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September 21, 2015

As Fires Grow, a New Landscape Appears in the West -- The New York Times

NEAR COCHITI CANYON, NEW MEXICO — The hills here are beautiful, a rolling, green landscape of grasses and shrubs under a late-summer sky. But it is starkly different from what was here before: vast forests of ponderosa pine. The repeated blazes that devastated the trees were caused by simple things: an improperly extinguished campfire in 1996, a tree falling on a power line in 2011.

What happened after the fire, however — or, more accurately, what has not happened — was a departure from the normal course of events.

“We are in the middle of this 30,000-acre, near-treeless hole,” said Craig D. Allen, a research ecologist with the United States Geological Survey. If historical patterns had held, the remaining pines would by now be preparing seeds to drop and start the cycle of regrowth.

The Forest Service struggles under an increasingly costly mission: According to a report released last month, firefighting takes up more than 50 percent of its annual budget, up from 16 percent a decade ago. In 10 years, it could consume three quarters of its budget. Climate change has lengthened fire seasons, which are, on average, 78 days longer than they were in 1970, and the six worst fire seasons since 1960 have come since 2000.


Trinity downwinders decry secrecy in new federal study of atomic test’s health impacts -- Santa Fe New Mexican

Seventy years after the top-secret explosion of the world’s first nuclear device in the Southern New Mexico desert, advocates for New Mexicans who say radioactive fallout from the Trinity Site test made them ill are growing increasingly wary of what they say is a new round of government secrecy, even as they are finally getting attention from the government after years of having their complaints ignored.

This new uneasiness was apparent as they met in Santa Fe last week with National Cancer Institute researchers who are making the first attempt to document possible doses of radiation received by individuals across the state and assess the health risks. -- 9/19/2015