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Nevada faces its worst drought in two decades. Nearly 95% of the state faces severe to exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.
During April, most of the Great Basin experienced above normal temperatures with little precipitation. As with much of the west, Nevada has experienced much below average rainfall and snow for the water year, which begins in October. The snowpack peaked early and the snow is melting quickly.
Gina McGuire Palma, a meteorologist who predicts fires in the Grand Bassin, presented these statistics to a media forest fire briefing last week. Dry conditions, she said, are important to the forecast that fire managers face as they begin to plan for the hot summer months.
When it comes to fires and droughts in the Grand Bassin, history is complicated. While drought means less moisture, it also means lower elevation grasses are less abundant and less productive. This is important because these low-lying grasses fuel many large-scale fires in the Grand Bassin. The area burned and drought are not always linked in the Grand Bassin. But that doesn’t necessarily mean less potential for a bad fire season.
What that means is that in a drought year, like the one we’re seeing, the risk of fire tends to be in areas of medium to high elevation, McGuire Palma said during the briefing. Another important factor is where the fire is. A smaller fire in a densely populated area or sensitive wildlife habitat can have long-term effects. And there were notable fires during the drought years before.
Ahead of the press conference, state, federal and local agencies informed Governor Steve Sisolak of the fire risks facing the state. At the meeting, Sisolak described the wildfires as “one of Nevada’s toughest problems,” but said the agencies were “better coordinated than ever.”
Kacey KC, the state forester with the Nevada Forestry Division, said better coordination is important in the Great Basin, where much of the land is managed by a variety of agencies. The federal government manages about 85% of Nevada’s land and one agency, the US Bureau of Land Management, manages about 65%.
âWe have learned over many years of court challenges that we need to work better together,â KC said. âAnd we also realized, some time ago, that not only do we need to be very effective in suppressing forest fires, but also that we need to work harder to really target our limited resources and funding in the areas that are most effective. more critical to reduce risk. “
In all of this, humans play a big role.
Sisolak, in his remarks, highlighted the effects of climate change on fires: âWhile wildfires are a natural part of the Nevada landscape, the fire season begins earlier each year and ends later. Climate change and cycles of drought are considered the main drivers of this trend. ”
Besides climate change, the vast majority of fires – around 67% – were related to human activity last year. Sisolak implored residents to be aware of the risks of starting a fire.
âWhat we can do as residents of Nevada is be aware,â Sisolak said.
– This story was used with permission from The Nevada Independent. Go here for updates to this and other stories.