first statistical summary of individual experimental measurements of how ozone will damage the productivity of trees, including data from 263 peer-reviewed scientific publications. Ozone is the third strongest greenhouse gas, directly contributing to global warming, and is the air pollutant considered to be the most damaging to plants.”

        “But more importantly, it has the potential to leave more carbon dioxide, ranked as the first strongest greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere by decreasing carbon assimilation in trees. Ozone pollution occurs when nitrogen oxides have a photochemical reaction with volatile organic compounds.”

        “‘This research quantifies the mean response of trees to ozone pollution measured in terms of total tree biomass, and all component parts such as leaf, root and shoot, lost due to ozone pollution,’ said Dr. Victoria Wittig, lead author of the study. ‘Looking at how ozone pollution affects trees is important because of the indirect impact on carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere which will further enhance global warming, in addition to ozone’s already potent direct impact.'”

        “In addition to ozone pollution reducing the strength of trees to hold carbon in the northern temperate mid-latitudes by reducing tree growth, the research also indicates that broad-leaf trees, such as poplars, are more sensitive to ozone pollution than conifers, such as pines, and that root growth is suppressed more than aboveground growth.”

        “‘Beyond the consequences for global warming, the study also infers that in mixed forests conifers will be favored over broad-leaved trees, and that the decrease in root size will increase the vulnerability to storms,’ said Wittig.”

      • Well, the “Ash Die Back” fungal disease that has hit the headlines here in the UK has been officially reported as being first discovered (in the UK at least) in a nursery last February, which suggests young trees are not in any way protected against it. From the discussions I have heard with continental European specialists we can expect to lose 95%+ of our Ash trees over the next ten years. I’ve not heard however that it’s exacerbated by drought.

      • Um, Gilbert, could you please read the articles about tree decline in the UK linked to here: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2012/11/barking-up-wrongtree.html
        and here
        and here http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2012/11/dark-satanic-mills.html
        Is there any chance you could do some serious homework to understand the scope of the problem?

      • Is there any chance you could do some serious homework to understand the scope of the problem?”

        Is there any chance YOU can cut the snark, and focus on the science? condescending cattiness like yours will likely not result in your hypothesis being taken seriously. You are NOT the only one who ‘does homework,’ may I remind you.

        I’m not being contrarian, BTW: I’m asking for bona fide, peer-reviewed articles that either support or deny your *opinion*, which is fair part of what I’ve seen. Unless your hypothesis, via your own ~blog~, has passed PR muster, it stands only as that: anecdotal opinion, perhaps even of a few locales. I am no ecophysiologist nor arborist; I’m a geologist who is asking for the PR’d stuff to determine if your conclusion is correct or not.

      • You might find some citations in this 94 page bibliography from the EPA draft on tropospheric ozone harm –

        https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B1GeKeBUVd_EMk9qaGNSd0xCVUU

      • Witsendnj. Keep your hair on, I was actually supporting your comment about young trees. You might do well to read what people have written before riding your hobby horse into the fray!
        I have no opinion as it happens about whether pollution is making trees more susceptible to fungal attack, but it seems a reasonable hypothosis – the question is do the data support it. I flicked through one of the links you provided and it seemed anecdote heavy and data light – on that basis there is not enough there to convince me, but I accept you may have more.
        One item I will take issue with, in all likelihood plant pathogens did enter the UK many times over the years, but were not noted unless they affected commercial crops. I was listening yesterday to a discussion on the radio about Dutch Elm disease in the UK in the 1920’s – many years before the epidemic in the 1970’s that wiped out our elms.

      • Sorry Gilbert, I was hasty. This is because so many people fail to recognize the scope of the problem – for instance, if you read about the ash decline in UK, you’ll find that many, many (I would argue all) other species are equally threatened, it’s not just ash. The same is true out west – the people who insist the forests are dying because of temperatures leading to more bark beetles leave out the fact that the aspen are dying too, and they don’t get bark beetle. In fact if you google any species of tree with the word “dying” you’ll find many news articles about each one. People tend to not look at the global picture. I do apologize.

      • witendnj states, “The same is true out west – the people who insist the forests are dying because of temperatures leading to more bark beetles leave out the fact that the aspen are dying too, and they don’t get bark beetle.”

        Really? You’d best publish your data, supportive of your assertion: Seems there may be some who are in disagreement.

        http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Phenomena-Rocky-Aspens-200812.html

        I’ve actuallya ssisted in some of the coring of aspen trees, and this is a telling quote.

        “The most extensive SAD is in the hottest and driest areas—low-lying, south-facing slopes. The pattern suggests that the region’s extreme drought and high temperatures—both possible symptoms of global warming—have weakened the trees, allowing more disease and insect attacks.”

        No mention of ozone damage.

        Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Phenomena-Rocky-Aspens-200812.html#ixzz2DXhUelwk

        This is–at least–the second dogmatic statement you’ve mad that doesn’t seem to fit empirical data and current research. I refer you back to your prior statement [brackets mine]:

        “But the fact is…most species of trees are genetically adapted and HAVE lived for centuries and even THOUSANDS of years. [So when they fail at age 10 or 100 or 200, it’s not from old age or any natural cause.] It is because they are exposed to and soaking up nasty toxins that have been introduced by us, the brilliant homo sapiens sapiens. [And that is all."]

        It’s these dogmatic, my-way-or-the-highway statements that make me and others suspicious of your motives and bona fides: To get to that point, what is your training in this matter? It *IS* relevant, in light of the dogmatism of the “Toxins. And that is all” statement you made.

        I submit, and again, TO REPEAT, I do not doubt that toxins have caused an issue, but many of these toxins have been around for 30+ years, and the aspen (in particular, since I see them quite frequently, in this climate regime) have now only recently been shown to be suffering from HEAT and DROUGHT, and if I’m not mistaken the proximate cause for those parameters is *not* ozone, nor toxins *alone, as you’ve stated. You’ve not yet offered peer-reviewed sources of data for the original question snarkrates and I asked for (below); you’ve provided anecdotal information, from your own blog, and other papers that addressed a different issue than the one we both asked for. I await that source, or sources.

        “witsendnj: “However, that doesn’t explain why young trees being watered in nurseries exhibit the exact same degree of decline as do trees growing wild in the woods.” Citation needed.”

        STILL needed.

      • HarryW, originally I responded to snarkrates “Citation needed”. I offered what I have – some of my own photographs from nurseries. He/she didn’t specify peer-reviewed, published research about nurseries. When you asked for citations to research that “support my hypothesis” I provided them. I don’t know of any research one way or another in nurseries, but I can tell you that I have spoken with many nurserymen and orchardists who are quite oblivious to the symptoms of damage on their own property. It’s called denialism, and it affects a rather large proportion of homo sapiens sapiens. Perhaps in place of a nursery you might accept this site, http://ozoneinjury.org/crops/ and take a good look at the photo of sweet potatoes grown under filtered, ambient and elevated ozone. That is what happens to roots.

      • True to my insistence on peer-reviewed articles and data, here you go.

        http://www.pnas.org/content/109/1/233.full?sid=7249c72c-c8cb-4cd0-85eb-ba7c6229c938

        http://www.pnas.org/content/107/50/21289.full?sid=6fe059aa-b483-460f-87d7-b805d0f8f00f

        -Latitudinal shifts of ecotones, not quite on-topic, but related.

        http://www.pnas.org/content/105/11/4197.full?sid=6fe059aa-b483-460f-87d7-b805d0f8f00f

        This one is a bit old, but shows the concern the issue of drought-induced shifts isn’t a new thing.

        http://www.pnas.org/content/95/25/14839.full?sid=1c5372b0-3c91-4435-b7fc-53ba2f676b48

        -Though there may be articles documenting evidence of ozone damage, there seems to be a lot of articles showing how ozone *depletion* is an issue, and even how some monocultures, like tropical oil plantations, CAUSE ozone levels to increase!

        http://www.pnas.org/content/106/44/18447.full?sid=fc963a3b-53cc-4470-ac66-cbe18cb484f4

        http://www.pnas.org/content/107/22/10115.full?sid=fc963a3b-53cc-4470-ac66-cbe18cb484f4

        So, when it is asked to provide PR’d or refereed data sources, that is is what I mean.

      • Interesting article, though immediately I do not see where the data, research, and conclusions were peer-reviewed, but that may just be a lack of time on my part: I’ll look deeper, later.

        A passing comment, though: in the top of the article you cite, it shows containment structures, presumably to induct O3 into a crop. When I I served as a NASA-funded intern at Biosphere II, in 1997, I was tasked with the design of similar, though WAY smaller, vessels to study the effects of elevated levels of CO2 within the biomes of BSII. then, they (Columbia U) just turned the entire 3.15 acre structure into what remains the world’ s largest and best-contoleld FACE experiment.

        Sorry, Tamino, for the off-topic drift!

      • HarryW says: “No mention of ozone damage.”

        That is precisely why I am an Ozonista. Not because I think there aren’t many other threats to the biosphere, I do, but because this particular threat is almost taboo, despite decades of research (published, peer-reviewed). Think of it like the weather – all weather is now influenced by climate change, which is ubiquitous. So is the background level of ozone. Did you look at the sweet potatoes grown in clean air compared to ambient (non-filtered, polluted) air before you brought up drought and what it does to aspen?
        If you are really interested in this topic, you can leave a comment on my blog or write witsendnj at yahoo and I will be happy to continue to provide you with as many links as you wish. But I think we’ve overwhelmed this post about wildfire and it’s time to stop.

      • “That is precisely why I am an Ozonista.”

        Thanks: at least now you are on record as to your primary motivation.

        Also, re: this? “HarryW says: “No mention of ozone damage.”

        Yes–*in that particular article* that I mentioned, NOT that there is no such thing anywhere, anytime. I’m also a bit puzzled asd to your thinking it’s a “taboo” subject, given that:
        -A) I’ve seen it referenced quite a bit over the years;
        -B) It’s well-known in scientific circles, its deleterious effects on living tissue. Perhaps you might not be old enough to remember the ozone alerts in So. CA in the 60s and 70s?

        Finally: “But I think we’ve overwhelmed this post about wildfire and it’s time to stop.”

        Which is why I linked to Smithsonian article, which addressed one proximate reason the aspen are dying, and burning: if you followed the news this past summer, and know where I live (Colorado), I think you can grant me that I am *very* aware of, and interested in, the topic of our forests dying.

        I’ll assume–and please correct me if I’m wrong, Tamino–that if the blog owner had wanted this ended, he would have done so. I’m still awaiting that data source for the statement you dogmatically made, which *does* address the topic of this thread, and which I’ve tried to keep to a narrow range of topic ‘drift.’ No luck, and I’ll assume you have no such citation, so indeed, we can move along.

        [Response: Whether or not conflict is resolved, moving along is a good idea.]

      • Witsendnj,
        I think what Harry and I object to is the characterization of the decline of trees in nurseries as being the same as that of trees in the wild that also face the stresses of drought. There is no doubt that ozone and other environmental stressors pose significant risks to forest health. However, drought is also a threat. In Eastern forests, pollution may be the greater threat, but in Western forests, it s beyond doubt thatdrought dominates the risks to forest health. Unqualified and general statements are unwise when dealing with multiple complex ecosystems.

    • Susan Anderson

      I think you all might benefit from following an extended discussion on this topic at the end of which Michael Tobis admitted that there was a point to be made here and that it was adequately supported by a wide variety of evidence. There are a number of citations there and the discussion might be helpful those those with open minds. I will need to reread it myself as this subject has been much on my mind.

      http://planet3.org/2012/08/16/the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it/

      My own distinctly amateur point of view is that this is one of a variety of forces at work and it does not do to discount the influence of both stratospheric and ground-level ozone in making things a great deal worse. In New Jersey, it is common knowledge that there has been an uptick in human asthma which is down to pollution, aka ozone et al.

      • When I first embarked on an attempt to understand what is happening to trees, most *experts* derided the very notion that forests are in decline and ridiculed me for suggesting what I could see by simple observation. Since then, it has become generally acknowledged that they are, in fact, dying off around the world (see this summary in the NYTimes of peer-reviewed research, which has since been substantially added to since http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/01/science/earth/01forest.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&_r=1).

        So the question becomes why are they suddenly dying. As stated in my original comment, drought from climate change does not explain why trees and plants in areas not in drought, or being watered, are no better off than trees in drier areas (although I certainly expect that climate change WILL cause the ecosystem to collapse…just not quite yet). To me the most likely explanation is that we have simply reached a tipping point in the persistent background level of ozone that is intolerable to most plants – which has support in the peer-reviewed literature over decades of field observations and controlled fumigation experiments.

        The background level has been rising, and rising fast, and research done at MIT suggests 40 ppb is the threshold above which vegetation is damaged. Many if not most parts of the world have achieved that level. (discussion and interview with John Reilly linked to here http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2012/03/something-is-rotten-at-epa.html).

        Just take a second to ponder the photo in an article warning about Sandy, depicting an oak tree felled in the derecho, last year. It was rotting in the middle, and absolutely typical of trees that later fell in Sandy. Doesn’t anyone but me want to know why they are all rotting? Or care about the ultimate effect it will have on global warming? Stop being such pompous assholes and LOOK:

        http://fairfaxnews.com/2012/10/hurricane-sandy-bears-down-on-an-already-battered-east-coast/trees-down2/

      • Susan, I too, think that is not a single cause or ‘force,’ as you say, and have been reading some along the lines of the ozone issue. Though enjoyable reading, a first pass at your link doesn’t appear to show many peer-reviewed articles or essays that support the ozone hypothesis. It does make many fine points, referencing some peoplke who general opinion on the psychology of all this stuff is interesting, but nothing I can specifically see that speaks directly to atmospheric ozone as a significant cause of deforestation.

      • Susan Anderson

        Harry Wiggs, I have to apologize for being too busy at the moment to check back over the whole argument at P3, but I remember that evidence was flying thick and fast and in the end it was persuasive enough. Meanwhile, I think Richard Pauli below has provided some more technical links, so you might take a look at them.

    • witsendnj has priors on this topic, although I think they were using a different name. Same website, though.

      witsendnj – don’t harm your advocacy by being a single-cause nutter. Last time you were unmovable by evidence, but people can change.

      Leave attribution to the experts, and quit blaming every dead leaf on your pet theory.

      Ecosystems are complicated.

      • Whatever about witsendnj’s single issue concern, it is an interesting rejoinder to the even worse “CO2 is plant food” nutters who are hailing a new era of enhanced growth for trees and crops.

      • Not wanting to go too far off-topic, but the ‘CO2-is-plant-food’ meme never seems to take into account that *modern* plant phyla has evolved in a CO2 regime that’s way less than 400Kya.

        http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-plant-food.htm

      • I have never said or implied that ozone is the only threat to forests – that seems to be a convenient way to dismiss what I am saying about it, which is that it is an existential threat all by itself. I’m really not a nutter. The nutters are the people who see trees dying and blame chemtrails, HAARP, Planet Niburu, the Second Coming, or Fukushima – anything but industrial civilization and our burgeoning, unsustainable population.

        In 1981, George Mollison wrote of the “phasmid conspiracy” (linked to here: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2012/10/hysteresis-and-vile-conspiracy-to-blame.html)

        “…since the 1920’s, and with increasing frequency, we have been loosing species from forest to a whole succession of pathogens. It started with things like chestnut blight….What I think we are looking at is a carcass. The forest is a dying system on which the decomposers are beginning to feed….So insects are not the cause of the death of forests. The cause of the death of forests is multiple insult. We point to some bug and say: “That bug did it.” It is much better if you can blame somebody else. You all know that. So we blame the bug. It is a conspiracy, really, to blame the bugs. But the real reason the trees are failing is that there have been profound changes in the amount of light penetrating the forest, in pollutants, and in acid rain fallout. People, not bugs, are killing the forests.”

        This assessment is identical to that of the research team at the Aspen FACE project in Wisconsin (linked to at that same post): “Trees growing in an ozone-enriched atmosphere have been hit much harder by their traditional enemies: forest tent caterpillars, aphids and the rust fungus Melampsora. ‘This has been a surprise,’ said Professor David Karnosky of Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, a principal investigator on the Aspen FACE project. ‘Our experiment was never meant to look at pest occurrence. But it became obvious that the greenhouse gases were affecting the abundance of pests.'”

        “Studies have shed some light on why the aspen growing in ozone-rich air were turning into so much bug salad: their leaves seem to be undergoing fundamental changes. ‘Ozone alters the surface waxes,’ said Kevin Percy, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service, who is the lead author of the Nature article, ‘Altered Performance of Forest Pests under Atmospheres Enriched by C02 and O3.'”

        “The number of aphids increased about five-fold in plots with elevated ozone, while the number of aphid predators was cut in half. In plots with elevated levels of both carbon dioxide and ozone, the aphid population tripled, while the number of natural enemies increased slightly, mitigating the aphids’ effect on the aspen.”

        “Melampsora infection in the control and CO2-enriched plots was about the same, but increased about 400 percent in the O3 plots and doubled in the plots with extra CO2 and O3. The number of forest tent caterpillars increased by about one-third in the O3 plots and actually decreased slightly in the CO2 plots and the plots with extra CO2 and ozone.”

        In video also embedded in that post, the researchers compare biotic attacks following exposure to ozone as “…sharks that smell blood in the water”.

        So despite the personal and condescending insults I receive whenever I bring this subject up, I continue, because I think it’s critical to understand that forests are dying (and burning) everywhere, not just in areas of drought – because we happen to need trees rather badly…not to mention, annual agricultural crops are also increasingly diminished in yield and quality. As I’ve said, we appear to have reached a tipping point where vegetation is in dieback globally, not just in isolated locales, and if we don’t stop polluting the air quite quickly, we won’t be able to retain viable seeds to replant.

        So, that’s my evil, suspicious “agenda”. Survival.

      • witsendnj, you kinda lost me, and I suspect a few others, when you were asked to provide a direct peer-reviewed reference to support a dogmatic assertion you made–which has not yet been offered up–you resorted to the VERY “personal and condescending insult” of calling us “pompous assholes.”

        Cry me a river Though I share you concern over toxins which may or may not be making forests more susceptible to fires–the topic of the thread–you were the first to hurl said “personal insult[s].” all I and snarkrates asked for was a PR’d source of your *opinion.* on this, I likely am really through with responses to you.

      • I really hope Tamino you will allow me to set the record straight even though the timeline lives indisputably in the comment thread.

        HarryW, the very first reply you made to me was to “call BS” which you did more than once. In other words, you were saying I’m full of shit. If that isn’t personally insulting I don’t know what would be, not to mention all the derogatory stars around *opinion* and *your blog*.

        Snarkrates DIDN’T ask for a PR’d citation, he just asked for a citation, so I responded with a link to photographs. When you later demanded PR’d research to my “hypothesis” I sent you links, and then you demanded over and over – as though I had tried to pass my blog off as such – research comparing nurseries even though I plainly told you I don’t have citations to that, there are no such studies I know of.

        It’s a classic denier tactic to shoot the messenger rather than objectively look at the evidence. The evidence is very clear that trees of all species are dying all over the world, in every sort of location, at all ages. I would welcome – in fact, that’s why I started the blog – some qualified scientists to make the jump from correlation to causation because, just like smoking tobacco, you’re never going to prove any particular case of cancer is a result. But the evidence is overwhelming that smoking causes cancer, and it’s overwhelming – if you take the time to read it – that pollution is killing trees primarily by enhancing vulnerability to drought, wind, and biotic attacks.

        [Response: I think the expression "call BS" is less offensive than you do. Perhaps a thicker skin would enable you to make your point more effectively.

        The phrase "citation needed" usually refers (where I come from) to peer-reviewed literature, or at least something other than the blog of the person making the claim. And I don't think it helps your case to say that references are present in your blog post. Don't make the skeptical do the work, point them to rigorous citations.

        I think this topic has gone on long enough. So to everybody: take one more shot. Make your final argument, and make it count.]

      • witsendnj, I did not mean to imply you are a nutter, because I do not think you are. But the “CO2 is plant food” crowd definitely are. I do not think any of them have been nearer a forest than the local garden centre.

    • I’m in England and don’t recognise any mysterious mass decline/mortality in trees here and neither have I seen any scientific studies pointing to some environmental link between the specific diseases that have struck.

      Part of the problem in my opinion is that many of the tree genera of the Holarctic have different species in North America, Europe and East Asia that are similar enough to be attacked by each others’ pathogens, but are without the resistance of the tree species in the pathogen’s natural range.

      For example, when Chestnut Blight was accidentally introduced to North America from Asiatic Castanea species around 1900, it killed most of the Castanea dentata trees, numbering several billion, over the next few decades as the American trees had little or no resistance.

      I don’t think the 19th Century plant hunters are comparable with today’s trade in plants because of the scale: the plant hunters would have brought back a few plants, but more likely seeds, while today the scale of plant movements is vast. The more plants are moved around the world, the more likely it is that pathogens will be be brought with them.

      • A few days ago I was invited to lunch by a self-described conservative Republican (I’m not even sure he’s not a climate-change denier) very successful stock analyst who had read a post-Sandy comment linking back to my blog.

        Based on his own experience from having designed an analysis that rather famously revealed inconvenient book-cooking regarding the profits and value of corporate stocks, he said he believes my “hypothesis” as it has been described – that ozone underlies forest decline – is correct. He also recounted a story which I came home and googled, since I never had heard about how the medical orthodoxy about the cause of ulcers was overturned:

        http://www.medpagetoday.com/Gastroenterology/PepticUlcerDisease/1856

        “‘Any new discovery in science is going to be controversial and initially most people won’t believe it because you are going to be knocking over some kind of dogma,’ Dr. Marshall told reporters in Australia after the announcement.”

        “‘We were surprised that it took so long to be accepted but really for the last few years we’ve become vindicated,’ he said. ‘It has become mainstream treatment in Australia and in most countries.'”

        “In the years since the discovery, other researchers have investigated the role of H. pylori in stomach cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.”

        Some day in the not too distant future – maybe in the spring when trees don’t leaf out, even in areas with plenty of precipitation and no alien pathogens, you will all look back at this exchange and say, “duh”.

        I promise then I will try so very, very hard not to say “Zawacki is a Verb That Means I Told You So.”

        http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2010/10/zawacki-is-verb-that-means-i-told-you.html

        [Response: OK. That concludes the discussion of the impact of ozone on trees. Interested readers are invited to continue it at your blog.]

  8. Having worked the last 29 Augusts consecutively in the Cascade Mountains I concur with your Washington analysis. It should be noted that this spring was very wet, yet forest fires became quite a problem during the prolonged dry period that started on July 5 and lasted into September. While working on Mount Daniels we watched a fire develop that destroyed a number of homes

  9. Horatio Algeranon

    “Fire on the Mountain”
    — Horatio Algeranon’s rendition of The Marshall Tucker Band song

    Took our fam’lies away from our low-carbon days
    Had dreams about the best, and joined the fuelish ways
    100 plus years on an oil-covered trail
    They say Heaven’s at the end
    But it’s looking like Hell

    And there’s fire on the mountain
    Carbon in the air
    Oil in them spills and it’s waiting for you there

    We were drilling and fracking, every hour and day
    Spoiling ev’rything around to make it pay and pay
    Oil flowed free in the houses and the cars
    Wasting was the big Oil Lord
    And Carbon was the star

    And there’s fire on the mountain
    Carbon in the air
    Oil in them spills and it’s waiting for you there

    Strip mall whirls were the evening treat
    Empty packages and food lined the gutters of the street
    Cars were bought up for the sake of fun
    Or just to hear the noise of a sports-car run

    And there’s fire on the mountain
    Carbon in in the air
    Oil in them spills and it’s waiting for you there

    Now my grandchild, curses by my grave
    Tears flow free for a world I could have saved
    Heated up in warm air by a stack that carried flame
    All for a useless and no good worthless claim

    And there’s fire on the mountain
    Carbon in the air
    Oil in them spills and it’s waiting for you there
    Fire on the mountain
    Carbon in the air
    Oil in them spills and it’s waiting for you there
    Waiting for you there….

    • I *am* in awe, Horatio…;)

    • Horatio Algeranon

      “Wild Fires”
      — Horatio’s rendition of Wild Horses (by John Williams made famous by the Rolling Stones)

      Fossil-fuel living is easy to do
      The Hummers I wanted, I bought one or two
      Wasteful denier you know that I am
      You know I can’t let oil slide through my hands
      Wild fires, couldn’t drive me away
      Wild wild fires, from the fossil-fuel day

      I will do nothing to prevent the heat
      And fires in the future, out on the street
      No climate changes or droughts in the West
      Could make me feel different or accept the “BEST”
      Wild fires, couldn’t drive me away
      Wild wild fires, from the fossil-fuel day

      I know I’ve blogged oft a spin and a lie
      I have my fee-dom but I don’t have a dime
      Heartland’s been broken tears must be cried
      Let’s do some denyin’ after we lie
      Wild fires, couldn’t drive me away
      Wild wild fires, from the fossil-fuel day
      Wild fires, couldn’t drive me away
      Wild wild fires, from the fossil-fuel day

    • This might be the best you’ve ever done, H.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      No budget Horatio version of Fire on the Mountain

  10. Thanks Tamino. I had a series of posts in June with Susan Anderson and dhogaza on this fire climate change trifecta, earlier snowmelt, longer hotter summers and insect infestations leading to extensive stands of dead and dying trees. I predicted then it would be a looong hot summer, and after 2 months of smoke in Montana that only ended in early October…it was! The University of Idaho has an active research program on the range of Climate Change Issues in the Northern Rockies: http://projweb.cals.uidaho.edu/northernrockies/ and I’m sure there are others as well but I attended their workshop in Missoula and they have a comprehensive look at what we can expect: more long hot summers and smoke.

    • “…more long hot summers and smoke.”

      As a resident of Colorado, one of the harder-hit fire areas, I can assure you the coming Apocalypse is going to be a *doozy*. there are stands of nearly 100% dead lodge pole pine in areas of the mountains that exceed 25-50 square miles. When it hits–and it’s when, not if–the fires that we will have in the future are going to be *grim.* Even this past summer, there were times that, out on the plains 50 miles to east of the mountains, the smoke was so bad I could barely breathe. A friend of mine was evacuated from the High Station fire zone and he said, “if I EVER smell another pine-scented anything, I’ll puke.”

      • Here in southern Illinois nearly every species is affected with high levels of mortality. Some of this is no doubt due to the extreme drought and record-breaking temperatures we had this summer. But ground-level ozone levels are also very high. Clear air is about 25 ppbv, and the EPA set clean levels at 70! We had in the high 60s before this summer. University of Illinois research has shown that higher temperatures lead to more ground level ozone and reduced crop yields.

        Nowadays, it is easy enough to find peer-reviewed articles about the problem with ground-level ozone, so don’t be lazy and call BS before you do a little googling of the subject, please.

  11. From a 2009 newspaper clipping re Washington, Olympic Peninsula area:

    “PORT ANGELES — One of the wettest counties in the state is also its most likely to suffer catastrophic loss of property in the event of a major wildfire, a recent study shows.

    Clallam County topped the state and ranked No. 5 out of 413 counties in 11 western states in a study from Montana-based Headwaters Economics that looked at the potential for damage in a fire….”

  12. Like beetles and pathogens, fires are opportunistic, and fighting them with helicopters or chemical sprays does not accomplish anything. The sources of Western tree death are global warming, hotter microclimates from logged over areas, and air pollution. The importance of these factors will depend on the location, but each is present in all Western regions.

    Tree mortality nationwide from all causes (except death by chainsaw) has tripled since 1970, a huge increase. The best cures are reduced fossil emissions, reduced wood products consumption, and encouragement of natural stand regeneration, leaving moister, more diverse, and more resilient forests. We will need these trees, since the per acre biomass on the Western US and BC coast is the highest on earth (though Australian scientists say that their eucalypt forests also can contain over 1200 tons per acre). With a dessicated ocean and increased desertification coming up, trees will be needed to sequester as much CO2 as possible.

  13. Reblogged this on The Red Elm and commented:
    I am definitely not looking forward to next fire season :-/

  14. “Changing the temperature of the Earth changes all climates, it warms the centre of the continents, for instance, which when warmed dry out. And we’re watching at the moment the drying out of Central Asia, we have a big drought in Arizona, elsewhere, and everyone has noticed that the forests of North America are burning, they’re burning because it’s warmer and drier… …The same thing is happening all across Asia, I’m told that 13 million hectares of forests in Russia Burned this past summer. These are big serious problems. The climatic disruption has the potential for literally burning civilisation off the Earth in the course of the next decades.”

    George Woodwell founder and director of the Woods Hole Research Centre. The Science of Tomorrow: Disc 2 of The Day After Tomorrow (2004) DVD.

    Meanwhile, in 2012 in another part of the globe…

    10 July 2012
    Hazy British Columbia skies caused by Russian forest fires.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/07/10/bc-haze-russian-forest-fire.html

    Our best case scenario is a re-run of the PETM.

  15. Looking at the first point of the Washington data I can’t help but wonder by how much modern early detection abilities and firefighting technologies have changed relative to 1970.

    If today’s capacities had been present in 1970, that single point which alters the non-zero version of the original analysis is likely to have been lower in magnitude, thus providing a significant result even with the zero years excluded.

  16. witsendnj | November 27, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply

    I live in New Jersey and ever since Sandy it looks like the ecopocalypse has arrived. The wind was not great enough to explain the 118,000 trees estimated that fell, knocking power out for weeks. There was hardly any damage to buildings, signs, outdoor furniture or cars from wind. And yet the trees fell like pickup sticks. I collected dozens of photographs of fallen trees from news reports and posted them on my blog, in which it was clear that they were rotting on the inside.

    Here in central NJ it was similar except I saw three different groups of downed trees: White pines, large trees which a had broken due to rot and many trees which had been pulled up by their roots. The white pines always seen fragile to me, they’re always losing boughs in wind and snow. The large trees that were down often showed rot, I had a 65′ maple taken down in my back yard a year or so ago because it was showing signs of rot and was adjacent to the house, when we cut it up a section through the tree about 5′ above ground was just a hole surrounded by 2″ of wood an bark! I don’t think it would have made it through Sandy, the termites and Horned beetle larvae had completely destroyed it but without close inspection it seemed OK. Many of the large trees that I saw here were similar. There were many trees down that appeared to have shallow roots that were just pulled out of the ground. Around here though there were plenty of houses with missing siding, tiles etc., signage down and traffic lights precariously hanging from their supports.
    One of the problems here with trees is I think that they’re a recent phenomenon, look at aerial photos from here in the 40’s and you won’t see many woods whereas now there are plenty, but mostly young.

    • Dear Phil, I do understand your anecdotal impressions. But the fact is, that most species of trees are genetically adapted and HAVE lived for centuries and even THOUSANDS of years. So when they fail at age 10 or 100 or 200, it’s not from old age or any natural cause. It is because they are exposed to and soaking up nasty toxins that have been introduced by us, the brilliant homo sapiens sapiens. And that is all.

    • witsendnj has failed to apply critical thinking.

      There are always a number of trees suffering from rot or other issues. When faced with strong winds, these trees, being structurally unsound and unsafe, are unsurprisingly the most likely to fall.

      In other words, it would be surprising if a significant number of downed trees *didn’t* show evidence of rot.

      He/she also made an odd comment about a “lifeless” tree that has survived. Obviously, it is Autumn, and some trees (most, now) have dropped their leaves. Trees that have dropped their leaves offer less resistance to the wind, and are at a slight advantage during strong winds.

      Logic is a beautiful thing.

  17. David B. Benson

    Until the budget runs out, wildfires in Washington state, east side and west side are actively managed in all but the most inaccessible locations. This past fire season at least one wildfire in the Bitterroot Mountains of northern Idaho was not actively managed, but the remaining 3 or 4 in Idaho were as were all the ones in Washington.

    Had air pollution here from all of those wildfires, monitored via

    http://lar.wsu.edu/airpact/

  18. Chris Reynolds, did you go to Los Altos High School?

  19. Witsendnj, thanks for all that you do.
    HarryW – this is so tiresome, you actually are supposed to make a effort to read.
    There are plenty of links, publications,, studies, journaled papers, and ongoing research.

    http://nrs.fs.fed.us/fia/topics/ozone/default.asp

    http://www.epa.gov/air/ozonepollution/

    http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/78647/E91843.pdf

    And the EPA has an extensive bibliography.

    But that’s OK, The links are handy.
    But somehow, it does not seem that curiosity is your motive.

    • Sorry Harry for my snark… I have posted a 94 page bibliography from a draft EPA research document on setting ozone standards(Feb 2012).
      Half the titles apply to humans, many to plants – there are many hundreds of citations.

      https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B1GeKeBUVd_EMk9qaGNSd0xCVUU

      Go wild.

    • It seems as if judging people you do not know, however, is your motive: I am a geologist; I am trained to read LOTS, and I do. You’re not reading my responses correctly, and I’m not disputing there are more forest fires. Pay attention.

    • Unless I’ve missed it–and please point out the EXACT article that has already been linked to where I may have missed it–I have NOT seen any reference that backs this statement up: “witsendnj: “However, that doesn’t explain why young trees being watered in nurseries exhibit the exact same degree of decline as do trees growing wild in the woods.””

      I live within 25 miles of 10 tree nurseries, and I see 3 of them daily. NONE seem to exhbit this strange behavior, and where i live, the drought has been prolonged and intense. I remain skeptical, as ANY true scientist ought to be. You may find that “tiring,” but if you are also a scientist (are you?) you’d understand my skeptical nature.

      • HarryWiggs, can you provide me the names and locations of at least some of the nurseries you refer to?
        thanks.

      • To what end, witsendnj? In any case, Google is your friend. I’d have to look them up, too. Just look around Brighton, Colorado, in a 20-mile radius.

    • Richard, nobody doubts that ozone is an issue that should be taken seriously, but witsendnj makes the issue seem utterly ridiculous by blaming anything and everything on one cause, and displaying poor reasoning and ideological fervour.

      This is the kind of behaviour that gets environmentalists a bad name, and I object to it strongly.

  20. Harry, you are comparing apples to oranges. Gail is in New Jersey and you are out West.
    But once again, you seem not to want to delve into the copious literature on ground-level ozone, its toxicity, and its increasing levels virtually all over the U.S.
    We all have enough to do without teaching someone who apparently can easily teach himself.

    • Once again, Tenney Naumer, you and others seem satisfied to reach ad hominem judgments about me, never actually answering the original request. I’m not doubting that ozone may be an issue; NOT a single source yet has been provided for the original question I asked.: I’ll repeat myself, for your benefit.

      “Unless I’ve missed it–and please point out the EXACT article that has already been linked to where I may have missed it–I have NOT seen any reference that backs this statement up: “witsendnj: “However, that doesn’t explain why young trees being watered in nurseries exhibit the exact same degree of decline as do trees growing wild in the woods.””

      Your harping on about my “unwillingness” to read about ozone is a goal post shift. I saw no reference to different areas of the country, though that may well be true, nor did I EVER challenge the ozone findings, most of which I have now read, or have read previous to this thread. As a geologist with numerous colleagues who study atmospheric science, I know quite well the deleterious effects of ozone, and to repeat, am not dismissing their bad effects. Reread my question and please direct me to a supporting source of information that backs up what snarkrates originally asked for.

      • OK Harry, I’ll bite.

        You are making a type 1 error in your experimental question.

        The null hypothesis is “Ozone is not related to plant disease” – and is disproven by results from the “National Crop Loss Assessment Network” experiments done in the mid 1980’s

        I leave it to you to google the documents, there you will find documents and data that says ” Ground-level ozone causes more damage to plants than all other air pollutants combined” This is from the US Dept of Agriculture Research Services as part of the National Crop Loss Assessment Network (NCLAN)

        BTW this agency was shut down by Pres George W Bush after it reported that more than 18% of crop yields are lost to ozone damage. The implication would have been we need to stop ozone pollution. There may be a reason why ethanol fuel was being protected since it may generate more ozone than gasoline – but that is more of a political question.

        As to your DEMAND for a Citation addressing your hypothesis that “young trees being watered in nurseries exhibit the exact same degree of decline as do trees growing wild in the woods”

        You have the makings of a simple experiment that you might follow through with yourself. But you might want to define your hypothesis better.

        I see no reason for them not to exhibit damage from ozone – but you have plenty of variables to control for. The Crop Loss studies were done on many species of food and tobacco plants, The age of the plant matters, since older foliage shows more damage. Young plants may be damaged in ways that is hard to detect, but crop yield is a most important way to measure plant damage. Some trees are more sensitive to ozone than other species, some sustain greater harm in the roots, some in the leaves. So you might want to control your lab experiment to prevent ozone from reaching to roots.

        The National Crop Loss experiments were done in enclosed greenhouses with control specimens. I leave it to you to find the description.

      • First off, a comprehension lesson: *I* was not the one who raised the ozone issue, nor do I dispute its deleterious effects. Secondly, you make a grave error in attributing to me the statement, and I quote; “As to your DEMAND for a Citation addressing your hypothesis that “young trees being watered in nurseries exhibit the exact same degree of decline as do trees growing wild in the woods”.

        *I* did not assert the statement, witsendnj did, and my demand was for credible, peer-reviewed evidence that his assertion was true. No such credible source has been named, and you and others have used strawmen and goal post shifts to deflect from that question: It remains unaddressed. Let’s drop the ozone issue, such as it is, for that is NOT nor ever has been the kernel of my question, a question which snarkrates also asked.

      • Richard, you are ignoring other factors which are unique to nursery trees and issues with monoculture, and factors which are unique to uncultivated trees. It’s a very complex issue, and you still seem to be stuck on the headline – which nobody is disputing with you.

        It’s tough being a tree these days, and implying, as you do, that ozone is to blame for everything, is a) unsupported by evidence, and b) harmful to your credibility. I don’t think there are any further effects, because it’s a low profile issue, and people are used to filtering out uninformed single issue environmentalists (which I don’t think you are, but you are doing a good job of imitating one today).

    • Not to be contentious, Tenney–I don’t hold a strong position on this; haven’t researched it (yet)–but you seem a bit inconsistent with these two statements:

      “Harry, you are comparing apples to oranges. Gail is in New Jersey and you are out West…” and “…its increasing levels virtually all over the U.S.”

      Just sayin’.

  21. A worthwhile, if sobering, discussion.

  22. Congratulations on the new paper! Look forward to seeing the blog post.

  23. > trees which had broken due to rot
    Root damage, probably, from urbanization. I recall that the second logging pass through the Northeast turned up many trees that seemed good but had internal rot; the speculation was that the first time the areas were logged, hidden damage was done by the process to the smaller trees left behind.

    • Hank, you get to the heart of the issue. It’s not just trees in urban areas, and it’s not just trees that had (potentially) root damage from earlier logging. It is trees planted in cities, suburbs, and trees deep in wild forests. It is trees on mountaintops and along river beds. The trees that are dying on my farm, for example, began life about 80 years ago in abandoned dairy pasture, at least a century after clearcutting.
      Consider: the ash trees in the midwest are dying, supposedly because of the invasive Asian longhorn beetle. But wait, they’re dying in the UK too – only that’s attributed to a fungus. The fact is, all the ash are dying everywhere, and opportunistic pathogens are attacking them in different places.

      • Glad to see you read nothing anyone said, and did not allow anything to alter your opinions in even the slightest way.

        Makes life easy when you don’t listen, doesn’t it?

  24. > all … everywhere

    Don’t exaggerate.
    The problem is serious and widespread.
    Reality is scary enough.

    Look at the differences to see what ‘s going on.

    If you lump everything together, you don’t see what makes a difference.

    http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=12462

  25. There is also “ozone” that is O3; and, “ozone” that is Ground level or “bad” ozone that is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. See EPA.

  26. > Aaron Lewis
    > There is also “ozone” that is O3

    As compared to some “ozone” that is not O3?

  27. Last thought:
    “… exhibit the exact same degree of decline …”

    Show enough data to establish the probability. Ideally, show that someone collected the data, has done the arithmetic, and published a science paper.

    Proof by assertion doesn’t cut it.
    Ozone is a very big deal for agriculture.
    You can cite that; I did above.

    It’s the overly precise claims without numbers that put people off.

  28. Thank you Tamino for your tolerance. I really have no more references to add to what I’ve already said – where “I come from” citation means to cite a source, it doesn’t mean “peer-reviewed published scientific research” unless specified as such. If anybody truly wants information about ozone and can’t find it, they can easily find me and ask.

    I’m not a scientist, I don’t pretend to be – and I don’t have a thick skin, sorry. I am simply a gardener and a mother, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I am terrified for what the future holds, not just from ecosystem collapse from pollution, but ultimately, mass extinctions from climate change, which is clearly on the horizon…the timeframe of which may be debatable, but the ultimate result just isn’t.

  29. What I see is Harry here with a preconceived notion, not wanting to do any work to find out something he obviously hasn’t studied, yet feels free to call BS.

    Lazy, very intellectually lazy.

    Around here in southern Illinois, between Carbondale and Marion, the trees are virtually all sick and dying or dead, no matter the species. Shall I send photos? There are no peer-reviewed studies on it.

    I am driving home every day through a tree holocaust. Even Gail has not seen such devastation in New Jersey.

    It is due to a combination of things: ozone levels, drought, excessive heat, invasive insects, fungus — you name it.

    Oh, and there are few insects. I have not had to clean off my windshield in 15 months, nor the radiator grill. In the mornings, no birds wake me up at the break of dawn. No fireflies, no butterflies, no willy worms.

    I have the future here right now.

  30. Tenney, why do you think virtually all the trees around you are “sick and dying or dead”?

    Do the branches crack off dry when you pull on them, or do they bend? Is there no trace of green under the outer bark on any of them?

    I have friends in the area, some of them people who farm, and none of them haven’t reported observing anything like this.

    • Have your friends drive on Hwy. 13 (or even “old” 13) between Marion and Carbondale. Innumerable trees are down (think every 20 feet), leaning, broken in half (horizontally), entire swaths of woods are dead (looks like an F5 tornado went through). Oddly, this is worse in the bottom lands or along the edges of Crab Orchard Lake. Here in Carbondale something has attacked the bark of many trees, and they died. Something else is affecting the roots of other species, and huge swellings at the base of the trunk are evident. The evergreens have mostly turned brown. (I saw one very large evergreen (between old and new 13), still green, that just decided to fall over — no storms or high winds have come through here in long time — tornadoes were non-existent here this summer due to the drought.) Lots of trees are rotten through the middle. When I mention this to people, they pause and say things like yeah, I’ve lost some trees this year. When I ask why, they don’t know. In some places, they are bulldozing the land because the trees have all died. I have a tree outside my window that I expected to give nice shade in the afternoon. It died, and it is leaning my way. I have to talk to the landlord about having it removed before it falls through my window.

      I drive in the other direction toward Murphysboro to get to my mother’s house. Along one section of the road for about two miles with woods on either side of this narrow road, it is like running through a gauntlet. On both sides, dying or dead trees are leaning toward the road, and once I had to move a fallen tree out of the road. So last week I went a different way and durned if there wasn’t a huge evergreen that looked like it had just exploded in the middle, and the top half was on the ground. She lives on about 1.5 acres full of trees — most sick or dying. Her property is at the end of Lake Chautauqua. A huge tree at the edge of the lake fell over. Cost her more than $1,000 to get it removed. I don’t know how she will pay to get her other trees removed. It is a real economic issue because as soon as your neighbor informs you that a tree is a danger to their property, if it falls, you are responsible for the damages. They’re all in the same boat there though — all the properties around the lake are wooded.

      Two weeks ago, when driving back from Marion (a 4-lane highway with emergency lanes and large margin before the woods start), I had to avoid a tree that was so large that when it fell, its crown was in my lane.

      There is a VA medical center in Marion where I am doing my internship, and it has extensive grounds with many very large old magnificent oak trees — mostly all dead now.

      Because it is fall (haven’t really seen winter start yet, and we didn’t have winter at all last year), most people will not have noticed what is going on. But in the spring, when the trees don’t put out leaves, they will have to notice.

      In the summertime around here, it used to be the case that a person would have to go to the gas station and get the windshield cleaned twice a day, so many bugs of all kinds would hit it. I admit to being lazy where it concerns this old vehicle I drive, but really? No need to clean the thing since August 2011?

      And it is so quiet outside. A real dearth of birds. There used to be so many birds squawking in the mornings that as soon as the sun barely made its presence known it would be impossible to sleep late even with a pillow over your head. Now I don’t hear a single one.

      Just 20 miles to the north, the land is at a higher elevation, and I don’t see this kind of tree death, but I do see a lot of sick trees. Even further north, for example, in Maryville, near St. Louis, the woods look pretty good, but the early signs are there.

      I will say that I have noticed that the highway department no longer mows the grass along the edges of the roads — they spray herbicide instead. RoundUp is just one more factor in the complex assault on nature around here.

      In two weeks, when the internship is over, I’ll be out photographing the carnage and posting it to my flickr. What is going on here makes the stuff on Gail’s blog look like child’s play.

      • A chilling list of observations, Tenney. I suspect you are right in attributing it to a complex mix of factors–though I also suspect that the drought should figure high in the list. And I think you are right to try to draw attention to what you see–it begs investigation.

        Here in Georgia, we, too, are back in a drought situation, though it’s been less extreme than in the Midwest, and it seems to be receiving little attention. I admit to being startled myself when it was pointed out to me recently that Lake Lanier–the main water supply for metro Atlanta, and the sole source for the county which I inhabit–is now down nearly 14 feet from full pool.

        http://www.ajc.com/news/news/lake-lanier-water-level-sinks-to-three-year-low/nTGCd/

        The trees don’t look bad, though. I don’t say that with complacency; we’ve had three trees come down on our suburban lot in as many years, and one hit the house for $100,000 worth of damage. That one was apparently healthy, but its roots had been disturbed by a previous tree fall, and it got hit by 60-mph derecho winds… So the lack of visible morbidity is not that comforting to me. And I sure don’t feel confident about how long the (apparent) lack of morbidity will continue.

        Ozone? We certainly have issues with it here, though perhaps a bit less so where I live than in other areas of metro. It’s far from infrequent to have schools keep kids inside due to air quality concerns, of which ozone is a prime component. Code orange alerts are common enough, and we hit a code purple at least once this summer.

  31. OT re: tropical storms

    I left this comment at Dr. Pielke Jr’s site:

    — snip —
    Using the scientific method of counting bullets on a wiki page :), I find this set of numbers interesting:

    List of Canada hurricanes

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Canada_hurricanes

    Bulleted Events:
    1775-1899 – 10
    1900-1949 – 4
    1950-1994 – 20
    1995-present – 22

    Reporting bias is an obvious issue with this list. I for one, however, would be interested in seeing a Canadian Power Dissipation Index of Hurricane and Post-Tropical Tropical Force storms. This could indicate more Sandy like events along the north-eastern US seaboard. Some of these coast hugging storms will inevitably steer westward.
    — snip —

    The context was that the Atlantic is warming and that tropical storms might retain their power further north.

    Perhaps people should be paying attention to Canada’s Atlantic seaboard?

    Care to comment?

  32. Thanks, Tamino, for allowing this extended discussion.

    I tried to comment several times, but WordPress keeps dropping the connection when I verify who I am.

  33. APHIS — Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

    Requests public “suggestions for FY 2013 projects …
    through December 7, 2012.
    Detailed submission instructions and an explanation of the evaluation process are available on APHIS’ 10201 Web page at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/section10201. ”

    “… goal areas: enhancing plant pest/disease analysis and survey; targeting domestic inspection activities at vulnerable points in the safeguarding continuum; enhancing and strengthening pest identification and technology; safeguarding nursery production; enhancing mitigation capabilities; and conducting outreach and education about these issues.”

    from: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2012/11/farm_bill_funding.shtml

  34. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2009.09.001
    A global overview of drought and heat-induced tree mortality reveals …
    http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Products/Publications/22509a/22509a.pdf
    by CD Allen – 2010 – Cited by 395
    vulnerable to higher background tree mortality rates and die-off in response to future warming and ….. Satellite map of Africa, with documented drought-induced mortality areas …. Patterns of tree death are often quite patchy at finer spatial …

    Patterns can be detected from satellite imagery

  35. abstract from the global overview of … tree mortality PDF:
    Greenhouse gas emissions have significantly altered global climate, and will continue to do so in the future. Increases in the frequency, duration, and/or severity of drought and heat stress associated with climate change could fundamentally alter the composition, structure, and biogeography of forests in many regions. Of particular concern are potential increases in tree mortality associated with climate- induced physiological stress and interactions with other climate-mediated processes such as insect outbreaks and wildfire. Despite this risk, existing projections of tree mortality are based on models that lack functionally realistic mortality mechanisms, and there has been no attempt to track observations of climate-driven tree mortality globally. Here we present the first global assessment of recent tree mortality attributed to drought and heat stress. Although episodic mortality occurs in the absence of climate change, studies compiled here suggest that at least some of the world’s forested ecosystems already may be responding to climate change and raise concern that forests may become increasingly vulnerable to higher background tree mortality rates and die-off in response to future warming and drought, even in environments that are not normally considered water-limited. This further suggests risks to ecosystem services, including the loss of sequestered forest carbon and associated atmospheric feedbacks. Our review also identifies key information gaps and scientific uncertainties that currently hinder our ability to predict tree mortality in response to climate change and emphasizes the need for a globally coordinated observation system. Overall, our review reveals the potential for amplified tree mortality due to drought and heat in forests worldwide.

  36. Interesting discussion. I’ve read most of it, but probably missed a few points. Background: I’m a chemist (Ph.D organic chemist), not an atmospheric scientist of any type, but I do know what ozone is (have actually used it in chemical synthesis) and appreciate that it can be toxic at high levels. As I read the discussion, I wondered if there was data indicating trends in low level ozone in the U.S. I didn’t see any mention of it in the discussion, but perhaps missed it. In any case, there is data. Here is a link to some:

    http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/ozone.html

    From the website: “Nationally, average ozone levels declined in the 1980’s, leveled off in the 1990’s, and showed a notable decline after 2002.”
    Data can be retrieved from the site on ozone levels (and their trends since 1990) for many sites in the U.S. A cursory check of some of these sites does not seem to indicate that ozone levels in the fire areas of the west are higher than in other areas (for example, east coast — Boston area — where I live). Nor do they appear to be increasing.

    • [edit]

      [Response: I already allowed two of your comments after saying "Only one more." Enough is enough. You've got your own blog, it's been referred to here multiple times, everybody knows how to find it.]

    • Note that the current average level of around 70 ppbv is nearly 3 times what is considered clean air by modern science. Lowest levels are in Puerto Rico and Hawaii. Levels in the northwest are up to the 90s. The so-called “national standard” was set at 70 ppbv and it is way too high.

      [Response: No more about ozone please.]

  37. Please…make it all go away!!!!!!

    And you have likely hosted – THANK YOU – one of the most important discussions on earth. Someday (if we live that long) you may boast of it.
    Best, cheers!!!

    Gail

    • Tamino, you are the master of analysis of statistical presentations… Thanks so much for all that you do. This issue churns up some interesting statistical issues that I would hope that you could address: Type I and II errors and significance levels, conditional versus absolute probabilities.

      I have heard this come up in discussions of attributing evidence in climate change. I really have not understood it… but I know it is important. It applies in any research… If you look into it, I would be very interested in what you say about it.

      Thanks for all that you do.

  38. It only seems appropriate to “end” this discussion with this on the December wildfire in Rocky Mountain National Park: http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_22105770/strong-winds-fuel-fern-lake-fire-force-evacuations

    A fitting end to the discussion and the fire season?

    • From my home out on the high prairie, I can see Long’s Peak and know where RMNP is, in relation to it: 60+ miles away, I can also smell the smoke. The pall of smokes lies across the wide valley in which I live: saw it coming home from seeing “Chasing Ice.”.
      December..a forest fire in my mountains, in December. Yea, that whole hoaxy climate change thing…and in the ultimate ‘mea culpa’/irony moment…I had to drive 100 miles RT, to see a movie about us killing our biopshere….;=(

  39. Notice the odd mismatch between the forest products industry argument and reality? Old growth forests are an existence proof that old growth forests cope with fire better than other kinds of land cover.