At the time this is being written, it is only the beginning of fire season and already California is burning. Temperatures are smashing records with highs over 115 in some places. Santa Ana winds are whipping winds into fire tornados and the national guard is doing its best to rescue hundreds of hikers trapped by wildfires in our national Forests. It is a grim picture and our U.S.F.S. needs all the help it can get.
Enter our newest Forest Service ACES Enrollee, Trent Procter. Mr. Procter is currently serving as FS ACES Strategic Planning Consultant for the Forest Service National Air Quality Program. In his ACES position, Mr. Procter is responsible for coordinating a national assessment and evaluation of the US Forest Service Air Resource Management Program, creating a vision and action plan for future air resource management. After a career spanning his involvement in the early days of the Air Program in California in 1980 and leading to 2004 when he became the Regional Air Program Manager for Region 5, Mr. Procter is well qualified. In fact, these qualifications led to one of the highlights of Mr. Procter’s career: an invitation from the Polish government to exchange air pollution management strategies and policies with the Polish and Slovakian National Parks and Academy of Sciences.
To grasp what Mr. Procter is charged with, one must understand that the Forest Service Air Program is a network of approximately 27 specialists involved in monitoring, data analysis and communication of air quality in regard to climate, deposition of nitrogen, oil and gas development, regulatory compliance, smoke management and visibility. Communication to local communities of conditions caused by smoke is of paramount importance. Moreover, the ability to forecast pollutants impacting vegetation, nitrogen deposition, particulates (tiny particles) and visibility issues is essential in reducing risk and mitigating smoke exposure.
Further enhancing Mr. Procter’s experience is the fact that no state is more impacted by air quality than California. More than 95% of Californians live in areas that do not meet federal or state air quality standards. As a result, air quality issues are highly regulated and have required aggressive regulatory involvement, development of smoke management tools, and research. Troubling facts about poor air quality include the existence of higher ozone levels in the Southern Sierras at 6,000 ft. than in downtown Los Angeles. Ozone can damage pines in Southern California and the Southern Sierras making them more susceptible to bugs, disease, and drought. Nitrogen deposition acts as a fertilizer causing invasive grasses to increase exponentially, interacting with ozone to enhance those effects on pines and sensitive vegetation, thereby increasing the incidents and severity of wildfires.
As of today, more than 200 fires are burning in California. Climate change will most certainly continue to enhance California’s wildfire season for the foreseeable future. Only with the dedication, foresight, and aggressive planning by individuals like Mr. Procter will we be able to look toward better days for our national forests and local communities in California and across the nation.