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Wildfire risk is increasing everywhere, especially in the East and South. Here’s a major reason why.

Last month, a heat wave persisted for days in the Chilean coastal city of Viña del Mar. The landscape, already affected by an El Niño-supercharged drought, was baked dry. So, when wildfires sparked, they ripped through densely populated and mountainous terrain. In just a few days, the fires — the deadliest in Chile’s history — burned 71,000 acres and killed at least 134 people. Devastating wildfires like these are becoming increasingly common. Climate change is partly to blame — while research has found that both El Niño and climate change have contributed to intense wildfires in Chile in recent years, scientists disagree whether climate change had a statistically significant impact on these particular February fires. But the Chilean fires also underscore another ominous dynamic: Grasses, shrubs, and trees that humans have introduced to new ecosystems are increasing wildfire occurrence and frequency. In central Chile over five decades, timber companies have converted natural forests to homogenous, sprawling plantations of nonnative eucalyptus and Monterey pine that grow rapidly in the country’s Mediterranean climate. These trees contain an oily resin that makes them especially flammable but coupled with hotter and drier conditions due to climate change, they can be explosive, says Dave McWethy, an assistant professor at Montana State University. Our relationship with such nonnative species is fraught. We enable the spread of nonnatives by purposely transporting species to landscapes that haven’t previously existed with them. Take English ivy, a popular choice for stabilizing soil as an ornamental plant. Or the Norway maple, which was introduced to the East Coast of the US in 1756, quickly becoming popular for the shade it provided. In the process, such nonnatives can displace local ecologies and native species, disrupt agriculture, or transmit disease. Once a critter or a plant is introduced, either accidentally or purposefully, it can spread rapidly and outpace efforts to catch them at checkpoints or, as is the case for Florida’s state-sponsored “rodeos” for species like pythons, kill them. A report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates that the approximately 3,500 geographically invasive plants and animals worldwide cost the global economy $423 billion annually. Climate change is also shuffling the ecological deck: As Vox has reported, ecologists expect climate change to create “range-shifting” or “climate-tracking” species that move to survive hotter temperatures. Perhaps some of those species will be more fire-prone. “Fires in places that are not used to fires are going to become much worse because of invasive species,” said Anibal Pauchard, co-author of the IPBES report and a professor at the University of Concepción and director of the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity in Chile. Such trends are causing wildfires to burn in unexpected places in the US as well. Last summer, for example, a wildfire — fueled by guinea grass, molasses grass, and buffel grass — killed at least 101 people in Maui. According to research published in the journal PNAS, eight species of nonnative grasses are increasing fire occurrence by between 27 and 230 percent in the US. This means, due in part to the spread of nonnative species, millions of people in the US will be affected by more frequent wildfires and the unhealthy smoke they produce. As the research shows, invasive grasses are altering historic fire activity and behavior in a variety of locations across the US. This includes those living in the arid West (especially the Great Basin and the Southwest) but also those in more humid parts of the country, particularly people living near eastern temperate deciduous forests, which cover the eastern US, and pine savannah ecoregions from central South Carolina to central Florida. While no one factor causes a big fire to happen on its own, nonnative grasses have played a more important role in recent decades — especially in low-elevation regions without much fire historically, said Seth Munson, an ecologist with the Southwest Biological Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. The annual invasive grass cheatgrass, known for its hairy tops, is found in an estimated 50-70 million acres nationwide, mostly in the Great Basin states. Lands with at least 15 percent cheatgrass are twice as likely to burn as those with a low abundance of the grass, and four times more likely to burn multiple times, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Idaho, and University of Colorado. According to the latest data, eight of the largest fires on record in the Great Basin have happened since 2010. That includes Nevada’s Martin Fire, which burned over 435,000 acres in 2018 and destroyed large swaths of grazing pastures for cattle and habitat of the federally protected sage grouse. Another invasive grass, cogongrass flourishes across Florida and the Gulf States, infiltrating traditional pine woodlands. These landscapes are already burning, with harsh human consequences. Wildfires in northwest Florida in recent years have scorched homes, prompted the evacuation of over a thousand people, and cost millions of dollars. The largest wildfire in Texas state history, only recently contained, damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, killing at least two people and thousands of cows. Hundreds of wildfires in Louisiana last summer also resulted in two deaths. Buffelgrass is taking root all over Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, and red brome is spreading in the Mojave and other deserts. Highly flammable tamarisk shrubs have taken root in thick stands near streams in the western US, and eucalyptus — one of the primary invasive trees blamed for worsening Chile’s recent wildfires as well as fires in Portugal — increases wildfire risk in California. Limiting the introduction of nonnative plants, when possible, addresses the problem at its root. But many invasive species already have a foothold somewhere nearby. In that case, early detection of invasive species, by satellite imagery or by people on the ground, is the best way to stop invasives with a variety of removal techniques, be that herbicide or something else, in an attempt to keep them somewhat contained. Federal agencies across the country, like the one Munson works for, as well as states, tribes, nonprofits, and others, are already monitoring for the movement of invasive species on the landscape and attempting to manage them as they inevitably spread. Work is also underway to help native plants reestablish faster after fires, giving them a chance against invasives angling for the same open space. You can do your part by finding out which nonnative plants exist in your area, especially those that increase wildfire risk. And if you’re looking to spruce up your home’s landscaping, don’t plant them; consider a native alternative instead.

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These Are All the Different Types of Eclipses

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Kate Middleton Had to Tell Her Kids About Her Cancer Diagnosis. These Parents Know What That’s Like

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Kubix Festival brings the 90s and 00s to the north-east

One of the biggest Festival Brands in the Northeast of England, Kubix Festival, is going on tour and bringing a huge night of 90’s and 00’s superstars to Aberdeen on Friday, December 20. Headlined by The Vengaboys, alongside boybands Five, 911 and East 17, you’ll be singing and dancing all night. Also joining the fantastic line up are 2 Unlimited & The Outhere Brothers, Ultrabeat, Lasgo and Alice Deejay. With a huge production and a fantastic Venue, Kubix on Tour in Aberdeen at the P&J Live is not to be missed. Kubix organiser Alex Hutchinson said: “We regularly sell out our Kubix Festival to 25,000 people and we are excited to take Kubix on Tour this December. A huge pop and dance party in one of our favourite cities, Aberdeen is going to be very special! We strive to keep our prices low and provide great value for money with fantastic entertainment.” Louise Stewart, Head of Entertainment, Exhibitions & Marketing at P&J Live says: “The Vengabus is finally coming to P&J Live. We’re thrilled to welcome a range of well known artists including The Vengaboys, for an evening filled with infectious dance-pop madness. There will be a wave of nostalgia as we dive into a setlist packed with throwback hits.” Kubix Festival has been a highlight in the Northeast Music Calendar for six years has grown into one of the most recognisable brands in UK festival market. The team behind Kubix are also behind a number of other independent festivals including Lindisfarne Festival and Northern Kin Festival. Tickets go on general sale at 10am on Thursday, April 4 www.ticketmaster.co.uk . Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

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The Inner Critic

“Nothing is a greater impediment to being on good terms with others than being ill at ease with yourself.” ~ Honore De Balzac One of the most important things we can do to enhance our physical and emotional health, our relationships and even career, is to truly like and accept ourselves. If we do not like ourselves, or are self-critical, we are flooding our system with negative energy. This ultimately weakens our immune system, and illness results. Ironically, it is when we are most unhappy with ourselves that we criticize and find fault with others. If we find ourselves fighting with our spouse or picking on the children, chances are we have slipped into our own negative place and are trying to shift the blame for our unhappiness onto others. Sometimes the negative messages we give ourselves come from those we received growing up. A negative comment made by parents or teachers can remain embedded in our subconscious and affect the way we view ourselves. This negative programming is like a virus on a hard drive. It can cause us to bully ourselves. We do not have to be perfect in order to like ourselves. Think about it. Do you only like friends and family members who are perfect? Probably not, because no one is perfect. It is more likely that you ignore any perceived faults or weaknesses in others, and like them or love them just as they are. This is what we need to do for ourselves. Imagine treating yourself the way you would treat a best friend. If you did this, you would build yourself up rather than tearing yourself down, you would love and accept yourself unconditionally, you would be warm and accepting towards yourself. If you did this on a consistent basis you would be amazed at the change in your world! Often, we do not realize how many negative messages we give ourselves. When I ask my clients to make a list of every negative thought they hold of themselves, they are usually shocked to see how many there are. In fact, most agree they are psychologically abusing themselves. We know that abused people often abuse others in turn. In rejecting ourselves we create a vicious cycle that affects those around us. To create a more positive world around us, we first need to make our inner world as positive as possible. It is up to us to do that for ourselves, and it is never too late to start. Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.

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Washing machine tops the wish list

One of the first things we bought for our first house was a portable washing machine. You rolled it up to the kitchen sink and attach a hose to the faucet to fill the tub on the left where you washed the clothes. The dirty water drain into the sink. Then you lifted the clothes into the tub on the right which spun water out of the clothes. They were fairly dry by that time and easy to hang on the line to dry completely. Two decades later while we were vacationing in Cuba, we visited a store where the featured item was the same type of washing machine. Our Cuban friend told us that it was the most popular purchase when people could scrape together enough money. Today much more elaborate washing machines are considered essential but a century ago most laundry was done by hand. Just ask Grandma about scrubbing on a washboard! According to Wikipedia, a washing machine design was published in 1767 in Germany. In 1782, Henry Sidgier was issued a British patent for a rotating drum washing machine. In 1797, Nathaniel Briggs received the first US patent for his invention. His creation was his wife’s birthday present. Romance artists painted scenes of groups of women washing their clothes in a stream. Laundry day might have been a rare opportunity to gossip with the neighbours, but it was cold, back-breaking work. My mother’s first wringer-washer on the farm was powered by propane. Water was heated on the stove to fill the wash tub. Square metal wash tubs were balanced on kitchen chairs for rinsing the clothes after they were passed through the wringer to expel the dirty, soapy wash water. Even as a young child, while I watched my mother hanging heavy laundry on the line in freezing weather, I vowed never to do that job. By the time my first baby arrived, I had an electric washing machine and natural gas dryer for laundering the piles of wet and dirty diapers that tiny baby created. It’s no surprise that families around the world purchase washing machines as soon as their economic situation improves. What will laundry day look like for my grandchildren when they become parents?

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