By Sarah Schrock

Welcome, hunters! Please, make sure to cull the herd that keeps jumping my fence, waking my dog in the wee morning hours, and eating the last vestiges of my summer veggies.

Unfortunately, the townie deer don’t have much to fear. They know exactly what’s going on this weekend as they hunker down in the safety of town limits. They are genetically selected to stay in town during open season.

Speaking of wildlife in town, my son and his neighborhood friends recently decided that our street should be renamed “Turkey Street.” There are so many wild turkeys waddling around and occupying the roadways, it’s become quite the game of chase between kids on bikes and wild birds. So far, no collisions yet.

If you haven’t gotten the chance to go up to see the bright mosaics of oranges, reds and yellows in the high country slopes, make a point of it! Snow is on its way making for fresh crisp air, it’s scrumptious right now. But with colder evening upon us, many folks have started firing up their wood stoves.

The Methow Conservancy’s First Tuesday program at the Community Center last week showcased the Methow Valley Clean Air Project (MVCAP). The MVCAP started as an effort to address air quality impairments that occur primarily during the winter months, though clearly (or not so clearly) summer smoke concerns are also a focus.

Photo courtesy of Michael Humling
A group of local families enjoyed a fall outing at Spokane Gulch near Mazama last weekend.

One thing you should know: Twisp ranks second in the state for the worst air! At least according to one analysis from data collected by Washington State Department of Ecology from air quality monitors around the state. Also, exposure to wood smoke at the levels we see in Twisp is worse than long term exposure to second-hand smoke.

It seems a little hard to believe, given our lack of any real industrial pollutants. However, based on our general weather patterns and frequent inversions in the winter, wood smoke gets trapped in the lower layers of the atmosphere quite often, leaving a lingering haze that is full of tiny toxic, irritating particulates that we were all too familiar with this summer: the notorious PM 2.5.

The PM 2.5 particulates are small. Smaller than dust and pollen, which are also high in the valley and can be irritating, so the combination can lead to respiratory distress even in healthy people. But the PM 2.5 are so small they get lodged into the fibers of our lungs when we breathe them in and they stay there. That is why aerobic or strenuous exercise is not advised during smoke-filled days. When you breathe deeply, that junk gets deeper down, and unfortunately the younger you are, the more likely the exposure can result in long-term disease such as bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, cardiovascular disease and even cancer.

Unfortunately, once they are there, there’s not much we can do to expel them other than our bodies’ natural immune defenses. That is why we might have enlarged tonsils, a sore throat, or a runny nose during smoke episodes, accompanied by symptoms of headaches and nausea. Nearly half of the valley’s population is considered at risk: children, the elderly and people with chronic illness or other cardiovascular problems. HEPA air filter systems for indoor air are very effective and the MVCAP hopes to partner with health agencies to make these devices more available. The public school recently outfittedº each room with one to ensure safe indoor air for our kids during school hours.

The MVCAP is continuing efforts to educate the public on these health impacts and curb the use of outdoor burning through alternatives. To do this, last year they sponsored vegetation drives and will sponsor another one this spring. So, hold on to your woody debris over the winter instead of burning it, and compost your leaves and weeds. Also, firewood for your stove should be well cured, at least a year, to burn hotter and cleaner. Frequent chimney cleaning is also advised for cleaner burning and safety.

Finally, if you must burn your yard debris, check the forecast for air advisories and make sure there are no burn bans in effect (1-800-323-BURN). When it’s OK to burn, make sure piles are small, woody (not leaves and weeds), burn it hot, and don’t let it smolder — especially through the night when the smoke will get trapped at the land/air interface by colder air. Breathe easy while we have the green light this week!


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