Photo: Angela Bohlke.

It's Smoke Season

Aug 26, 2022 by Sarah Mowry
It’s smoke season, that new part of summer that we all have come to know and not love so well. Whether or not the skies are thick and orange today, chances are they will be one day soon and they will hamper or bring a halt to some of your outdoor plans.

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It’s smoke season, that new part of summer that we all have come to know and not love so well. Whether or not the skies are thick and orange today, chances are they will be one day soon and they will hamper or bring a halt to some of your outdoor plans. So, what’s an avid outdoorsperson to do? Be prepared, get crafty, and take action! Here are a couple of tips to help you make it through the season.

Have an alternate outing ready. Smoke is often localized in its impact, meaning it can be smoky in Bend, but not in Sisters or Prineville. Get familiar with the wide variety of air quality websites and smoke forecast websites to help you make your decision. The data we have at our fingertips these days is truly astounding and can really help with planning. If your hike up in the Sisters is in the haze, look to the Ochocos or the flip side of the mountains for options. Beware: you can doom scroll with air quality and smoke forecast sites. Sometimes the best measure of air quality is your nose and lungs!

Prepare for smoke season. With climate change and our ongoing drought, we know that smoke season will arrive each year. Get your indoor projects ready well before smoke season, so if you are totally skunked and can’t go outside, you have something else to keep you occupied. In 2020 when all of Oregon was stuck under thick smoke, I decided to launch a new knitting project. Of course, my yarn took weeks to arrive and by the time it came the smoke was gone. So, do some pre-planning, and order your yarn, photos for scrapbooking, books to read, games to play, treadmill to run on, or gym pass BEFORE the smoke arrives.

Change your mindset. In many parts of the US, where summer means searing temperatures and high humidity, people treat summer like winter by staying inside. While no one in Central Oregon is ready to get rid of summer, you can treat smoke season like a mini winter and take the opportunity to catch up on indoor projects. Changing your mindset for what you do during smoke season can help temper your expectations so you don’t get so disappointed when smoke arrives. Oh, and see above for prepping those projects to do while you are indoors!

Support forest restoration projects and prescribed burning. Support and learn more about forest restoration projects in Central Oregon. Our National Forests and other land managers, like the Deschutes Land Trust, are working diligently to restore many of the native pine and juniper forests in Central Oregon. Fire has always been a part of these forests, but by excluding it for 100+ years, we have created forests that are much more vulnerable to catastrophic fire. Forest restoration is a long-term effort that involves thinning and returning regular, low-intensity fire to the forest. Supporting restoration means welcoming interruptions to forest use during thinning projects and welcoming smoke in the spring. Yes, I know we are back to smoke again, but prescribed burning creates much less smoke in more controlled amounts than a catastrophic wildfire. In the long run, building healthier forests will help us all adapt climate change more successfully.

Fight climate change. While we're on climate change, it’s time to join the fight. If we want to survive the warming of our planet, we all need to take individual action to fight climate change in our homes and community. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is an important step in addressing the climate crisis. This landmark bill brings in more than $369 billion for natural climate solutions, renewable energy, zero carbon transportation, clean manufacturing, and community resilience. It includes $5 billion in grants to support healthy, fire resilient forests, forest conservation and urban tree planting. In addition to the IRA, you can continue to support climate action at the local level by donating or volunteering with local groups, like the Deschutes Land Trust, that are actively helping mitigate the impacts of climate change on the future of Central Oregon.

While none of these tips fall in the rocket science category, getting smoked out of your planned outdoor activity is disappointing and disheartening. Having some tools in your toolbox for how you will adapt and change your plans can help you feel empowered to take a new path. Finally, taking actions to address the root causes of forest fire smoke can help reduce it in the long run and build a more sustainable future for us all.

This story first appeared in the The Bulletin.

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