Can California Burn its Way Out of its Wildfire Problem?

A firefighter works a prescribed burn at the Shasta National Forest.(Molly Samuel/KQED)

A firefighter works a prescribed burn at the Shasta National Forest. (Molly Samuel/KQED)


The Rim Fire, which consumed more than 250,000 acres in and around Yosemite National Park this summer, is a prime example of America’s dangerous legacy of putting out too many wildfires. After a century of suppressing the flames, firefighting agencies have let the brush and small trees get so thick, that when a fire does get going, it can turn into a monster.

People who fight and study fire generally agree that one of the best tools for preventing massive wildfires is prescribed burning: intentionally setting smaller fires before the big ones hit. But there are major challenges to fighting fire with fire.

This featured aired on KQED on November 18, 2013. There are a lot more pictures from the fire I went to on the website.

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Valero Rail Project Fuels Tar Sands Speculation in Bay Area

Valero, the nation’s largest oil refiner, wants to start using trains to bring crude oil to its Bay Area refinery. But the project is raising concerns about congestion, safety and air pollution in the East Bay city of Benicia – and the connection it may have to Canada’s controversial tar sands.

This aired on KQED on 8/12/13.

Airborne Lasers Yield Better Measure of California’s Water Supply

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California has had one weird winter this year: lots of snow and rain early, and almost none since January. It’s in years like this that it’s especially crucial to know just how much water to expect from melting Sierra snows — runoff that provides about a third of the state’s water supply. Current estimates combine patchy measurements with a kind of sophisticated guesswork. But that may be about to change with new technology that’s currently being tested.

This aired on KQED Science on May 13, 2013.

San Francisco a Test Case for Coping with Rising Seas

(Photo: Nicholas Christen/KQED)

(Photo: Nicholas Christen/KQED)

Parts of New York and New Jersey are still reeling from Superstorm Sandy, an event that brought climate change and the threat of sea-level rise front-and-center. It’s a looming problem for all coastal cities, and one that San Francisco has been pondering since long before Sandy struck.

Along San Francisco’s western shore, the Ocean Beach Master Plan is a kind of test case for sea-rise planning. It calls for big changes, including a strategy known as managed retreat.

This aired on KQED Science on February 4, 2013.

Climate Threat to Dams Overlooked by Regulators

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There are more than 130 hydropower projects in California. They take advantage of steep terrain and gushing mountain rivers to churn out about fourteen percent of California’s electricity. It’s a delicate balance, dependent on heavy snow in the winter, and heavy runoff in the spring as the snow melts. But climate change threatens to throw that balance out of whack, a problem that federal regulators have chosen to ignore.

This aired on KQED Science on January 14, 2013.

Cap-and-Trade 101: How California’s Carbon Market Works

This week, California rolls out the heavy artillery in its attack on climate change with a program called “cap-and-trade.” It’s like a stock exchange for carbon emissions, where the state’s biggest polluters have to buy the right to emit greenhouse gases. It’s the most ambitious climate change policy in the country, but not everyone is happy with it.

So how does it all work? I teamed up with Lauren Sommer to explain it.

This aired on KQED Science on November 12, 2012.

Counting Climate-Challenged Pikas

(From left to right) Brendan Weiner, Howard Nathel, De’Jon Banks, Fredrick Lake, Joseph Stewart, Anton Jackson and Joe Green look for pikas. Photo: Molly Samuel/KQED

The American pika is a squeaky little animal that lives at high elevations in mountains in the West. It could one day have a huge influence on America’s battles over climate change. And a new program is enlisting students to help scientists learn more about the critters.

This aired on KQED Science on October 1, 2012