Brian Mittge Commentary: Seeing the Forest for the Burning Trees


Last week, I urged people to listen to a broad range of perspectives when it comes to how we should deal with wildfires and the smoke that has established itself as an unwelcome visitor to our late summer months. 

I had some great and thoughtful responses. 

Rick Kuykendall of Chehalis, a forester who also worked as a wildland firefighter for 28 seasons, directed me to several recent blog posts by Cliff Mass, an atmospheric scientist for the University of Washington. Cliff Mass literally wrote the book on weather in the Pacific Northwest. (I seem to have misplaced my copy; did I loan it to one of you?)

On Oct. 21 Mass published “Was Global Warming Behind the Recent Smoky Period in Western Washington?” He concludes that it was not, and in fact — looking specifically at Western Washington — global warming seems likely to actually reduce the hot, dry easterly winds that sometimes replace our normal westerly cool ocean breezes, and are to blame for the few fires we get west of the mountains.

In a Sept. 16 blog post, “Wildfires are the ‘Old Normal’ for the Pacific Northwest,” Mass says that wildfires and smoke are a normal part of the Northwest ecosystem. 

He cites an example of when Mark Twain spoke in Olympia in 1895 and he chair of the reception committee apologized for “smoke so dense that you cannot see our mountains and our forests, which are now on fire.” 

I’ll note that heavy logging was taking place by then and possibly contributing to slash that fed fires, but Mass also cites examples from 1788 when European explorers sailing up the Northwest coast noted massive smoke from huge fires, and September 1844, when a wildfire almost reached Fort Vancouver, near present-day Portland.

Fires were common throughout history, Mass said, but what wasn’t normal was the “Smokey the Bear” fire suppression work that all-but eliminated wildfires for the last half of the 20th century. 

I also appreciated a message from Katherine Humphrey, a lifelong Boistfort Valley-area farmer. 

She said that rather than believing climate change is going to kill us all, we should focus on points of agreement.

“Reducing pollution seems like something we could all get behind, and if their theory is correct, that man is killing the earth and controlling the climate, we would be fighting that. If not, good things would still be happening,” Humphrey said. 

Beyond that, she wonders if people would truly be willing to do what it takes to save the earth in a consumerist culture. 

“Driving less, reducing or eliminating air-conditioning and heating,” Humphrey wrote to me. “Reducing or eliminating flying, building smaller homes, driving smaller cars. Buying less disposable crap that is shipped thousands of miles to you.  Well.... those are politically untenable, unpopular, and don't make people that already have a lot of money any more money. So we can't talk about those things.”

Or maybe we can. Email me with your thoughts. 

Giving Life

Our region continues to experience a blood shortage, but that’s a problem we really can all help to address. 

There will be a pop-up blood drive this Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the Lewis County Mall. 

To make an appointment, visit or call 800-398-7888. 

It’s hard to save the world, but it’s easy to save a life. Just roll up your sleeve and be thankful for the blessings of good health and the ability to share it. 

Dad Joke of the Week

I recently came up with this joke and workshopped it with my kids. It works better if you read the last line aloud (and if you know that the didgeridoo is an indigenous Australian musical instrument). Here goes:

So a kid in Australia was taking didgeridoo lessons. He did so poorly that he was assigned to retake his final test, but he kept putting it off. His mom, tired of nagging him, was pretty curt with him when he walked in the door. 

“OK, son,” she demanded impatiently. “Didja redo it?” 

Brian Mittge is head sausage maker at the dad joke factory. Send him your wurst ideas at