As early as 2016, Michael Darling did something crazy: He quit a stable job and maxed out the credit card opening Old County Inn, A restaurant in Pine Township, Arizona. No matter where the restaurant is located, it is always risky, but Pine is surrounded by Tonto National Forest. In good years, this means a steady stream of climbers stopping to eat pizza, and cyclists drinking beer and telling jokes. But last month, due to drought and fire threats, officials temporarily closed the national forest completely.

“Obviously, Arizona has become drier, and you can say with certainty that it has become drier and drier. It seems that every year they close the forest around Memorial Day,” Darling said.

In late June, as the southwest corner of the country was scorched and the fire started to burn, officials also closed Prescott, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and Coconino National Forests -All located in Arizona. This is the largest number of simultaneous closures in the history of the Forest Service. Punky Moore, a fire communications specialist for the Southwest Forest Service, told Grist that, of course, the forest had been closed because of the risk of fire before, but not all at once.

These closures coincided with a time when businesses were trying to recover from COVID-19 losses and when many people were desperately heading to public land for pandemic security activities and Instagram travel.

“The pent-up demand is huge. I have never seen anything like this before,” said Kevin Neeson, the co-director of the Friendly Pines Camp, which is located on private land in the Prescott National Forest Center. Their children came out from behind the screen, and there were campers who really wanted to get out of the house. “

The more people pouring into public land from the quarantine area, the more likely it is that one of them will accidentally cause a fire. And this year, the risk may be higher than ever.

Throughout the west, national forests and other public lands are in a dangerously dry state.Ecologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station of the Forest Service Matt Reeves run Fuel casting The model predicts the amount of hay and shrubs in the non-wooded parts of the national forest. A few months ago, the model began to spit out numbers, which made Reeves ask the programmer to check the model’s computer code for errors. “I called him and said,’We have a problem here,'” Reeves said. “‘Either there is a problem with the data, or the algorithm crashes, or we are heading into uncharted territory.'”

There is no problem with the model. The prediction is correct. It is this degree of dryness that makes it so unusual. Almost all the grasslands, deserts, and bushes in the western half of the United States have dried up. Reeves said there has been a more severe drought recently, but on a smaller scale. The fact that machine learning-based models confidently predict what is wrong to the human eye proves that the predictable order of things no longer applies. “The baseline is changing,” Reeves said. “This makes the system too complicated for humans, so we need to get the computer to read these patterns.”

This year, the heat wave hit the Southwest region particularly severely-2021 Arizona and seven other states have the hottest June on record. Heat turns vegetation into fire, causing More widespread fires than the same period last year ——This is one of the most serious incidents Arizona recent history.

Against the backdrop of the sunset landscape, thick smoke billowed from the dark hills
In June 2021, the Telegraph fire destroyed the Tonto National Forest.
Andrew Avitt / USDA Forest Service

It is this intense risk of drought and fire that led Forest Service officials to make the difficult decision to completely close most of Arizona’s national forests-making many tourism and outdoor companies wonder how they will respond. But in the end, the closure did not stop many tourists from pouring into these businesses. Soul Ride, a mountain bike shop and clothing company in Prescott, has lost its business to provide tours and shuttle services on famous trails in the area. However, funds from sales, maintenance and beer — the business has ready-made craft beer — made up for the lost revenue,” said co-owner Xina McConaughey. Soul Journey“In the end, it didn’t really affect our business. People were so eager to go out and ride their bikes so much that they found a way,” she said.

Friendly Pine Camp Had to change the route of their hiking and horse riding tours, but thankfully, the closure did not reach their bottom line.

As for Dalin, he said that even if there are no hikers and cyclists, there are enough people who are willing to drive two hours from Phoenix to the Laoxian Inn to watch the scenery and eat firewood pizza. The flow of people on the day trip was strong enough that he even had a thriving business during the pandemic. However, although the restaurant can survive the closure of the forest, the fire is another matter.

On June 18, when Dahlin and an employee were looking at the menu on the restaurant’s deck, they saw a plume of smoke covering the town. “I don’t know you,” he recalled, “but I want to leave here.” A few hours later, the sheriff came in to confirm that the evacuation was mandatory. This is a disaster: their rehearsal dinner has just held a wedding. “You can imagine-on Friday night, there are already 30 to 40 people here, and the bride and groom are crying,” Darling said. They put everything down and left. Pine survived the fire, but officials did not announce the return of the evacuees until eight days later.

The first rain of the summer monsoon season finally arrived in Arizona on the weekend of July 4, bringing Tonto, Prescott, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Coconino National Forest Partially reopened. But this does not mean that the threat has disappeared.a lot of The area remains closed or restricted, The fire is still burning.more than 90% of the West In a state of drought.

This may be the climax of the appreciation of public land. It may also be summer when the public loves these lands to death.


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