Wildfires used to be the norm in the Pacific north-west.
Some of the news media, politicians, and environmental advocacy groups have claimed that the smoke hitting western Washington during the past two summers are a “new normal.” That Northwest summers should be smoke and fire free, and that anthropogenic global warming has created an new regime of fires and smoke that has never been experienced before.
As I will describe below, those making such claims are seriously misinformed
Wildfires are an essential part of the ecology of our region, particularly east of the Cascade crest. When European settler reached the region in the 1800s they found an area that was frequently smoky in summers, with major fires. And the reason that current inhabitants of the region think smoke is an outlier is because of nearly a century of fire suppression in the West.
To put it succinctly, during the past few summers we have gotten a taste of the “old normal”, one that was very familiar to our great grandparents and their predecessors. And one that we will experience frequently in our future if we don’t take steps to restore our forests and to bring back regular fire.