Northern Nevada is famous for its natural beauty, including Lake Tahoe and an abundance of campgrounds and hiking trails to explore. But outdoor recreation, which is a cultural staple for the region, may be interrupted by another summer tradition: wildfire season.
On Wednesday, the Nevada Wildlife Federation hosted a roundtable with fire experts at the Desert Research Institute facility in Reno to discuss how to prevent and fight wildfires. dr Tim Brown, director of the DRI’s Climate, Ecosystem and Fire Applications (CEFA) program, said the ecosystem isn’t the only thing affected by fire.
“I don’t know if people think about it too much, but the cultural impact of our community, [the] The change has been implemented here. Our way of life in this region, especially in the summer, is outdoors,” Brown said.
Christina Restaino, director of Living With Fire, a program that provides advice to local residents preparing for wildfires, emphasized that not all fires are bad and that they have always been and continue to be an important part of the region’s ecosystem. Fires, such as controlled burns, can be healthy for the ecosystem because water and plant systems can undergo important regenerative processes.
It’s the super wildfires caused by invasive species like cheatgrass, combined with drier conditions, that are causing the bigger problems seen in recent smoke-filled summers. Experts say climate change is part of the cause of the worst drought Nevada has seen in 1,200 years.
“We feel unstable now in terms of our expectation of our relationship with our place. And I feel like that’s a really troubling thing,” said Restaino, also an assistant professor and natural resource specialist at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Cooperative Extension Program.
Russell Kuhlman, executive director of the Wildfire Federation and an avid backpacker, said he feels this change in his own life.
“Backpack season is now in June [and that’s it],” he said.
Jennifer Cantley, state coordinator for Moms Clean Air Force, a network of anti-pollution activists, said her children went straight from COVID-related school closures to a historically poor summer smoking season last summer. Cantley said they were literally climbing walls, but it was safer than having them play outside in the smoke.
With northern Nevada still experiencing a mild June, her family is enjoying camping trips while they can.
“We just went camping this weekend…how many times will we be able to go camping?” Cantley said.
Wildfires not only affect outdoor enthusiasts, but also the businesses that rely on outdoor recreation.
Meghan Wolf, environmental campaign manager for apparel company Patagonia, said the increasing frequency of wildfires is negatively impacting the business side of outdoor culture in the western United States.
“We can’t have a business on a dead planet,” Wolf said.
Patagonia, which had an estimated $800 million in sales in 2019, has a distribution center in Reno. The company sells everything from waterproof winter coats to backpacking and camping supplies, making consumer interest in the outdoors vital to the company’s health.
Wolf said that Patagonia recognizes its contribution to climate change and is working to use less energy by repairing badly worn gear, reselling used items and donating one percent of sales to grassroots environmental groups.
While climate change is an ongoing battle, Truckee Meadows Fire Chief Charles Moore said there are things individuals can do to prepare for wildfire season. Homeowners are advised to clear vegetation around their home to create a “defensible space” for firefighters to work in and potentially save a home engulfed in fire.
Brendan Schnieder, an air quality specialist for the Washoe County Health District, said it’s also important to prepare for the upcoming smoking season. If a person has the money, a home air purifier or air monitor would be a good investment. He also said it’s important to know the air quality when the smoke turns bad and not to go outside, especially for people with lung or heart problems.
Cantley also told the panel that vacuuming or cooking food on a smoky stovetop can contribute to an unhealthy indoor atmosphere. Other things people can do to protect themselves include making a homemade air purifier, making sure all windows are tightly closed, and tuning HVAC systems to circulate indoor air instead of sucking in outside air.
More broadly, Kuhlman encouraged people to continue fighting climate change.
“The best science says this planet has been a ball of lava for billions of years and can come back,” he said. “So it’s not so much a dying planet. It’s a dying human population… The planet will survive climate change. This is us [are] those who fight.”