The forests of northwestern North America are aflame. Yesterday I had the eerie experience of flying into a wall of smoke and witnessed a landscape transformed in a strangely beautiful way.
Tinder dry from a low winter snow pack and minimal spring and summer rainfall, there were 101 fires burning this week in the forests of Montana alone. Fire not only transforms the ground, it changes the landscape and sky.
Though we knew it might be smoky we had work to do. We were to fly over some important areas for grizzly bear conservation in the Cabinet and Purcell Mountains along the Canada -US border to observe their landscape context. Our experienced pilot, Bruce Gordon of Ecoflight, took us up and we headed towards Troy, Montana to pick up some colleagues. The smoke got denser as we flew west. Everything we could see from the airplane was obscured. We had flown into a wall of smoke.
Though I knew mountains lay ahead of us, they were invisible. So prudence dictated that we bank around and head instead to inspect another important area for conservation, the trans-boundary Flathead Valley.
We flew along the edge of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and the area conservationists propose for its expansion into British Columbia. The smoke created an amazing layering effect. Though I have be there many times I have never seen anything like it.