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Getting wildfire smoke from the west? Those forests also provided your rain and oxygen when healthy

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Location: NW California, 1500-1800ft,
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Getting wildfire smoke from the westerly winds that generally prevail in North America? The same winds bring your summer rain, oxygen and a massive cooling effect when forests are healthy and transpiring normally. Those burning forests and prairies in Alberta likewise normally get their spring and summer moisture from water evapo-transpired from forests west and upwind of them. The basic gist is, deforestation of the west coast has led to drier, hotter and longer dry seasons inland and eastward. This is desertification, and humans are causing it. On the other hand, that means we may be able to reverse it.

Virtually all rain and moisture 150mi inland from the windward west coast has been through a tree or other plant (Mollison, 1988). At 50mi inland, that is true of 75% of rain and humidity. Trees also seed this evapotranspired water with raindrop forming nuclei in the form of bacteria that live part of their lifecycle in forests and another part forming rainclouds . So water from previous precipitation on the Pacific Coast comes on the  westerly wind, just like the wildfire smoke is now. The more healthy forest we have to the west of us, the more reliable and extended be our rainfall will be, and the cooler our summers as evapo-transipiration is the single largest cooling phenomenon on Earth. This would obviously mitigate wildfires that are currently smoking out the Eastern US and Canada.

This massive moisture and cooling pump largely starts in the coastal storms saturating California to Canada’s coastal forests from October-April, as the Pacific Coast receives most of its water from wet winter clouds coming off the Ocean. This water is absorbed and stored in rainforest soil, roots and tree trunks, then evapo-transpired into the westerly wind at a rate of over 5000gal per acre per day in some particularly verdant places like the coast Redwoods. When old growth coastal Redwoods covered 2million acres (98% of which has been cut down), they could have contributed 10billion gallons per day of water to the westerly winds seeding inland rainfall. Many millions more acres of almost as verdant and water absorbing forest was cut up and down the west coast of North America (96-98% cut down).  In North America, the entire water cycle process is primed by the Pacific/West coast rainforest pump. Trees act like water collecting brooms, and in old growth their height forces clouds to rise 300+ft, dropping much of their winter rain to be stored for summer growth and cloud seeding transpiration. While generally better than track housing and strip malls, the young, exceedingly dense and unhealthy forests that have replaced much of the old growth cannot do this even a fraction as well, and without human management including prescribed fire clearing the sickly majority of young trees (only a fraction of trees reach maturity even in the healthiest of forests) will become tinder boxes primed for catastrophic fire.

So if we want to restore the hydrology of North America, which we do if this smoke is bothersome to us, we will start with restoring the coastal rainforests of the West Coast, as well as cloud catching ridgeline forests. One irony of this is that the solution to the forest fire problem is more forests and more fire. These are healthy forests that we need though, not monoculture tree plantations. Historically, every healthy north American forest includes human managed fire. Combined with logging, removing native peoples’ cultures of using fire as a forest management tool created a tinderbox of young, dried out and pathogeninfested trees where giant, disease and fire resistant forests once were. We may be to far down the road to immediately reinstate native cultural fire management that would have prevented this tinderbox in the first place, but we can certainly learn from them and work our way back towards historically native social forestry practices as a goal.

So if you are in the west, get involved with old growth protection, and your local Fire Safe Council or similar programs facilitating defensible space and proactive regrowth forest management. In doing so we can learn how we can employ prescribed fire and ideally biochar production (which sequesters 3x the carbon produced in its making for centuries to mullenia) as tool to actually preserve larger healthier trees by safely removing ladder fuels that would cause their canopy to burn (the worst case fire scenario). An added benefit of biochar production and other diversions of these understory fuels to soil building uses like mulch and hugelkulture beds (wood buried in soil lasagna style), is that this can store tons of carbon and water in soil, stimulating more healthy growth and therefore more carbon and water storage, benefiting everyone and everything downwind and downstream. Solving the wildfire, climate, hydrology, and soil loss problems altogether seems pretty appealing and efficient to me. Oh, plus healthy forests have a healthy salmon stream as their bottom layer too, further feeding the soil and us with their bounty of ocean nutrients carried up into the mountains. If you are in the East, please support our work out west in doing so, as we will return the support with fire fighting rain, and rainforest evapotranspiration cooled oxygenated air, and salmon!
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Location: Bendigo , Australia
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You are 'spot on' with your assesment of the situation.
The community needs to understand the flow of money around the trees and the areas they effect,
It goes like this;
- While loggers are making a load of cash in the short term,
- landowners are left with erosion water and wind and need cash to fix it
- creeks and rivers are damaged needing cash to fix them
- water supply, stock, domestic or towns is damaged, needing cash to fix it
- Whole areas of ecological important to the life cycle are damaged
- Rainfall and moisture retention in large swathes of land are diminished greatly, needing cash to find new water sources
Nobody does the sums across the whole exchange, and so communites find they have the bill to restore or rectify things whilst the logger has become wealthy.
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