Western megafires erase 2 decades of air quality progresss

Dec 5, 2023

A new study finds that megafires in the Western U.S. are causing premature deaths and have undermined improvements in air quality from reduced vehicle emissions. The study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, found that air quality worsened in the West from 2000 to 2020, with concentrations of black carbon rising 55 percent. The authors estimate that fires have caused an additional 670 premature deaths each year.

“All the efforts for the past 20 years by the EPA to make our air cleaner basically have been lost in fire-prone areas and downwind regions,” said University of Iowa professor Jun Wang, the study’s lead author. “We are losing ground.”

Axios notes that there is an emerging global consensus that adopting Indigenous fire management practices, including controlled burning, can help mitigate fire risks, and that smoke from managed burns is less intense and may be less toxic.

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Quote of the day

Rising tide raises all boats. When we look at land protection in California, it doesn’t just stop at the border of Nevada, and it doesn’t stop going the other direction, either. These lands are continuous, and the landscape is continuous.”

—Taylor Patterson, Indigenous Voices of Nevada, Las Vegas Review‑Journal

Picture This

two owls in flight


Flying over grasslands and open country with their large wings, short-eared owls are striking with their bright, black-rimmed yellow eyes and streaked feathers. Their ear tufts are inconspicuous until the owls become defensive or curious.

Photo by Kevin Smith


Featured image: The Woolsey Fire, California, 2018. US Forest Service