Monday, August 04, 2008

Big Burn

LA Observed has been monitoring the slow death of environmental reporting at local papers here
Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, cites declines at the Times as one reason he now writes a blog: "Since I first started working at Heal the Bay 20 years ago, newspaper media has been experiencing a slow and painful death. The first casualty was the Herald Examiner, followed by The Outlook, The Reader, and now the slow dismantling of the once highly respected Los Angeles Times. Now, it is nearly impossible to get a newspaper to run an investigative piece on the environment in LA, let alone cover the day to day decisions that continue to erode our local quality of life."
and here. (in list of reporters leaving LAT)
Janet Wilson covered air quality on the environment desk. With the previously noted departure of environment writer Marla Cone and the exit of veteran editor Frank Clifford earlier this year, there's concern in the scientific community that the Times is surrendering its tradition as a leader in environment and science coverage.
I have seen them drop the ball on some stories that they failed to follow through. But, Bettina Boxall, Julie Cart and many others have done a fantastic job with Big Burn, a series about "the growth and cost of wildfires".

Read the whole series, visiting each web page (and hit refresh many, many times). Maybe the bean counters at LAT who can't recognize great journalism when they see it will recognize a spike in pageviews.

Pay special attention to the Living near wildlands graphic in A Santa Barbara area canyon's residents are among many Californians living in harm's way in fire-prone areas.

Notice that there are only two ways out of this canyon 80 years ago, and that is still true today. The roads are still single lane each way, same as then. The only difference is that today, several orders of magnitude more people live in this canyon and the landscape has become more combustible. This is a deathtrap. (Albeit a deathtrap with pretty views.)

I will never forget a graphic shown by UCSB geography professor, Keith Clarke. The graphic depicted exit choke points and the integrated populace that lived in the hills above the choke points. The more people, the broader the thick red line. Map showed the narrowness of the choke points and how many people per hour the roads can handle. You look at the road capacity, you look at the number of people, and you know that is a horror story waiting to happen.

Actually, it has already happened, as explained in the LAT story:
In a 2005 research paper, Thomas Cova, an associate geography professor at the University of Utah, posed a question: Should places like Mission Canyon have population limits, just as movie theaters have occupancy limits to ensure everyone can escape in an emergency?
...
He grew up in the Bay Area. His career has been shaped by the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, which destroyed nearly 3,000 structures and killed 25 people in a matter of hours. Many of them died in or near their cars at the end of a long line of traffic, trying to flee a neighborhood of narrow, winding roads that funneled to four exits, two of which were blocked by the fire.
Asides:
  • I wish I remembered the name of the student that produced the haunting graphic, but I didn't catch it and write it down at the time; not that I can decipher my old notebooks anyway.
  • It reminded me of Minard's map of Napoleon's March to Moscow.
From the archives:

1 comment:

  1. I've found that the LA Weekly is sometimes a worthy paper when it comes to "big picture" stories, including environmental ones.

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