30 Jan 2009, 11:11am
Saving Forests
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We Are the Caretakers

We have not been shy here at W.I.S.E. in describing the role of Man in Nature. People have been a factor in forests since time immemorial.

Now the Smithsonian is getting into the act. The NY Times reports Smithsonian scientists are discovering that people and tropical rainforests co-exist.

New Jungles Prompt a Debate on Rain Forests

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, NY Times, January 29, 2009 [here]

CHILIBRE, Panama — The land where Marta Ortega de Wing raised hundreds of pigs until 10 years ago is being overtaken by galloping jungle — palms, lizards and ants.

Instead of farming, she now shops at the supermarket and her grown children and grandchildren live in places like Panama City and New York.

Here, and in other tropical countries around the world, small holdings like Ms. Ortega de Wing’s — and much larger swaths of farmland — are reverting to nature, as people abandon their land and move to the cities in search of better livings.

These new “secondary” forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest — an iconic environmental cause — may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

The pristine myth is dying as more and more people realize that humanity has been living here trammeling around and de-pristine-izing the landscape for a very long time.

Human beings have lived in Panama, and the Amazon, and the rest of the Americas, for thousands of years. Those human beings were smart and capable. They were masters of fire, adept hunters, and clever agriculturalists. Deliberate manipulations of the environment on a landscape scale have been happening here for millennia.

And yet there still exist tropical rainforests, old-growth temperate forests, prairies, savannas, meadows, rare plants, rare wildlife, and everything.

Humanity is not toxic to nature. People are not a deadly virus on the planet.

Humanity and nature have co-existed for as long as humanity has run around on two legs.

In fact, human beings are natural and nature likes us. Nature does great with people in it. Nature does better even, when people get involved.

Stewardship is natural. Nature loves people.

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29 Jan 2009, 11:54am
Politics and politicians Saving Forests
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Bailing Out Forests

The hugely irresponsible Stimulus Bill will probably send the country over the edge into economic oblivion. Spending a trillion dollars that do not exist on earmarked pork barrel projects is, in effect, looting the future incomes of Americans for generations.

The flushing away of the U.S. into a financial sewer, however, may have one tiny bright spot floating on top. H.R. 1, “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009″ or Stimulus Bill passed by the House yesterday, promises $1.5 billion for forest improvement and maintenance.

The whole Bill (647 pages; 1.10 MB) is [here]. The page and a half dealing with forests reads:

pp. 119-120 of 647 pages

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOREST SERVICE

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT AND MAINTENANCE (INCLUDING TRANSFER OF FUNDS)

For an additional amount for ‘‘Capital Improvement and Maintenance’’, $650,000,000, for reconstruction, capital improvement, decommissioning, and maintenance of forest roads, bridges and trails; alternative energy technologies, energy efficiency enhancements and deferred maintenance at Federal facilities; and for remediation of abandoned mine sites, removal of fish passage barriers, and other critical habitat, forest improvement and watershed enhancement projects on Federal lands and waters:

Provided, That funds may be transferred to ‘‘National Forest System’’:

Provided further, That the amount set aside from this appropriation pursuant to section 1106 of this Act shall be not more than 5 percent instead of the percentage specified in such section.

WILDLAND FIRE MANAGEMENT (INCLUDING TRANSFERS OF FUNDS)

For an additional amount for ‘‘Wildland Fire Management’’, $850,000,000, of which $300,000,000 is for hazardous fuels reduction, forest health, wood to energy grants and rehabilitation and restoration activities on Federal lands, and of which $550,000,000 is for State fire assistance hazardous fuels projects, volunteer fire assistance, cooperative forest health projects, city forest enhancements, and wood to energy grants on State and private lands:

Provided, That amounts in this paragraph may be transferred to ‘‘State and Private Forestry’’ and ‘‘National Forest System’’:

Provided further, That the amount set aside from this appropriation pursuant to section 1106
of this Act shall be not more than 5 percent instead of the percentage specified in such section.

The legal language is arcane and non-specific. There is no telling what the grasping greedhead bureaucrats will actually do with the funny money. But there is a slight chance that some restoration forestry might possibly take place (after everybody and their brother skims the graft off, of course).

The verbiage does include the words “forest improvement and watershed enhancement” and “restoration activities on Federal lands.” The word “rehabilitation” is also used, thereby implying a distinction between restoration and rehabilitation, which is a good thing.

Rehabilitation is treating incinerated forests after they have burned. Restoration is treating forests before they are roasted by fire in order to protect them from total incineration.

Whether any of either actually happens as a result of the Stimulus Bill is anybody’s guess. The Bill still has to pass the Senate and be signed by the President. The forestry language could be gutted from the Bill by then (who knows?). The funny money may never be allocated. The bureaucrats may not (I guarantee you they don’t) have a clue as to what to do with it if and when they get the money. The entire nation could be circling the bowl by then.

All manner of terrible slips ‘tween cup and lip could happen, but there is also a glimmer of hope that something good for forests might possibly come from this craziness.

We will continue to track this mad bus as it careens down the road. God Bless America.

26 Jan 2009, 2:13pm
Politics and politicians Saving Forests
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Montana Bill to Reduce Wildfire Risk

Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, representing Senate District 42 in the Montana Legislature, has introduced Senate Bill 34 that extends the authority of counties to reduce fire hazards on USFS lands.

SB 34 is [here]. It passed the Montana State Senate last Saturday by a vote of 42 to 7. Now it remains for the Montana House and Governor Gov. Brian Schweitzer to sign on.

SB 34 adds to the “Community Decay” provisions of state law the words “the natural accumulation of fuel, INCLUDING NOXIOUS WEEDS, for fire that poses a threat to public health or safety.”

The bill would allow allow officers and employees of the county to enter upon Federal property for the specific purpose of abating the fire hazard and to assess the Feds for the actual costs for the abatement.

Sen. Lewis authored a guest column at Headwaters News [here] that explains SB 34:

Montana bill would reduce wildfire risk

By Sen. Dave Lewis, Guest Column, Headwaters News, Jan 26, 2009

What would Thomas Jefferson do?

I proposed a bill to the Montana Interim Fire Committee last summer. The concept was, effectively, if a federal agency let fuel build up on its land to the point that such buildup threatened private property owners then Montana counties could step in and reduce those fuels.

The point of the legislation is that since the Forest Service is hampered by lawsuits every time a timber sale is proposed, county governments would have the ability to step in and reduce the risk, which might enable the work to get done. The committee recommended the bill and I presented in on the floor of the state Senate last week. It passed 42-7 on Saturday.

I was pleased that senators understood the risk to the people of Montana brought on by the build-up of fuel in the national forests. The bill exempted private land used for agricultural purposes, which would be any land used to grow trees or grass for grazing. I believe that it is clear that only federal land is affected. It was a good long debate with lots of good questions.

The biggest problem with the bill is that it may violate the federal Constitution. My theory is that if you allow yourself to be slowed down by something like that, then you will never get anything done.

The Supremacy Clause of the federal Constitution that says state and local governments have no say about how federal lands are managed. That provision has never been tested, to my knowledge, on the basis that the buildup of fuel on federal lands puts the property and lives of the neighboring landowners at risk. I think that it is time to test it. Sometimes you have to keep driving until you hear glass breaking!

I thought long and hard about challenging the U.S. Constitution. However, I kept coming back to the people who drafted it 250 years ago. I cannot imagine that Thomas Jefferson and the other people who developed this language ever imagined that we could have situation where citizens of this state would have to literally run for their lives in front of out-of-control fires.

Consider the impact of millions of acres of federal land being devastated by the beetle epidemic we are now experiencing. There will be tons of fuel added to every acre of our forests. This will give us fires of an intensity that we can not even imagine. There is a potential for a fire like the 1910 wildfire that burned most of North Idaho and Western Montana. We have a lot more people and development in this area than we had in 1910.

So when you see that your senator sponsored a bill that may violate the federal Constitution, please know that he can sleep at night because he knows that Thomas Jefferson did not intend to put our lives at risk..

Now we just have to convince the House, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and the federal courts. If we do not try, then we are going to regret it. Those fires are coming!

In related news, a bipartisan group of senators led by OR Sen. Ron Wyden are urging that the stimulus package include $1.52 billion in funding to log and thin national forests to reduce the potential for huge fires. See [here].

25 Jan 2009, 11:10am
Climate and Weather Saving Forests
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Cosmological and Earthly Realities

The Earth has experienced ~20 major glaciations over the last 1.8 million years. They last about 100,000 years with 10,000 year-long interglacial warm periods such as our own Holocene. The glaciations appear like clockwork because they are cosmological (see Ice Ages — Solving the Mystery [here]).

The GW alarmists base their alarmism on artificial computer models that apparently predict the seas are going to boil due to anthropogenic CO2 [here].

The alarmist claims fly in the face of a repeating cosmological pattern. They predict the End of Creation despite geological evidence that Creation is more than a billion years old and has survived incredible extremes of heat, cold, CO2, oxygen, comets, asteroids, super volcanoes, drifting continents, etc.

At some point regular non-scientist people need to grasp onto reality. The seas are not going to boil. Another glaciation is coming. There can be no doubt, no uncertainty, because the pattern is written in the astronomical perturbations of the Earth orbiting the Sun.

Instead of freaking out about global warming, we should welcome it. We should be investigating ways in which we might forestall the coming new Ice Age. Of course, it may not be possible for humanity to mitigate cosmology. In fact, the proposition seems pretty farfetched. But it would behoove us to consider what we can do to adapt to the coming COLD rather than crippling our economy in a bizarre and useless attempt to prevent imaginary global warming.

Warmer Is Better. Warmer means longer growing seasons, more rain, more productivity, more biodiversity, and more Life in general. Colder means mile-thick ice sheets covering much of the Northern Hemisphere, katabatic winds, tundra, deserts, and the elimination of forests, farms, cities, nations, species, etc.

The GW alarmist mantra has proved to be a cash cow for “scientists”. Umpteen billions of dollars have been spent “researching” the alleged effects of global warming. All the institutional nabobs want in on that gravy train. But their ridiculous theories and secret computer models are crocks of baloney.

It’s political. The GW alarmist rap and vacuuming up of all research funding is promoted by partisan political manipulations that are rooted in Stalinist authoritarianism and unbridled greed for money and power.

The perversion of forest science in the name of scientifically bankrupt theories (that are bankrupt in every other way, too) is killing our forests. It’s not global warming that’s doing it; it is junk science that “justifies” catastrophic megafire and the conversion of heritage forests to charred wastelands of scorched earth.

Please wake up, people. You have been conned by the biggest con-job in history. More than your wallets have been looted. Our landscapes are being destroyed by frauds and greedheads who trumpet bogus theories for personal profit and political power.

We can and should be good stewards of our forests, watersheds, and landscapes. It could be that we have only a few hundred years to develop planetary defenses against the coming Big Freeze. We should care for Creation with real science, not the junk variety. It is imperative.

Warmer Is BetterFight The IceSave Our Forests

24 Jan 2009, 6:54pm
Climate and Weather Saving Forests
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Warmer Means Wetter

The previous post I reviewed a research paper in which the authors speculated that global warming is causing increased drought, which in turn is causing increased tree mortality in forests. But does global warming cause drought? Or does warming result in more rain?

This complex question was discussed a year ago at World Climate Report [here]. On one hand some people theorize that warming will lead to more drought:

Raining on the Drought Parade, World Climate Report, January 11, 2008

One of the many pillars of fear regarding global warming is the claim that droughts will become more severe in the future, particularly in continental interiors. The story is very simple and is told over and over – temperatures rise, evaporation rates increase, and even with no change in rainfall, soil moisture levels decrease and droughts last longer and are more severe. Then, crops will fail, ecosystems will collapse, major cities will run out of water, diseases will spread – you know the story. There is always some drought occurring some place on the planet, so supporting evidence is easy to find.

On the other hand, increased evaporation could lead to more rain and less drought. At the same time heightened evapotranspiration in plants (due to the heat) and increased photosynthesis (due to more CO2 in the atmosphere) could deplete the additional soil moisture that results from the increased rainfall. Or, the plants enhanced by additional CO2 may become more efficient in utilization of soil moisture and thus need and use less water.

The heart of these complex questions, at least vis a vis tree mortality, is in regards to soil moisture levels: will they rise or fall as the globe warms? A better question (pertinent to the previous post) is: have soil moisture levels changed recently, and is that why more trees are dying (assuming one accepts the contentions of the authors of the research paper in question)?

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23 Jan 2009, 2:11pm
Climate and Weather Saving Forests
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Is Global Warming Killing Our Forests?

More Importantly, Is There Anything We Can Do About It?

By Mike Dubrasich, Exec Dir, Western Institute for Study of the Environment

Introduction

An interesting research paper was published in Science Magazine yesterday that has captured national attention. The Washington Post headlined “Study Ties Tree Deaths To Change in Climate” [here]. The local Dead Tree Press, the Eugene Register Guard, declaimed “Study finds trees in Western forests dying at faster pace” [here].

Trees in old growth forests are dying at a faster rate across a wide swath of the West, with scientists saying that warming summers and shifting rain and snow patterns caused by global warming are likely to blame.

The US Geological Survey sponsored the study, and their press release is entitled “Tree Deaths Have Doubled Across the Western U.S. — Regional Warming May be the Cause” [here].

But is all that really happening, and if so, is there anything we can do about it?

To answer these questions, we have investigated in more detail. The actual research paper is Widespread Increase of Tree Mortality Rates in the Western United States by Phillip J. van Mantgem, Nathan L. Stephenson, John C. Byrne, Lori D. Daniels, Jerry F. Franklin, Peter Z. Fulé, Mark E. Harmon, Andrew J. Larson, Jeremy M. Smith, Alan H. Taylor, and Thomas T. Veblen. Science Vol. 323, 23 January 2009.

Co-lead author Dr. Phil van Mantgem has graciously supplied us with a copy of the paper [here]. The abstract:

Persistent changes in tree mortality rates can alter forest structure, composition, and ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration. Our analyses of longitudinal data from unmanaged old forests in the western United States showed that background (noncatastrophic) mortality rates have increased rapidly in recent decades, with doubling periods ranging from 17 to 29 years among regions. Increases were also pervasive across elevations, tree sizes, dominant genera, and past fire histories. Forest density and basal area declined slightly, which suggests that increasing mortality was not caused by endogenous increases in competition. Because mortality increased in small trees, the overall increase in mortality rates cannot be attributed solely to aging of large trees. Regional warming and consequent increases in water deficits are likely contributors to the increases in tree mortality rates.

My thoughts: first off, for all you Global Warming alarmists and skeptics out there, the research paper does not provide evidence for or against global warming. The authors did not research that phenomenon. They assumed that North America has warmed 1 deg F over “the last few decades” based on the work of others.

The authors did not confirm or deny that proposition. They did not do climatology. They did not investigate the fossil pollen record to see if forest die-offs had occurred in the past from global warming. That was not their focus. If you think the research paper will provide you ammunition for or against global warming theory, sorry – it doesn’t.

The authors purport that tree mortality rates have increased due to “exogenous” causes. They speculate that global warming could be responsible. That is all.

But that’s quite a bit by itself, to foresters and forest aficionados. We are curious about the validity of the author’s purport, and especially, is there a cure? Is there something we can do to prevent mass forest die-off, whether due to global warming or some other factor(s)?

The short answer is yes. There is something we can do about it. Restoration forestry can save our forests — from global warming, fire, insects, disease, and whatever else threatens them. Good stewardship and active management can protect, maintain, and perpetuate old-growth and every other forest type against a plethora of adversaries.

That’s the bottom line, the take-home that should be absorbed from the national discussion inspired by van Mantgem et al. We can save our forests, if we want to, by caring for them. We know how and we have the ability and capacity; it’s merely a matter of intention.

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20 Jan 2009, 7:41pm
Climate and Weather Saving Forests
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Thin to Win - Forests, carbon, fire and climate change

by Tom Knudson, Sierra Summit-Conversations and observations about California’s mountains, Sacramento Bee, January 19, 2009 [here]

A new study finds that thinning Sierra Nevada forests helps store more carbon over the long haul, making them more effective in the battle against global warming.

The study, scheduled to appear in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a publication of the Ecological Society of America, can be found at [W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences here].

All trees sequester carbon, of course. But across the Sierra - and much of the West - most trees also burn. Using computer models, the study’s authors - Matthew Hurteau at the Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff and Malcolm North at UC Davis - found that after a century of growth, unburned stands stored the most carbon. But when wildfire was taken into account, much of the carbon went up in smoke. If stand density was reduced before the forest burned, however, less carbon was lost.

And the more big trees that remain, the better.

“If you want a make these stands more stable, so they can survive these fires, and not make large carbon releases, you need to direct them so they start putting a lot of growth into the large pine trees, which are very fire resistant,” North told me not long ago.

“People generally believe that with fire suppression, you get all this in-filling, all the stems are growing in there, that they would store more carbon - but we found that’s not the case,” North added. “There is actually less carbon in the stands because you’ve lost a lot of the big trees. So the small trees, you may have gazillions of them, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that you had more large trees in the past.”

So what do we do now with the Sierra climate warming and high-intensity, stand-destroying fire a growing threat?

“You need a combination of low-intensity thinning and prescribed burning,” North said. “It’s one of the great advantage we have in the Sierra: trees that are large and fairly old, if you release them, they actually start growing like a juvenile youngster again. They just start packing the carbon on. And we have the potential, if we pay this short-term penalty, to make the forests in the Sierra a substantial sink for carbon - and off-set the fossil fuel release underway with human activity.”

But the Hurteau and North study also suggested California carbon accounting practices actually contribute to the problem by counting timber harvest stock loss as a carbon emission. “However, accounting for emissions from wildfire is not required,” it says. “Current carbon accounting practices can be at odds with efforts to reduce fire intensity in many western U.S. forest types.”

20 Jan 2009, 7:07pm
Saving Forests
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Restore some forests to their precolonial condition

Note: yours truly in the Main Stream Media. Special thanks to Jack Wilson, Editorial Page Editor, Eugene Register Guard.

By Mike Dubrasich, Opinion, Eugene Register Guard, Jan 19, 2009 [here]

Restore some [public] forests to their precolonial [precontact] condition

Recent guest viewpoints in The Register-Guard have blamed forest fires on global warming (George Wuerthner, Dec. 26) and logging (Roy Keene, Jan. 11). However, forest scientists agree by overwhelming consensus that fuels cause fires. Further, without forest restoration treatments, wildfires will destroy Oregon’s heritage forests.

Foresters [Forest scientists Drs.] Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson testified to the U.S. Senate in December 2007:

We will lose these forests to catastrophic disturbance events unless we undertake aggressive active management programs. … Without action, we are at high risk of losing these stands — and the residual old-growth trees that they contain — to fire and insects. …

Inaction is a much more risky option for a variety of ecological values, including preservation of northern spotted owls and other old-growth related species. We need to learn as we go, but we need to take action now. Furthermore, it is critical for stakeholders to understand that active management is necessary in stands with existing old-growth trees in order to reduce the risk that those trees will be lost.

Indeed, over the last few years catastrophic, stand-replacing fires have destroyed vast tracts of Oregon old-growth forests. Examples include the Biscuit Fire (2002), the B&B Fire (2003), and last summer’s Rattle and Middle Fork fires. Heavy fuels led to severe burns that killed old-growth and converted those forests to permanent fire-type brush.

The damage was not limited to vegetation. Habitat for endangered species was destroyed; soils were baked and stripped; air was filled with smoke and carbon; streams were polluted with soot, ash and eroded sediments; recreational opportunities were lost; scenery was degraded; public health and safety were threatened, and the economic costs have been enormous.

Restoration forestry is the art and science of returning forests to heritage conditions of fire resiliency, with open and park-like structures. Our forests today often are crowded thickets, overladen with fuels and prone to catastrophic fires.

Restoration forestry removes the excess fuels and puts forests back into their historic condition, as they existed before Euro-American contact.

Restoration forestry is different than [from] rehabilitation of burns. Restoration is the treatment of stands before they burn to protect, maintain and perpetuate old-growth forests.

Restoring historical conditions sustains forests by protecting them from total mortality canopy fires, by maintaining fire-resilient old-growth trees, and by enhancing the capacity of forests to grow trees to old ages.

Our old-growth trees arose under much different conditions than today. The forest development pathways of precontact eras were not punctuated by infrequent catastrophic stand-­replacing fires, but instead were the result of frequent, seasonal, light-burning fires in open, park-like forests.

Those fires largely were anthropogenic (set by indigenous people). Because the fires of historic eras were frequent and seasonal, they gently removed fuels without killing all the trees. The widely spaced trees thus survived repeated burning and grew to very old ages.

Modern fires in dense thickets not tempered by frequent, seasonal, anthropogenic fires cause total tree mortality. No trees survive the infrequent holocausts, and so no trees attain old-growth status.

In fact, modern fires routinely kill old-growth trees that withstood multiple fires in bygone eras. Modern fires burning in dense, built-up fuel conditions often convert heritage forests to more or less permanent brush fields.

By restoring thicket forests to their historical norm of open, park-like conditions, and in addition restoring historical anthropogenic fire regimes, forests can be saved from catastrophic incineration and conversion to brush.

Restoration forestry, applied at landscape scales, will make our forests safer and less prone to catastrophic, forest-replacing fires. Restoration forestry protects, maintains and perpetuates habitat, heritage, wildlife, aesthetics, recreational uses, watershed values, economics, public health and safety, and every other forest characteristic valued by human beings.

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, passed by the Senate on Jan. 11, includes Title I, Forest Landscape Restoration. It encourages “the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes.”

Public forest tracts of at least 50,000 acres are to be identified and treated with active ecological restoration. Projects must include collaboration with state and local governments, tribes and local private, nonprofit or cooperative entities. Projects must contribute “toward the restoration of the structure and composition of old-growth stands according to the pre-fire suppression old-growth conditions characteristic of the forest type.”

We all need to understand that restoration forestry is vital to preserving, protecting and sustaining Oregon’s treasured heritage old-growth forests. We should support active restoration projects as proposed under the new Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.

Mike Dubrasich has worked as a [professional] forester in Oregon for 34 years. He is the executive director of the Western Institute for Study of the Environment in Lebanon.

13 Jan 2009, 5:04pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration

There may be silver lining to the dark cloud that is the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22), passed Sunday by Harry Reid and the US Senate, their very first action of 2009.

Hidden amongst some terrible stuff (like guaranteed forest holocaust [here] and sweetheart land exchanges for multi-millionaires [here]) is Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration.

Title IV has some admirable language and some not-so-admirable language, which we discuss below, but in concept it is a huge leap forward in saving forests. For the first time ever Congress has recognized that active restoration forestry, not mere fuels management, is necessary to protect, maintain, and perpetuate our heritage public forests.

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11 Jan 2009, 3:41pm
Saving Forests
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Cultural Legacies in Western Landscapes

As promised [here], we have posted (in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: History of Western Landscapes) a recent report by Michael J. Heckenberger and co-workers entitled The legacy of cultural landscapes in the Brazilian Amazon: implications for biodiversity [here].

Heckenberger’s research indicates that Amazonia is not a primordial wilderness but instead has been home to sophisticated civilizations for thousands of years. Those “polities” have significantly altered the Amazonian environment and added to (not detracted from) the biodiversity found there.

Research from the southern margins of closed tropical forest, in the headwaters of the Xingu River, are highlighted as an example of constructed nature in the Amazon. In all cases, human influences dramatically altered the distribution, frequency and configurations of biological communities and ecological settings. …

The idea that any sustained human presence, even indigenous peoples with simple tools, is destructive or even invasive of biodiversity, is not only questionable in many cases but also backwards, since it was cultural forces, in significant part, that were responsible for patterns of biodiversity in the first place.

The implications are that dehumanizing the Amazon would be destructive to exactly the ecological diversity that popular Western culture is so enamored with. And equally tragic is the discounting and elimination of the native cultures that shaped the landscape in the first place.

That Amazonian landscapes are richly historical and constructed makes them no less natural or interesting, or tainted in terms of biodiversity. Many aspects of indigenous and folk resource management provide ready-made alternatives to imported and far more destructive development strategies and technologies. As Laurance et al. (2001, p. 439) suggest: ‘Rather than rampant exploitation, an alternative and far superior model for Amazonian development is one in which agricultural land is used intensively rather than extensively and ‘high-value’ agroforestry is valued and perennial crops are favoured over fire-maintained cattle pastures and slash-and-burn farming plots.’ Indeed, this is precisely what it seems some indigenous groups were doing. Indigenous practices limit deforestation and lasting partnerships between indigenous and rural peoples in the region will maintain standing forests and potentially even restore tropical forest degradation (Lamb et al. 2005; Nepstad et al. 2005). …

Heckerberger’s conclusions, like Susanna Hecht’s [here], are that native cultures and their sustainable agricultural practices are essential elements in protection and conservation of Amazonia, from a socio-political perspective as well as an ecological one. Our landscapes do not benefit from dehumanization, which is an exploitation (of environment and people) just as much as wholesale deforestation by axe or fire.

The new paradigm thinking is that humanity cannot and should not be divorced from the landscape. Wise stewardship, informed by history and environmental science, is that which incorporates traditional ecological knowledge and native and rural claims to land.

[A]s a hotspot in terms of genes, species and the overall ecosystem(s), as well as in terms of local, national and world heritage, issues of human agency, dynamic change in coupled human–environmental systems and human rights loom large in questions of conservation or sustainable development. In this regard, understanding indigenous systems of management, including those that are only or largely apparent archaeologically, may hold critical keys to future approaches to land use and land rights.

9 Jan 2009, 5:50pm
Saving Forests
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More destructive wildfires devastate our forests, climate

by Thomas Bonnicksen, Guest Comment, Capital Press, 1/8/2009 [here]

The impact of California’s wildfires on climate and forests is one of the most important issues of our time. This is a new era with a new federal administration, a new Congress, a new political and economic landscape and new opportunities.

The fact is that the wildfire crisis is becoming more serious each year.

Fires are getting bigger, more destructive and more expensive. In 2001, California wildfires burned half a million acres. Over 1 million acres burned in 2007 and again in 2008, the worst fire year in the state’s history. Next year could be even worse.

From 2001 to 2007, fires burned a total of more than 4 million acres and released an estimated 277 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from combustion and the post-fire decay of dead trees. That is an average of 68 tons per acre.

These wildfires kill wildlife, pollute the air and water, and the greenhouse gases they emit are wiping out much of what is being achieved to reduce emissions from fossil fuels to battle global warming.
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9 Jan 2009, 4:12pm
Saving Forests
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Eden and El Dorado

Fifteen years ago (my how time flies) Dr. Susanna B. Hecht, Ph.D. of UCLA delivered the Horace Marden Albright Lecture in Conservation at the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources.

Her talk, Of Fates, Forests, and Futures: Myths, Epistemes, and Policy in Tropical Conservation, is now posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: History of Western Landscapes [here].

The thesis of Hecht’s lecture is that landscapes, and in particular Amazonia, are often viewed through two (apparently) contradictory lenses. One view is that prior to European conquest western landscapes were edenic wildernesses, untouched and untrammeled by human hands.

Lost Eden traces its American origins to John Muir as well as the American Transcendentalist movements. But its roots are much deeper and easily trace back to the French descriptions of Brazil by de Lery in the 16th century, and to the widely known works of de La Condamine, Condorcet and Rousseau-to the enlightenment roots of European romanticism. In this view, nature is a wilderness, an object of religious or scientific contemplation, an area of spiritual renewal, a primal area, an Eden. Spared the noxious hand of modem man and the corrupt state, nature’s true glory, as well as man’s innate nobility, is revealed. …

The other view is that western landscapes are El Dorado’s, containing treasures of gold, oil, timber, and other commodities ripe for exploitation, for the good of the conquerors of course, and possibly the conquered too, according to compassionate liberals, but ripe nonetheless.

These two lenses are not necessarily diametrical opposites, but more importantly both deny the reality of human occupation by societies over thousands of years. The land is neither Eden nor El Dorado. It is and has long been home.

As he gazed upon the majesty of Yosemite, as an employee of the local logging company, Muir conceived of the mountain areas around him as an untrammeled wilderness. His lost Eden however beautiful and wild as he saw it, was a nature that in fact had been shaped and molded by human agency. He was contemplating the former territory of the Miwok Indians, whose population was the largest one north of the Aztec empire. The people who had fashioned this landscape had been devastated by the gold rush, been dispossessed by agricultural settlers and ravaged by disease. In their profound absence, he assumed that they had never been. What he took as a wilderness was to other eyes an agricultural landscape formed of trees and tubers which his own conception of agriculture, and his own conception of nature, could not comprehend. This area, so majestic in its beauty and its vegetation, had been both human artifact and habitat.

The latest findings by a raft of researchers explore the ancient human connections.

Historical botanical studies have also served to recast the debate. Denevan’s magisterial efforts on ridged field agriculture throughout Latin America provided the intellectual and philosophical guidance for deeply recasting the debates on population through the optic of production, and bringing into to resolute focus human impacts on tropical landscapes. These helped stimulate general analyses of regional vegetation patterns such as those of Balee, who deemed the region to be characterized by “cultural forests” and posits that roughly 12% of Amazonian forests are decidedly anthropogenic.

Thus large scale regional forest patterning reflects human intervention. Other studies have reviewed human impacts on succession in tropical zones, arguing that diversity patterns can in fact be enhanced by human modification. … Posey (1989, and others) have reported that the Kayapo regularly move plants from one watershed to another and plant along forest trails thus affecting the broader regional distribution of species and subspecies.

The rediscovery ancient human connections should color modern land use approaches, argues Hecht. Modern political ecology must take into account traditional human influences and learn from untold centuries of experience, not only regarding natural systems but with respect to and for socio-economic systems as well.

Human intervention has not always been “bad”, although modern interventions, such as massive deforestation and conversion to absentee-owned cattle ranches and/or set asides for dehumanized “wilderness” are not viable solution sets to either social or environmental problems.

Hecht offers few solutions. Her analysis is historically perceptive but not future advisory. She does wish for a political ecology that takes history into account. Beyond that the modern problems seem largely intractable. And indeed over the last fifteen years little of visionary consequence has occurred.

Her analysis is worthwhile nonetheless, and an enjoyable read if you like large vocabularies and even larger thinking. Susanna Hecht is one of our leading philosophers regarding land use and the human-nature connection. Her synthesis of anthropology, ecology, and social science is a model for cutting-edge approaches to contemporary environmental stewardship.

8 Jan 2009, 6:53pm
Saving Forests
by admin
20 comments

Anthropogenic Forests Are Forests, and Vice Versa

This remarkable article appeared in the University of Chicago Magazine last fall. We post it in its entirety because it is so excellent. Hope we don’t get sued. If we do, we’ll take it down. So you better hurry up and read it just in case.

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

By Richard Mertens, Photography by Dan Dry, The University of Chicago Magazine, Sept-Oct 2008 [here]

Researchers argue that it’s time to see beyond the “myth of the pristine forest”—to gain a truer understanding of humankind’s interactions with the natural landscape.

Whoa! Controversy! Tempest in a teapot! Two kinds!

First, the University of Chicago has requested that I take down Merrtens’ article and substitute a teaser and a link. In a spirit of dis-acrimony, I have done so. But I must point out that the UofC is a giant institution with scads of money and we are a threadbare educational non-profit running on air. We are engaging in spreading education, much as UofC is, except we don’t have ads nor massive billion dollar endowments. Moreover, the UofC has posted Mertens’ piece in the public domain, across the ether, throughout cyberspace, which is much the same as nailing it to a telephone pole. But there you go…

We have, however, located original works by Drs. Susanna Hecht and Michael Heckenberger which ARE without a doubt in the public domain, and we will be posting those shortly, which is better anyway. Why rely on a journalist’s interpretation when we can read the direct word of these accomplished scientists?

Second, the very idea that human beings might have had profound influence on forests throughout history is controversial. Note the response comment (below) from an avowed “evangelical” atheist (someone who proselytizes atheism, and sees the world through the that gloss). The scientific facts are the facts, however, and anti-religious fervor has nothing to with the reality of history. But there you go again…

4 Jan 2009, 3:21pm
Saving Forests
by admin
5 comments

No, we don’t need more fires

Guest Viewpoint by Bob Zybach, Eugene Register Guard, Jan 4, 2009 [here]

I disagree with the majority of statements and conclusions made by George Wuerthner in his Dec. 26 guest viewpoint on the topic of wildfire ecology.

Wuerthner is a nature photographer, trail guide and science journalist whose opinions on federal resource management policies are widely disseminated through books, blogs, letters and articles. To my knowledge, he has received no advanced degrees in a scientific discipline, conducted no formal scientific research, or ever written a peer-reviewed journal article.

This is important, because Wuerthner presumes to lecture his readers on the intricacies of ecological science, and to present his personal opinions as if they were generally accepted facts. For example, after noting a commonly known phenomenon (“remember, the sun does appear to go around the Earth”), he states: “Contrary to common opinion, large blazes are not driven primarily by fuels, but by climatic conditions.” These statements are not analogous. One is a fact, the other an opinion.

Contrary to Wuerthner’s assertions, my own research — and the research of hundreds of other scientists — demonstrates that wildfires are not a direct function of climate at all (think of a hot, arid desert, for example), but rather are functions of fuel, topography and seasonal weather (not climate!) conditions. Fire, first and foremost, needs fuel.

That’s a fact, not an opinion.

Wuerthner attempts to discredit an earlier Register-Guard guest viewpoint by Kathy Lynn of the University of Oregon, which reasonably called for fuel management actions to reduce the frequency and severity of wildfire. Wuerthner claimed Lynn’s statements were “full of flawed assumptions and consequently flawed solutions.”

Wuerthner presents no data to support his contentions. More telling are the personal values mixed in with his “science.” Even if wildfires were just as common in the past as today, does that mean they are good today? Malaria and cholera used to be more common in the past. Should their occurrence be returned to previous levels? And why is “increased biodiversity” implied to be such a good thing, and what does it have to do with wildfire? Think of the massive increase in “biodiversity” in Eugene during the past 150 years, for example, with the introduction of thousands of new species of weeds, domestic plants and animals — and all without wildfire! Is that somehow good for the environment?

Additional thoughts from Wuerthner: “If anything, we probably need more wildfire, not less. With global warming we will probably get it, as vegetative communities adapt to new climatic realities,” and: “Another surprising finding is that mechanical fuels treatment, commonly known as logging and thinning, typically has little effect on the spread of wildfires.”

If you believe Wuerthner’s claim that wildfires are “driven primarily by climatic conditions,” and if you accept global warming as a fact and believe such changes will be conducive to more wildfires, and if you think that plants live in “communities,” then perhaps he has a valid point. But suppose all this conjecture turns out to be true: So what? More wildfires? Didn’t he also say “we probably need more” (for whatever reason) anyway? Wuerthner’s arguments, much like his analogy of the sun, appear to go around in circles, with no real logic to them.

Oregonians old enough to remember the “six-year jinx” of Tillamook fires (1933-51), or who have closely observed the burning patterns of the 2003 B&B Complex, understand the fallacy of his statements. We do not “probably need more wildfire” (for lots of good reasons) — and logging and thinning, not “surprisingly,” often do have an observable and beneficial effect on the severity and spread of wildfires.

Our nation’s heritage forests are going up in predictable and preventable flames, creating an ugly, dangerous environment full of dead plants and animals, and contributing to air pollution, stream sedimentation, and ruined rural economies.

Something needs to be done to correct these problems. Kathy Lynn offers helpful suggestions based in science; George Wuerthner offers personal opinions.

Bob Zybach is a forest scientist with a doctorate from Oregon State University. Zybach has been program manager for the Oregon Websites and Watersheds Project (www .ORWW.org) since 1996.

29 Dec 2008, 10:54am
Saving Forests
by admin
2 comments

Floods Follow Fires

Catastrophic forest fires impact more than the vegetation. Fires destroy habitat, pollute streams, foul the air, and inflict public health and safety problems. Sometimes, as was the case in the Biscuit Fire (2002), forest fires burn so intensely that the soil is stripped away [here].

After intense fires the soils, baked and/or blown away, cannot absorb water as they did previously. Rain does does not infiltrate the damaged soils due to collapse of soil structure, increased bulk density, removal of organic matter, reduction in soil porosity, clogged soil pores, and increased reaction to rainfall droplet kinetics. Soils can become “waterproof” through decreased soil wettability (hydrophobia), concretion, and increased water repellence. That can lead to increases in surface flow, increased soil particle transport, rilling, gullying, and increased erosion.

And floods. Fire-damaged soils across a watershed can cause increases in discharge rates, seasonal streamflows, and especially peak flows, including flash flooding.

Before the fire the soil acts like a giant sponge; after the fire the soil becomes water repellent. As a result, floods happen more frequently.

Take the case of the Chetco River. It drains 271 square miles, much of which was intensely burned in the Biscuit Fire. Six years later the Chetco River is still prone to flash flooding.

Today (right now) the Chetco River is surging, with a discharge rate of 48,400 cubic feet per second (data from the USGS National Water Information System: Real-Time Data for Oregon Streamflow [here]). That discharge amounts to an acre-foot per second and is more than ten times the median flow.

The little Chetco is running more than the Willamette River at Albany. The Chetco flow is roughly half that of the Columbia River at the Dalles Dam.

The North Umpqua River below the spillway at Slide Creek Dam near Toketee Falls is running at 2,210 cubic feet per second. The North Umpqua below Boulder Creek (incinerated in the Rattle Fire last summer) is running at 4,600 cfs. Boulder Creek alone is outputting 1,640 cfs.

Massive winter runoff also means that minimum summer flows will be truly minimal. There is little deep percolation of precipitation into aquifers and so little water storage. Next August the springs will dry up. The floods and the subsequent diminished flows wreak havoc on aquatic habitat, aquatic biota, spawning gravels, and fish populations.

Thus the ecological effects of intense fires linger for decades.

The Salmon River watershed in central Idaho was subjected to an 800,000 acre burn in 2007. Mudslides tore out roads and filled streams the following winter. This winter more of the same is expected.

Flash floods followed the Zaca Fire (2007), which burned 240,000 acres over a two month period, cost more than $120 million in direct fire suppression expenses, and was the most expensive fire in California history.

That is, until one year later when the Indians/Basin Complex Fires burned 244,000 acres and cost $124 million.

Flash floods are expected and may have occurred in the last few weeks (we haven’t heard — no flood info has been posted on the Los Padres NF site). The trail system has been largely destroyed and the flash floods will finish that job.

Chances are the Los Padres NF will not be forthcoming with that information, either. They are the worst managed, most destruction-prone national forest in the System, and that’s a dubious honor given the horrific management of so many other national forests.

Forest fires are treated by the Media as a one-time, short-term events. When the firefighters leave, so do the reporters. Out of sight, out of mind is the rule. The attention span of the Media is tragically abbreviated. They cannot remember what happened an hour ago, let alone a month or a year ago.

But watersheds have long-term memories. Soil is not repaired over night; it takes decades and sometimes even centuries. Until the water absorption capacity of watersheds is restored, repetitious floods continue.

 
  
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