Sunday, August 30, 2015

fire at a distance

all photos courtesy Artemis Celt
 A winter just a couple of degrees Fahrenheit too warm led to torrential winter rains that should have been snow in our part of the Olympic Mountain watershed. Three percent of normal snowpack in our watershed when spring arrived resulted in water rationing - voluntary so far, but possible to be enforced.

Our water supply is surface water, taken from the Big and Little Quilcene Rivers through a complex calculation, with one simple rule: if the flow is lower than 27 cubic feet per second, we cannot withdraw water.

The Olympic National Forest is in significant part temperate rain forest, in the westside valleys of the Quinault, Queets, Hoh and Bogachiel Rivers. You don't get fires in a rainforest. But this year, you do. Relatively containable fires are burning in the Olympics.

East of the Cascades, hell has broken loose. Another year of drought and the tinder is ready. The beautiful landscape is being transformed in unimaginable ways.

If there's an upside to fires, it's the sunsets for those just distant enough not to suffer the particulates. Enjoying such sunsets feels guilty, because they mean someone is suffering, even if the fire is in a remote area. Wildlife always suffers. We forget that when humans are not present, life still goes on for other species. Human suffering always takes precedence, and it isn't at all certain that it should. There is so much more to this world than us.

Nonetheless, beautiful sunsets. Top left is smoke from the fires in the Olympics around 3 August. Next photo down is those mudflats we hadn't seen in quite some time, reflecting that fiery sunset. And bottom photo is a sunset in mid-August, courtesy of Eastern Washington's calamity.

The drought has also been good for the appearance of shorebirds at Kah Tai. The two summers that were part of Admiralty Audubon's Kah Tai Bird Survey (2010 and 2011) were both unusually wet, and few shore birds were reported because there were no mudflats. This year has hit the shore bird bonus board, while elsewhere, others pay the price.