Opinion: Let’s learn from Australia

My Turn.

  • By Steve Bowhay
  • Thursday, February 20, 2020 7:00am
  • Opinion

Now that we’ve moved from “climate change” to “climate crisis,” it is time to collaborate and make sure we’re all on the same page, looking for solutions.

First, this situation has to supersede all political party politics, we have to try to work with what we have. Nobody who has watched what happened with the wildfires in Australia, can argue against more wildfire fighting procedures. 2019 was a very bad year worldwide for wildfires; Russia, Alaska and Canada top the list of places where huge fires burn at will. Here in Alaska, we added $300 million to the budget to cover cost of burning millions of acres, including the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. What do we get for our money? Same thing as Australia: dead animals, destroyed forest, millions of tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere, destroyed homes and the loss of human life.

In Australia they tried something new when the wildfires were threatening the last stand of a prehistoric trees. They installed an irrigation sprinkler system before the fire got there, when it arrived, they turned it on and stopped the wildfire.

In addition to wildfires, the drought killed many salmon in the Tongass last year from warm water or the lack of water. Both of these climate crisis problems could be mitigated with a pre-installed system. During times of heavy flow, freshwater could be siphoned off and stored to be used for cooling the streams or fighting wildfires. It would require access in order to install, but, because it is a national forest it would be federal money used to protect the forest. This would provide a worldwide benefit by helping lower the CO2 levels, an Alaska benefit with clean air, abundant managed salmon-rearing rivers and new green jobs protecting the environment. In many places shallow wells could be installed by the edge of streams with very porous gravel bottoms and simply put the submerged surface water back on the surface.

We should stop fighting the removal of the Roadless Rule, ask our Senators to provide a minuscule $1,000 per acre per year for all federal lands in Alaska, to be used for wildfire protection systems. This wildfire protection system could be no more than wells drilled right in the road bed down into the aquifer. Then when a wildfire starts, fireproof-pumping vehicles would be positioned directly over the pre-drilled wells providing a literal water wall to stop the wildfire. This money would not be part of the Forest Service budget. In addition, the Forest Service budget should be increased to enable them to construct strategic roads to salmon-rearing areas that already suffering from water problems as identified by ADF&G, DEC and F&W Service. If we really care about our subsistence lifestyle, we have to accept that in the new normal the salmon are going to need some help.

While it is commendable that BP bought carbon offsets from Sealaska Corporation, that program needs scrutinized. Is it really the best way to sequester CO2 and store it? Wildfires would suggest it is not a good idea. Wouldn’t it be better to restrict carbon offsets to restoring wildfire destroyed areas like the KNWR, complete with roads, wildfire suppression systems and replanted forest?

Look at it from a tree’s point of view: You honor the tree by making it into something that last for generations like a home, a musical instrument, or keeping you warm in the winter. Anything is better other than letting all of its carbon that took it 500 years to collect go up in smoke.

Delta Air Lines announced they are going to spend a billion dollars on going carbon neutral; part of their plan is bio-fuel. That would be the same type of fuel that the University of Washington developed with waste wood.

The Chugach National forest has thousands of acres of dead trees that are releasing all of their stored carbon continuously. This should be the top goal of the Senate Natural Resource & Energy Committee.

• Steve Bowhay is the owner of Glacier Gardens, and he holds two patents related to the collecting, storing and transporting freshwater in a saltwater environment. He resides in Juneau.

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