A cross stands on the spot where U.S.-born nun and activist, Dorothy Stang, was murdered in 2005, inside the PDS Esperanca community, a project in sustainable development that Stang founded, in Anapu, Brazil. Photo: Lunae Parracho / Reuters

By Michael E. Miller
27 August 2015

(Washington Post) – The killers came from the forest, the very same forest Raimundo Santos Rodrigues so loved.

The environmentalist had spent years defending one of the last pristine swathes of the eastern Amazon rain forest from loggers, miners and farmers. But his activism had earned him enemies in Brazil’s northern state of Maranhão.

And on Tuesday afternoon, those enemies pounced.

Santos Rodrigues and his wife were riding their motorbike from the market back to the Biological Reserve of Gurupi when two men suddenly emerged from the treeline, witnesses told local media. As the couple crossed a bridge, the gunmen opened fire, hitting both the environmentalist and his wife.

To ensure their objective, the assassins ran up to Santos Rodrigues and stabbed the injured man to death. His wife, Maria da Conceição Chaves Lima, was rushed to the hospital and is expected to live.

Santos Rodrigues had been a “marked” man because of his environmentalism, said a man who spoke to G1 anonymously for fear of also being targeted.

“Loggers hated him because he denounced them,” said a co-worker, also anonymously. “He was very active in the region, defending the community, attending the Union of Rural Workers of Bom Jardim.”

Officials have promised a thorough investigation and are treating the murder as an attack on a public official. Santos Rodrigues was a volunteer with the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, part of the Ministry of the Environment.

“It will be treated with top priority,” said Alexandre Saraiva, a federal police superintendent.

But that promise appears hollow against the bloody reality in Brazil, widely considered the most dangerous country on earth for environmentalists.

Between 2002 and 2013, at least 448 environmentalists were killed in Brazil, according to Global Witness. That equates to roughly half of all the environmentalists murdered worldwide during that period.

According to local watchdog CPT, the grim tally is even worse: More than 1,500 Brazilians have been killed over the past 25 years fighting deforestation, and another 2,000 have received death threats, Men’s Journal reported in 2012. […]

“Magnates buy off local politicians and policemen, and kill anyone who challenges their agricultural practices,” according to Men’s Journal. [more]

Why are Brazil’s environmentalists being murdered?

26 August 2015 (Desdemona Despair) – Here’s an update to last week’s post on wildfire data from the Western United States. Data from the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (Fuels and Fire Danger [pdf]) show that Northwest wildfires continue to rage, with 200,000 acres (80,937 hectares) burned again this week – the Okanagan complex “remains the No. 1 priority fire in the United States”. The Okanagan fires grew by 2.6 square miles on Monday night and have now burned 403 square miles.

 

National

National cumulative acres burned in wildfire, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

National weekly acres burned in wildfire, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

 

Alaska

Alaska cumulative number of wildfires, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

Alaska cumulative acres burned in wildfire, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

Alaska weekly acres burned in wildfires, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

 

Northwest

Northwest cumulative number of wildfires, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

Northwest cumulative acres burned in wildfires, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

Northwest weekly acres burned in wildfires, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

 

Northern California

Northern California cumulative number of wildfires, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

Northern California cumulative acres burned in wildfires, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

Northern California weekly acres burned in wildfires, week of 26 August 2015, compared with average. Graphic: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

Fuels and Fire Danger

Total acres burned by wildfire in Washington state, 2002-2014, together with a blue dashed line showing the yearly average, since 2002. The red dashed line is the acres burned by wildfires in Agust 2015. Graphic: Tamino / Open Mind

By Tamino
22 August 2015

(Open Mind) – Here (shown as black dots) is the total acres burned by wildfire in Washington state each year, together with a blue dashed line showing the yearly average, since 2002.

The red dashed line is the acres burned by wildfires that are burning in Washington state RIGHT NOW. That’s not the yearly total, like the black dots show. It doesn’t include the fires that have burned this year but were already extinguished. And it doesn’t include the acres yet to burn. Many people are wondering, “why is the wildfire season so horrible?”

It’s global warming, stupid.

But Matt Pearce just had to write an article for the LA Times pushing the idea that it’s not unusual. And Cliff Mass updated his blog post to say “we are finally at normal … and according to their projections, we should stay that way…” [more]

It’s global warming, stupid

A wildfire burns behind a home on Twisp River Road, 20 August 2015. Photo: Ted S. Warren / AP

By Dave Werntz
25 August 2015

(Conservation NW) – Along with my wife and daughter, I evacuated last week from our home near Twisp. Our place is safe and sound for now, thanks in large part to heroic efforts from firefighters. While veritable armies have converged here to help from across the state and nation, most responders are local. The three who tragically lost their lives fell here, in my valley, and were also from this community. And while the firefighters are legion in number, they are also spread desperately thin by the overwhelming breadth and intensity of this year’s fires.

Following on last summer’s experience with the Carlton Complex Fire, at the time the largest in state history (now surpassed by this year’s Okanogan Complex), my community is distressed. So is much of the state, as already over 400,000 acres have burned with about two dozen large fires.

With the drought and the mid-May fire in the Queets rainforest of the western Olympics (still burning today), we knew this was going to be a tough summer. Still, just two weeks ago it felt like we might sneak by. Then came a weather front that brought not just lightning, but more importantly wind, which kicks up any fire. The cause of the fire that made my family and town evacuate is unknown and still under investigation, but we know the vast majority of wildfires are started by people. The Washington DNR reports that on the 13 million acres that DNR protects across the state, 628 of 701 fires this year (90%) were human caused.

The weather is both peculiar and responsible for our vulnerability. Whether this drought and heat is related to climate change is a matter of scientific debate, but not terribly relevant. What matters more and is clear is that the changing climate means more seasons like this in the not too distant future. We need to plan for more frequent drought and fire conditions like those we are experiencing this year by advancing policies that promote climate adaptation, such as managing for forest and ecosystem resilience, and local community preparedness. This is a core focus of our work at Conservation Northwest, and the daily task of our Forest Field Program team that works under my direction to shape and implement better federal timber projects, road network improvements, and other ecosystem resilience-building efforts.

The scale of need is way beyond our present effort, so we applaud Senator Maria Cantwell's upcoming Wildfire Management Act of 2015, which offers a smarter and more strategic way to finance wildfire response, so fighting fires doesn’t drain the budgets of proactive work to reduce fire risk. It also has a welcome focus on community planning to reduce infrastructure, property and human risks in fire-prone areas. And since in many dry ecosystem types fire is inevitable, Senator Cantwell’s approach would increase use of carefully managed controlled burning, as well as allowing “good” fires to burn where and when safe and appropriate. [more]

CNW Fire Dispatch #2 – Perspective from our Science Director

Attorney for the coal industry, Christopher Horner, appears on 'The Daily Show', 13 February 2007. Photo: The Daily Show

By Lee Fang
25 August 2015

(The Intercept) – Christopher Horner, an attorney who claims that the earth is cooling, is known within the scientific community for hounding climate change researchers with relentless investigations and public ridicule, often deriding scientists as “communists” and frauds.

Horner is a regular guest on Fox News and CNN, and has been affiliated with a number of think tanks and legal organizations over the last decade. He has called for investigations of climate scientists affiliated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and NASA, and inundated climate researchers at major universities across the country with records requests that critics say are designed to distract them from their work.

New court documents reveal one source of Horner’s funding: big coal.

Last Thursday’s bankruptcy filing of Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal companies in America, includes line items for all of the corporation’s contractors and grant recipients. Among them are Horner individually at his home address, as well as the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, where he is a senior staff attorney. […]

Horner has played a prominent role in the climate science debate for many years, though he has failed to uncover wrongdoing.

In 2009, thousands of emails were hacked from climate researchers at the University of East Anglia. Horner quickly blogged that the “blue-dress moment may have arrived” and began appearing on media outlets to claim that the emails revealed “admissions of falsifying results, collaborating to subvert and violate the laws” in what he dubbed “Climategate.”

“Climategate” became a media phenomenon, with prominent politicians declaring that the emails revealed that climate change is a “hoax.” The Koch organization Americans for Prosperity traveled to international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009 and proclaimed that the emails revealed a “scandal.”

Six official investigations later cleared the University of East Anglia scientists of accusations of any wrongdoing.

Horner has filed numerous records requests for personal emails from climate scientists and litigated to force universities to comply with his requests. Horner continued his investigations of climate scientists earlier this year by filing a records request with John Byrne, distinguished professor of energy climate policy at the University of Delaware. The request was made on behalf of the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic and the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, where Horner is a senior fellow.

“He has been instrumental in orchestrating the attacks on climate scientists over the past decade in the form of vexatious and frivolous FOIA demands, efforts to force scientists to turn over all of their personal email,” says Dr. Michael Mann, a climate scientist targeted by Horner. [more]

Attorney Hounding Climate Scientists Covertly Funded By Coal Industry

An emergency vehicle drives down Twisp River Road as a wildfire burns over the hillside, 20 August 2015. Photo: Ted S Warren / AP

By Char Miller
24 August 2015

(The Guardian) – Climate change is worsening the fires that ravage many parts of America each year. Grime-streaked firefighters battling one of the 167 active wildfires currently scorching portions of the US west will tell you as much. What they have encountered on the firelines in the past few years is evidence that everything has changed as a result of global warming.

In mid-August, the day after a quick-moving fire first exploded southwest of Boise, Idaho, the blaze more than doubled in size to nearly 79,000 acres in one four hour stretch. Along the way, it sparked a “firenado” that rained hot ash and dirt on firefighters.

Or consider the disturbing talk surrounding the still-smoldering fire named Rocky that this month scorched 70,000 acres near Napa, California: “This fire wants to do whatever it wants,” Jason Shanley, a Cal Fire spokesman, observed, adding “It’s defying all odds. 30 year, 40 year veterans have never seen this before.”

Last year, a raging wild land fire blasted into Yosemite National Park, propelled by a self-generated micro-climate that intensified its unpredictability. Even the idea that there is a definitive fire season has gone up in smoke. The calendar doesn’t matter when flames scoot across a Colorado snowfield in December, as happened in 2012, or blacken foothills in Southern California’s rainy months.

But what firefighters believe is abnormal is just a new normal driven by climate change. Temperatures that spike above long-held norms, record-breaking low-humidity levels, multi-year droughts, tinder-dry vegetation and fierce winds are among the factors fueling these new, more massive infernos. The sooner that firefighting agencies, public officials, policymakers and citizens acknowledge the impact that climate change is having on the frequency, intensity, duration and behavior of fire, the sooner that they will begin to develop new responses to wildland fire in the US west.

Doing so will mean admitting that climate change is also disrupting the capacity of firefighting organizations to respond. They were created to snuff out fires based on what were perceived to be static weather patterns – the old normal.

Today’s powerful conflagrations have also exposed the conceit that we must fight all fires, everywhere. That commitment is made doubly dangerous given how dried out the US west has become due to the mega-drought that has been wracking the region since 2010. [more]

When firefighters speak out on climate change, we ought to listen up

This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite on 24 August 2015. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red. Photo: Jeff Schmaltz / MODIS Rapid Response Team

By Lynn Jenner
24 August 2015

(NASA) – Lake Baikal in Eastern Russia, the deepest and oldest lake in the world, is home to 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen fresh water.  As of 24 August 2015 this lake is facing a crisis with 36 fires equaling an area of 138,500 hectares (342,240 acres) currently burning around its shores.  The fires which surround the lake are cutting off its water arteries, which can adversely affect the ecological balance of the lake.  At present the depth of the lake is at an all-time low.  As a result, the drier coastline could lead to more summertime wildfires. Soot and ash are washing up on the shores of the lake and the skies above the lake, a popular tourist area, are completely covered in smoke.  So too, an unusually hot summer and a lack of rainfall have contributed to making the situation worse.

This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite on August 22, 2015. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.  NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team.

Fires Surround Lake Baikal in Russia

Fire burns into the night on the ridge above the Lindsey Ranch on Twisp River Road, 20 August 2015. Photo: Ted S Warren / AP

By Donna Blankinship and Brian Skoloff
24 August 2015

OKANOGAN, Washington (AP) – The massive fire burning in north-central Washington is now the largest in state history.

The Okanogan Complex of wildfires has surpassed last year's Carlton Complex blazes, fire spokesman Rick Isaacson said Monday morning.

The Okanogan Complex was measured overnight at just over 400 square miles, slightly more than the Carlton fires, which also burned in Okanogan County.

The Okanogan Complex grew by more than 26 square miles Sunday and is expected to grow even more in coming days. Isaacson did not have a containment estimate, but there is very little containment on the wildfire.

Isaacson called the record unfortunate and said the fire could burn until rain and snow season arrives.

"It's only Aug. 24th," he said. "In our district we could see this go clear to the first of November."

Officials are still trying to determine how many homes and other structures have been burned by the Okanogan Complex.

About 1,250 people are battling the wildfire, Isaacson said. Last week, three firefighters were killed and four injured when they were overtaken while trying to escape the flame. […]

Sixteen large wildfires are burning across central and eastern Washington, covering more than 920 square miles. More than 200 homes have been destroyed, and more than 12,000 homes and thousands of other structures remain threatened. [more]

Washington wildfire is now largest in state history


This animated map was created by the U.S. Forest Service AirFire research team and shows the smoke billowing from the Okanogan fires and others burning around Washington state, 22-24 August 2015. Graphic: U.S. Forest Service

By Erin McCann
24 August 2015

(The Guardian) – The fire complex burning in north-central Washington is now the largest in state history, beating a record set just last year in the same county.

Fire spokesman Rick Isaacson said on Monday that the Okanogan Complex of wildfires grew overnight to just over 400 square miles, slightly more than the Carlton fires, which also burned in Okanogan County last summer.

Late morning local time on Monday, officials said the complex of fires had burned 256,567 acres, or just over 400 square miles. For comparison, New York City is just over 300 square miles, Los Angeles is about 500 square miles, and London is just over 600 square miles. The fire has burned an area roughly one-fifth the size of Delaware.

Okanogan County is just over 5,300 square miles.

The smoke, however, is reaching an even bigger area. The animated map above was created by the US forest service AirFire research team and shows the last two days of smoke billowing from the Okanogan fires and others burning around Washington state. […]

“This will be an extended period of time when we will continue to fight fire,” firefighter Matt Reidy said this weekend. “The predictions for September are equally dry and hot.” [more]

Washington wildfires break state record: just how big is the blaze?

Stages of deforestation. An aerial view shows four stages in land management on a farm in the Amazon: A wedge of natural forest. To its right, a swath of forest being burned. Left foreground, land cleared by burning. Right, a pasture for cattle. Photo: Brazil Photos / LightRocket

By Vincent Bevins
10 July 2015

(Los Angeles Times) – Carrying guns and wearing jungle fatigues, the three men don't look like scientists as they push their way through the thick foliage of the Amazon.

They're trying to reach a clearing they've seen on satellite images. When they finally get there, they discover that the largest trees have been uprooted by a tractor. The ground has been seeded with grass to create a pasture for cattle.

Rodrigo Numeriano, 31, finds a piece of a fruit peel, puts it up to his nose and sniffs.

"Someone was just here," he says.

They've found the clues. Now comes the hard part: determining who is causing the damage and who plans to profit.

Each day, Numeriano and other agents from the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or IBAMA, fan out across this vast country in 4x4 trucks and helicopters. Part detectives, part environmental special forces, they're on the hunt for the ranchers and farmers who illegally destroy almost 2,000 square miles of Brazilian rain forest a year.

Not only can it take weeks and prove fruitless to try to find out who has paid an intermediary to deforest, but the fines the agents impose also can go unpaid or become mired in legal proceedings.

Sometimes, the workers disappear into the forest as they hear the agents approach. Sometimes the workers open fire, as they did nearby on an IBAMA helicopter in April. And in this particularly lawless part of Brazil, those who speak with the agents can be silenced violently, forever.

Despite their commitment, the enforcers of Brazil's environmental law are not winning the war. Government data show that after years of improvement, deforestation rates stopped decreasing in 2012. The country entered recession last year, and farming is one of the few sectors that keep the economy going.

"These people are causing incalculable environmental damage," Olavo Perin Galvao, 33, says as he navigates labyrinthine pathways toward an illegal clearing and gold extraction site. "But we're leaving our families, and coming out here, exposing ourselves to the elements and to risk, and the destruction continues."

His team stops when it spots the footprint of a jaguar, or some other large jungle cat. The imprints of its claws are sunk into a mud road created recently by the forest clearers.

"We don't need new laws," he says. "We just need the laws we have to be properly enforced." [more]

Brazil's special forces wage uphill fight against Amazon destroyers

 

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