A scorched earth: arson in Nevada and the West (guest post) - Our Daily Green

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A scorched earth: arson in Nevada and the West (guest post)

Image courtesy of :Wikimedia Commons
In the dry climate pervasive throughout most of Nevada, and much of the western U.S., during the summer months, the danger for wildfires escalates to levels that are difficult to imagine in the substantially wetter states east of the Mississippi.   The moisture barrier preventing a spark from catching dissipates as rainfall diminishes for weeks or even months at a time, and a rogue ember on dry grass equates better with taking a lit torch to kindling. While wildfires are an ever-present concern, naturally-occurring fires have been shown to play a critical role in revitalizing forest habitats. The more pressing environmental issue is the human-triggered event, which represents four out of every five wildfires and is not a sustainable rate that natural preserves can absorb.

When hundreds or thousands of acres are scorched in an uncontrolled burn, precious shelter for native animals is lost, and even with a rapid return of nutrients to the soil, trees and other large plants often take many years to retake the land.  Arson, the act of setting a fire with an intent to cause harm, can results in the obliteration of natural habitat much larger in scope and scale than the single person who initiated it.  This doesn't even take into account the loss of human life from arson or arson-related acts, which data shows to be responsible for over 700 deaths annually in the United States alone.

Nevada is no exception to the recurrence of these incidents.  In 2011, the year with the most recent data on arson activity by state, Nevada trounced the national average for arson, with a rate per 1,000 people over three times higher than the norm.  Though many fires started do not blossom into the raging infernos that actually get covered on television, living in a state with a persistently dry climate presents frequent opportunities for a small burn to go out of control.  It’s a simple reality:  if plants are dry, even a single fire can turn into boundless devastation.

Unless and until more extensive arson and wildfire prevention initiatives are put into place in Nevada and elsewhere, the human impact on cross-generational habitats remains too high, and the consequences too unpredictable.

Brett Robert is an eco-friendly writer raising awareness for overlooked local and regional issues. He enjoys exploring the relationship between crime and the environment.
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