Tonight on the PBS NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown narrated a tour of the many serious wildfires currently burning up the drought stricken West, from the Black Hills to Utah to Nevada and both northern and southern California. Hot and wind conditions with protracted dryness set up forests, shrublands and grasslands for instant ignition by lightning.
Arizona has also had wildfires burning across its northern region and Jeffrey Brown interviewed Lisa Graumlich, director of the School of Natural Resources at the University of Arizona about the situation (hint: it's not a happy one).
Here are some sobering quotes from Dr. Graumlich:
Well, this is actually starting to become a bit of a norm. The drought that we're currently in actually started in 1999 and has persisted. And it's been a drought that's not only been severe, but it's been very pervasive.
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So as the entire climate system warms, the movement of the jet stream that brings, you know, moisture to us here in the West from the Pacific Ocean has started to migrate north. And arguably it's sort of going to sort of continue to move north and create a permanent dust bowl-type situation here in the Southwest.
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...the fires that you were talking about now are almost becoming a way of life for us. In the last five years, almost 20 percent of the forested land in Arizona has burned. We're also seeing massive mortality of the pinion pine, the sort of beautiful pine forest that cover much of the northern part of New Mexico and Arizona.
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In the legal terms, we have junior water rights compared to California. So if the drought deepens and if Colorado River water needs to be divided, we're going to find ourselves in a pretty sticky situation, in terms of negotiating our way into some sort of sustainable system here.