Here in the Southwest we usually have very low humidity, which means our air is extraordinarily clear. Being able to see mountains 50 and more miles away is common. This also means that visibility can be used to assess air quality by anyone, as long as you have an idea how far away things are.
According to NM Environmental Public Health, if your know your distances and the objects aren’t easy to see in the specific ranges, then you should adjust your activities to protect your heart and lungs. No mention of sending complaints to the agencies responsible for the smoke, but I do recommend you do that.
|5 miles||If you can see less than 5 miles, the air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness; they should minimize outdoor activity. These people should reschedule outdoor recreational activities for a day with better air quality. It is okay for adults in good health to be out and about but they should periodically check visibility especially when fires are nearby.|
|3 miles||Young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness should avoid all outdoor activities. These people should stay indoors. All outdoor activities should be avoided, including running errands. Everyone else should try to stay indoors as much as possible. All outdoor recreational activities should be rescheduled for a day with better air quality.|
|1 mile||If you can see less than 1 mile that means the air quality is unhealthy for everyone. People should remain indoors and avoid all outdoor activities including running errands. Unless an evacuation has been issued, stay inside your home, indoor workplace, or in a safe shelter.|
Unfortunately, our public resource management agencies are not very interested in the impacts of their actions on human beings, even though the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires agencies to evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions.
The agencies are good at spinning NEPA requirements. So sure, they evaluate (more or less), but that’s about it. Somehow evaluation never pans out into modifying their actions so as to minimize negative impact on humans or the environment itself. Resource management agencies decide in advance what they’re going to do, and compliance with NEPA is just a burden. Thus there’s a lot of paperwork but little positive and lasting effect from agency actions. What are the results of the actions supposed to be? Healthy forests, not burnt stumps, for starters. Clean air, too.
When I have contacted USFS and asked how much smoke particulate and CO2 a specific fire is dumping into the air the most common response is they don’t know but they are in compliance with the law. An actual quote from one such response from the Gila National Forest: “We do not have predicted measurements for anticipated CO2 and particulate matter. But, every prescribed burn must have a burn plan, and we must ensure that we are in compliance with New Mexico Environmental Department’s Air Quality Bureau.”
Well, gee, that’s reassuring. NOT.
They’re killing us with the letter of the law
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says “Wildland fires produce air pollution that impacts people’s health and other aspects of daily life… putting more people at a health risk from exposure to smoke.”
Wait, wait. Something doesn’t make sense here. >> On the one hand government agencies are telling us to protect ourselves from smoke because a) it could kill us directly, and b) it could kill us indirectly (carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is on the rise, contributing to global warming). >> Yet on the other hand government agencies that are supposed to be in charge of keeping our forests and wildlands healthy don’t have to even estimate and disclose to the public how much those fires contribute to the particulates that destroy lungs, the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses that are destroying our environment?
It boils down to this: Plants soak up carbon dioxide and turn it into leaves and branches. Plants trap carbon. Burning plants — trees, brush, flowers, grass –releases carbon into the atmosphere. Not to mention the crap that goes into our lungs.
I can tell you that my lungs don’t know the difference between the smoke that comes from from prescribed vs wildfires, and I doubt the lungs of the people, wildlife, and livestock downwind from fires know the difference, either.
Isn’t it time for resource management agencies to get on board with protecting our planet?’
Seems to me it’s simply common sense to do whatever possible to avoid wildland fires, whether prescribed or “natural”? I don’t just mean you and me, either. I’m pretty sure Smokey Bear also meant resource management agencies.