28 Apr 2009, 12:44pm
Forestry education Saving Forests
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Forest Fires and Global Warming

We have essayed regarding this topic numerous times [here], but new obfuscations have cropped up and we must mow them down quickly in the spirit of good landscaping and defensible space.

ScienceDaily has posted a chatty article [here] referencing a new report (in the April 24 issue of the journal Science) forest fires and global warming. I haven’t read the report, but the chatty article is chock full of misconceptions ripe for scything. They sprout and grow thusly:

Fire Influences Global Warming More Than Previously Thought [here]

ScienceDaily (Apr. 29, 2009) — Fire’s potent and pervasive effects on ecosystems and on many Earth processes, including climate change, have been underestimated, according to a new report.

“We’ve estimated that deforestation due to burning by humans is contributing about one-fifth of the human-caused greenhouse effect — and that percentage could become larger,” said co-author Thomas W. Swetnam of The University of Arizona in Tucson.

“It’s very clear that fire is a primary catalyst of global climate change,” said Swetnam, director of UA’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

“The paper is a call to arms to earth scientists to investigate and better evaluate the role of fire in the Earth system,” he said.

Tom, Tom, Tom. That’s a pretty good scare story but it has two flaws (at least).

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27 Apr 2009, 2:52pm
Saving Forests
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Preventing Catastrophic Forest Fires

The Redding Record Searchlight is running a series of articles about forests. We posted a discussion about last week’s article in Long-Term Health Effects of Fires [here].

This week’s article is about preventing catastrophic forest fires, a topic dear to our hearts because SOS Forests is dedicated to that exact goal. The Redding Record Searchlight also invokes the wisdom of “experts,” something we invoke regularly ourselves.

Experts disagree on methods for preventing catastrophic forest fires

By Dylan Darling, Redding Record Searchlight, April 26, 2009 [here]

Flames from last year’s Moon Fire almost burned down Mike Boswell’s home on Rector Creek Road near Ono.

But ultimately the house was saved by brush thinning his family did on their 20 acres long before the blaze burned through in early July.

“We are like the poster children for clearing your property,” Boswell said.

In the north state and around the West, the call for residents to clear vegetation around their homes has become the mantra of firefighting agencies.

While the strategy has proven successful for homes like Boswell’s, the question remains of how to manage the thickly forested land abutting their properties, including vast acres of federal land that make up much of the north state landscape. …

The north state’s wildlands are primed for fire, as last summer’s epic fire season proved. Thunderstorms on June 20 and 21 sparked thousands of wildfires that burned for months and fueled ongoing debates about how the wildland should be managed. …

Because this topic is dear to our hearts, we are going to take some time to parse this article, dissect it, and suss out the useful information, if there is any.

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25 Apr 2009, 7:38pm
Forestry education Saving Forests
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Us Crazy Lumberjacks

Valerie is a Graduate, with a degree in Environmental Science and Resource Management. She wrote a comment to a previous post, Old-Growth Forests and Global Warming, [here].

We like comments and generally let them stand on their own, without response, but Valerie called us “crazy lumberjacks… just out to get the wise old trees who never laid a branch on you.” So we feel compelled to respond in some manner or other.

In fact, nobody is trying harder to save forests than we are. Valerie has leaped to the exact backasswards conclusion. In the interest of education (and even a Graduate can always learn a little more) we extend to her this explanatory note:

Dear Graduate Valerie,

Are we serious about forest stewardship? You bet. About protecting, maintaining, and perpetuating old-growth? Absolutely.

No where do we recommend “chop it down”. That’s not what restoration forestry is, Valerie. Restoration forestry is about saving old-growth from catastrophic fire and recreating the forest development pathways that led to old-growth in the first place.

Those development pathways included anthropogenic fire, as well as human distribution, tending, and use of predominant plants such as huckleberry, beargrass, ponderosa and sugar pine, and many others.

Thousands of years of human residency and landscape-scale treatments, such as frequent, seasonal, deliberate light burning, engendered prairies, meadows, berry fields, and open and park-like forests. Fires were largely man-made, with the foresight and experience of countless generations, in order to prepare or harvest fields, drive game, provide or reduce browse, and for dozens of other reasons, the chief among them to prevent the build up of fuels that would fuel catastrophic fires.

The First Residents avoided catastrophic fires (which would have severely impacted human survival) by deliberately burning off the fine fuels every year. That burning also killed conifer seedlings. Only rarely did a conifer survive repeated ground fires to grow tall enough and thick enough to be resilient to future fires.

We know this because all (or almost all) old-growth trees were open grown. They have wide growth rings near the pith, indicating fast juvenile growth (stand-grown trees have narrow rings). Old-growth trees have low height-diameter ratios (they’re squatty compared to tall, skinny, stand-grown trees). Old-growth usually have large limbs or knots near the base, again indicating open-grown characteristics and a competition-free micro-environment.

Those trees were sparsely distributed and grew to old ages because of the frequent ground fires.

In the absence of Indian burning, fuels have built up to the point that modern fires are severe and kill all the trees, including the old growth that had survived numerous light fires in the distant past.

In order to save the old growth, and to create more old-growth, we must reduce the fuels and re-institute frequent, seasonal, light burning fires.

Otherwise we get severe fires that kill old-growth, such as the Biscuit Fire (2002), the B and B Fire (2003), the Rattle Fire (2008), and hundreds of other fires that have decimated millions of acres of old-growth in just the last twenty years.

Setting aside forests in wilderness areas, roadless areas, special reserves, and other no-treatment zones is a virtual guarantee that catastrophic stand-replacing fire will strike. All the trees will be killed, old and young alike. New trees, if they sprout and if they grow through the brush, will be in thickets and will be killed in the next stand-replacement fire, which is sure to come within a hundred years if not much sooner.

The new trees will not grow to old ages. They will burn up first. Thickets of reproduction subject to stand-replacement fires do not produce old trees. Old trees only come about (survive to 200, 300, 600 years old or older) under special conditions — in open, park-like, woodland/savannas where fires are frequent and seasonal, and by necessity, anthropogenic (lightning fires are neither frequent enough nor in the right seasons).

No Touch, Let It Burn, Watch It Rot does not protect old-growth nor does it engender new old-growth. In addition, stand-replacing fires in old-growth spotted owl habitat are extremely harmful to the owls. They die in the flames or else wander the charred snags until they starve. Or Great Horned owls, golden eagles, or other predatory raptors eat the owls, which are easier to catch when their protective forest canopy is no more.

And it doesn’t come back. Spotted owl old-growth is the kind that arose as a result of anthropogenic fire. People setting frequent, seasonal, landscape-scale fires over thousands of years are what allowed the trees to grow old and become spotted owl habitat. If we do not emulate those people, spotted owl habitat will disappear and never return.

So you see, Valerie, us crazy lumberjacks are actually highly educated, vastly experienced, professional forest experts who seek to save old-growth and priceless heritage forests from permanent destruction.

As to your accusation that we are the cause of global warming, I sincerely doubt it, since there has been no global warming for 10 years. No effect, no cause.

Manual Dyslexia and Wyden’s New Old-Growth Bill

The Federal Government, including Congress, famously suffers from manual dyslexia — that affliction wherein the right hand has no idea what the left hand is doing (and vice versa). A case in point is the new “Oregon Forest Restoration and Old Growth Protection Act of 2009″ [here] trotted out by its proud owner, Senator Ron Wyden, for a public showing last week.

OFROGPA, as Wyden’s bill is fondly known by intimates, is the left hand flailing away in complete isolation and disregard of the right hand, the Forest Landscape Restoration Act (FLRA) of 2009.

The latter was Title IV of the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009, passed last month by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. The Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009 is now the law of the land.

OFROGPA is a Johnny-come-lately-out-of-the-blue and conflicts, confuses, and creates cross-purposes with the now Law of the Land.

It is almost as if Sen. Wyden didn’t read the FLRA before he voted in favor of it last month. Neither did his staff, apparently. That can happen when the Senate is too lazy to hold hearings and fails to give due consideration to bills before they smash them through the Capitol like siege wagons.

What really happened was this: there were three restoration forestry bills introduced last year. In January 2008 Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced legislation he called the Pacific Northwest Forest Legacy Act [here]. In February Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced S. 2593, the Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008 [here] which was co-sponsored by Sen. Wyden. In June Wyden introduced his own bill [here], which was a poor amalgamation of the other two, leaning heavily towards DeFazio’s.

No hearings were held on any of them although Bingaman’s bill came closest, with a hearing scheduled for July but cancelled at the last minute [here].

Then Barack Obama was elected, the Democrats took over both houses, and they began to pass sweeping legislation in ill-considered spasms. Among the avalanche debris that collapsed on America this winter is Bingaman’s S. 2593, The Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009 [here].

The conflicts between the new law (FLRA) and Wyden’s also-ran OFROGPA bill are numerous and significant.

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15 Apr 2009, 1:55pm
Forestry education Saving Forests
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Old-Growth Is an Aberration of Nature

Allow me to reiterate the key point in the previous post.

Old-growth is an aberration. Conifers produce viable seed beginning at age 20 (most species, at the latest). By age 50 many seed crops have been produced in all but the harshest environments. There is no biological (evolutionary) necessity for a conifer to grow to 600 years old. There may be some biological advantage to long-term occupancy of the site, but old trees (>50) are not required for that or for perpetuation of the species.

Nature abhors (does not favor) old trees. The older a tree gets, the more storms, fires, pests, rots, and competition it must surmount. Populations adapt to changing conditions via reproduction and the crossing of genetic lines. Long periods between generations are mal-adaptive, in the evolutionary sense.

Conifers don’t need to grow to old ages. They do so only under special conditions. Throughout much of the pre-1800 Western U.S., the special conditions were frequent, seasonal, anthropogenic fire.

People established the conditions which gave rise to old-growth. Without the influence of people, there would be far fewer old-growth trees today.

If old-growth is worth saving and/or the desired future condition (those are widely held opinions), then stewardship by people is required to achieve that “aberrant” forest structure.

Without stewardship, specifically restoration forestry, old-growth cannot be protected or re-grown.

15 Apr 2009, 10:37am
Forestry education
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Brief Daylight in the Swamp

Dear Friends — I apologize for the dearth of posts over the last two weeks. I have been very busy travelling, farming, writing proposals, firing ceramics, bleeding taxes, and what have you. Yesterday I built a greenhouse, for instance, since the globe is not warming, at least not around here.

It will take another two weeks to drain this swamp of immediate chores, too. The output at SOS Forests will continue to be less than usual until May, although there are numerous issue we really need to cover, such as the “new” Federal fire policies (which are nothing new — the same old No Touch, Let It Burn, Watch It Rot — just rehashed bureaucratic bomfoggery). I promise and resolve to find more free minutes to freely point out the stark naked state of the Imperial Elite.

In the meantime, however, I did receive an interesting email from Ryan that is worth discussing. Ryan’s email was sent to the Old SOS Forests [here] which has been moribund for over a year since we moved the active nexus here to W.I.S.E.

That indicates to me that Ryan has not been paying attention, but no matter; his complaints are instructive. Ryan writes:

You guys don’t know anything. Fire is normal in Ponderosa ecosystems. The trees that die are meant to die and the forest will eventually thin out into a heavily wooded savanna. The reason those trees are dying is that they are weak from overcrowding. Let it do its work and in a couple hundred years you will see a much more healthy forest. I am from Arizona and have studied this extensively. I have read many papers and written my own for school projects. Look up NAU’s Ecological Restoration website. Go to a natural old growth Ponderosa forest and you will see. I have seen many old growth trees with fire scars. This system PRE-DATES any anthropogenic disturbance. If you do the research you will see you are wrong. By the way, there are also supposed to be standing dead and fallen logs, so if you don’t have your fair share you will now.

It is not enough to caste Ryan’s words aside as youthful folly, though they are that. The points he (she?) makes are typical uninformed mythology, and so are usefully disputed.

First, we agree that fire is a common phenomenon in ponderosa pine. But not all fires are the same, nor are all ponderosa pine forests identical. Fire A is not Fire B. The ancient pine forests of the Southwestern sky island plateaus are there because of frequent, regular, light-burning fires set by the indigenous residents over millennia. The modern catastrophic fires convert ancient ponderosa pine forests to something else, typically cheat grass and brush. So while some types of fire may be called “normal,” other types of fire are extremely debilitating to ponderosa pine ecosystems.

Second (and this is the most worthy part of Ryan’s email) the open, park-like ponderosa pine forests of the Southwest (that were so marveled at by early explorers) did not arise because fire “thinned out” small trees. That is a complete misconception of the forest development pathway. The frequent anthropogenic fires came first; the widely-spaced trees moved in afterward.

This is important. The burning came first — the open forest seeded into a frequent fire landscape that was mostly devoid of trees. It did not happen the other way around. Fire did not thin the forest — instead, scattered trees took root in a frequently charred landscape.

We know this because the wide growth rings near the pith (when the old trees were young) and other tree characteristics indicate that most (nearly all) old-growth trees were open-grown, not stand-grown. They were scattered pioneers that invaded treeless ground (or a savanna/woodland), not remnant stand-grown trees that survived a forest fire.

That is the development pathway that leads to open, park-like, uneven-aged, frequent fire forests. The frequent fire prairies precede the savannas, which in turn precede modern multicohort forests; The old trees became established in grasses — grasses don’t become established under trees.

Ryan says “Let [fire] do its work and in a couple hundred years you will see a much more healthy forest.”

No, that’s not scientifically correct. The fuels accumulate between infrequent “natural” fires to the extent that those fires are “stand replacing.” Nothing survives the intense heat of a fuel-laden severe fire. Dense thickets of young trees can arise — which are then fully roasted a few decades later.

Dense thickets of young trees are the “natural” condition of most conifers. Open, park-like forests with ancient trees are largely anthropogenic in origin.

That’s a tough concept to fully absorb, given the gloss of Clementsian ecological theory that has so clouded the field for the last 80 years. It boggles the ill-trained minds of Joe Sixpack’s kids, annealed as they are with modern public educations, to imagine that our forests have been subjected to intense human manipulation for thousands of years.

But they have. Our forests have been anthropo-sized. Many of them, anyway — the old-growth especially, which do not represent the “normal” condition of conifers.

The rest of Ryan’s note attempts to establish his credentials, but fails. That’s okay; we don’t expect everyone to understand the nuances of forest ecology. Heck, we know many professional forest ecologists with long pedigrees who still don’t get it.

Historical human influences on our landscapes were profound regardless of who knows about it. That is the essence of the new paradigm in forest ecology. The old paradigm held, as does Ryan, that Mother Nature alone creates old-growth forests. Sadly (for the Old Paradigmers), that just isn’t so.

Nowhere in nature are new open, park-like, old-growth forests being created. Look anywhere and you won’t see that happening. Wilderness areas, for instance, have been set aside to be subjected to fully “natural” influences, and many the fire has ripped through “wilderness” forests. Nowhere, not in a single instance, has any fire “thinned” the small trees and left the large ones.

The evidence in support of the old paradigm is sorely lacking. Since theories depend on evidence for validity, and the evidence is utterly missing, the old paradigm theories are perforce wrong.

Instead, all the evidence suggests that grasslands are invaded by trees and not the other way around, and that anthropogenic fire is required to establish and maintain open, park-like forests with ancient trees.

Thank you, Ryan, for this opportunity to educate you and others. I hope the lesson took root. Meanwhile, back to the Swamp of Chores.

1 Apr 2009, 3:50pm
by admin

Sierra Nevada Post-Fire Photos

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Photos taken Sept 7, 2007 of the Moonlight Fire plume from Quincy, CA. (photos by Linda Blum)

Twenty-three 300-acre California Spotted Owl (CSO) Protected Activity Centers (PACs) were located in the pre-fire landscape of the 2007 Moonlight and Antelope Fires. (photo by Linda Blum)

In 2008 surveys a single pair of territorial CSOs was documented within the 88,000 acre burns, plus ten detections of single, apparently non-territorial, male CSO. As is evident, the pictured PAC experienced near 100% tree mortality. (photo by Linda Blum)

Another CSO PAC within the Moonlight Burn. (photo by Linda Blum)

Some areas within the burns had been treated by thinning and fuel disposal prior to the fires. The Defensible Fuel Profile Zones had much less than 100% tree mortality because the canopy fire dropped to ground inside them. One DFPZ also provided a safe escape route for firefighters when the fire plume collapsed and other escape routes were cut off by the fire. (photo by Linda Blum)

This DFPZ was not treated adequately — too much fuel and too many trees were left. As a consequence, the fire was severe and tree mortality high. (photo by Linda Blum)

From the Clover WFU Fire on the Sequoia NF, June 17, 2008 [here]. Photo courtesy Ron and Karen Burke’s 2008 Pacific Crest Trail Journal. No larger image.

The Bear Creek Guard Station in 1915, built with hand-split ponderosa pine shakes. Note the open, park-like forest. The forest structure was the result of many hundreds of years of regular, seasonal, anthropogenic (Maidu Indian) fires. (Photo courtesy Plumas NF) No larger image.

The Bear Creek Guard Station in 2005. Note the invasion of the older forest by a thicket of younger cohort pine, Douglas-fir, and white fir, the result of 90 years without forest stewardship or Indian fires. (Photo courtesy Plumas NF) No larger image.

Another view of the Bear Creek Guard Station showing the build-up of thicket fuels. Photo by Dr. Paul Zinke, courtesy Dr. Al Stangenberger.

A careless guest used the stove and didn’t do it correctly. A historic treasure lost. (Photo courtesy Plumas NF) No larger image.

Aftermath of the Angora Fire (2007) on the Eldorado NF near South Lake Tahoe. (Photo by Tallac)

During the post-fire clean-up of the Angora Burn. (photo by Tallac)

Antelope Fire damage. Photo courtesy UC Berkeley News Media Center (no larger image).

#1 — Two years after the Angora Fire (June, 2007), taken Memorial Day, May 25, 2009. (Photo by Tallac)

#2 — Two years after the Angora Fire (June, 2007), taken Memorial Day, May 25, 2009. (Photo by Tallac)

#3 — Two years after the Angora Fire (June, 2007), taken Memorial Day, May 25, 2009. (Photo by Tallac)

#4 — Two years after the Angora Fire (June, 2007), taken Memorial Day, May 25, 2009. (Photo by Tallac)

29 Mar 2009, 2:08pm
Forestry education
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Reconstructing Fire Histories in Australia

One line of evidence that confirms historical anthropogenic fire is fire scars on trees. Fire histories are reconstructed by examining stumps and increment cores, and counting the annual rings back to the obvious fire scar years.

But what if trees do not have annual rings? Such is the case in Australia where many trees grow all year round (no annual rings). There are also other trees that are either completely consumed by fires or else exhibit no scarring. Fortunately, there is one type of tree, the grasstree (Xanthorrhoea spp) that flowers only after a fire.

How can that be useful? David Ward and Gerard Van Didden found that grasstrees produce a different concentration of certain chemicals when they flower, and that those chemicals are stored in tree tissues.

Their report, Reconstructing the Fire History of the Jarrah Forest of south-western Australia, is now posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here].

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28 Mar 2009, 12:08pm
Forestry education Saving Forests
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Anthropogenic Fire in Australia

W.I.S.E. is pleased to present a rare monograph on anthropogenic fire in Australia — Fire, Flogging, Measles and Grass: the influence of early York settlers on bushfire policy in Western Australia by David Ward and Roger Underwood — in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: History of Western Landscapes [here].

Fire, Flogging, Etc. describes through colonial letters the traditional use of bushfire by the Noongar people in Southwestern Australia.

Before Europeans settled in south-western Australia, the indigenous Noongar people used the land for hunting and gathering. As with other hunter-gatherers in Africa, India, and the Americas, Noongars used fire as a management tool, and had probably done so for tens of thousands of years. The arrival of Europeans whose homesteads, sheds, stock, crops, pastures and haystacks were vulnerable to fire led to immediate conflict: a fire-vulnerable society was seeking to establish itself in an environment in which fire occurred frequently, and was the dominant land management practice.

The importance of frequent fire in the land use and culture of the Noongars has been set out by West Australian scholars such as Associate Professor Sylvia Hallam and Dr. Neville Green. Amongst a wealth of historical references, Sylvia Hallam noted Lt. Bunbury’s estimate of two to three years between bushfires in the parts of the south-west that he had visited in the 1830s. She also noted Major Mitchell’s perceptive comment of 1848, based on observations in other parts of Australia, that “Fire, grass, kangaroos, and human inhabitants, seem all dependent on each other for existence… “. Neville Green drew on observations by the surgeons Scott Nind and Alexander Collie, at King George’s Sound in the 1830s, to amplify the links between hunting, vegetation, fire, land ownership, and seasonal migration between inland and the coast. John Mulvaney and others painstakingly deciphered Captain Collet Barker’s handwriting, and gave further information on the importance of fire to the Meananger group of Noongars on the south coast.

We have discussed anthropogenic fire numerously at SOS Forests [here]. We have also posted dozens of scientific studies, reports, and book reviews that detail historical human landscape burning on three continents [here].

The study of anthropgenic fire is important because it represents a new paradigm in ecology. The old paradigm is burdened by Clementsian notions of plant communities undergoing natural succession. That set of theories is riddled with anomalies — conditions on the landscape that defy what the old theories say should be there.

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Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration Enacted

The Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009 was passed this week by the U.S. House (it was attached to H.R. 146) [here] which followed passage by the U.S. Senate last week.

Hidden in the package of 170 or so bills is Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration. It is not clear whether our industrious and diligent elected representatives read any of the bill before voting on it (there were no hearings, either) but it makes no difference — as soon as the President signs it, Title IV will become the Law of the Land.

Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration calls for landscape-scale “ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes”. Each project must be:

(i) at least 50,000 acres;

(ii) comprised primarily of forested National Forest System land, but may also include land under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, land under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or other Federal, State, tribal, or private land;

For the cadastrally-challenged, 50,000 acres is 78.125 square miles or roughly 2.2 townships, and that’s the minimum size; there is no maximum.

Congress, wittingly or otherwise, has determined that forest restoration is desirable to reduce the costs and damages that result from wildfire. They also hope that forest restoration will encourage “ecological, economic, and social sustainability” and utilize “forest restoration byproducts” to benefit local rural economies and improve forest health.

Important point: restoration is not rehabilitation — restoration is the treatment of forests BEFORE they burn whereas rehabilitation is the attempt to repair former forests AFTER they have been incinerated.

The full text of Title IV is [here].

We discussed Title IV previously [here].

All thing considered, Title IV is a surprisingly advanced and even ground-breaking change in Federal forest policy. It promotes a new mission for the US Forest Service: restoration forestry.

Whoda thunk it, considering the source?

There are some difficulties with Title IV that could have been ironed out IF there had been substantive hearings. But there weren’t, and so we will have to deal with these problems in the language:

1. The funding ($40,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2009 through 2019) has been authorized but not allocated. That means the intent of Congress is to fund Title IV, but they haven’t sent the dollars to the USFS yet. I expect that they will, considering they have squandered $trillions on foolishness, but they may need some additional encouragement.

2. The USFS leadership is completely unprepared to deal with the program. The USFS Washington Office will have to develop directives and send them out to each Region and National Forest which explain how the program is to be implemented. That could take awhile, since the WO has been caught unaware and probably will drag their bureaucratic feet.

3. The Act requires that proposed projects be evaluated by an advisory panel which “shall include experts in ecological restoration, fire ecology, fire management, rural economic development, strategies for ecological adaptation to climate change, fish and wildlife ecology, and woody biomass and small-diameter tree utilization.” Said panel will have to be established.

One bright note is that Title IV allows and even encourages the treatment of old-growth stands at risk from catastrophic fire:

[A] collaborative forest landscape restoration proposal shall… be based on a landscape restoration strategy that… fully maintains, or contributes 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, taking into account the contribution of the stand to landscape fire adaptation and watershed health and retaining the large trees contributing to old growth structure

Implicit but not directly stated is that restoration requires some previous reference condition as a target. That means that analysis of historical forest conditions and influences (including historical anthropogenic fire) is necessary to elucidate the reference condition. Title IV does not specify historical analyses, but it is impossible to proceed with “landscape restoration strategy that… is complete or substantially complete” without them.

The Western Institute for Study of the Environment has already prepared three landscape-scale forest restoration proposals consistent with the criteria of Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration. We plan on producing a dozen or more.

If you would like to participate in that proposal creation process, please indicate your interest by email to W.I.S.E. [here]. Our intention is to involve all interested parties in our efforts.

22 Mar 2009, 3:26pm
Forestry education
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Sanderson’s Farm

Hugh Miller Raup (1901-1995) was a giant of American forestry and forest science. He is best remembered as the director of the Harvard Forest for twenty years and Bullard Professor in Forestry there. He was also the author of numerous books, papers, reports, and letters on forestry and forest ecology.

Professor Raup’s biography from the Harvard University Library [here]:

Hugh Miller Raup was born on his family’s farm in Springfield, Ohio on February 1, 1901 to Gustavus Phillip and Fannie (Mitchell) Raup. He attended Wittenburg College, receiving an A.B. in 1923. Immediately following his graduation, Raup was appointed as an instructor in biology, a position he held while pursuing his A.M. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1928, and was promoted to Assistant Professor at Wittenburg. Raup left Wittenburg College in 1932 to serve as a Research Assistant and Associate at Harvard, a position he held from 1932 to 1938. Raup’s association with Harvard included the Arnold Arboretum, the Black Rock Forest, the Harvard Forest, and the Department of Biology.

In 1935, Raup published “Notes of the Early Uses of Land Now in the Arnold Arboretum.” This study examined the historical influences, both natural and man made, that shaped the landscape. He challenged prior conceptions about the ecological history of the Arnold Arboretum, particularly the notion that historically, Hemlock Hill had been a pristine section of land. Much of Raup’s work revolved around such an examination of historical influences on New England, Honduran, and Cuban landscapes, which was a relatively revolutionary approach. Other remarkable research included a phytogeographic survey of the Peace River region of Alberta and British Columbia, returning with thousands of specimens, and studies in subarctic Canada, northeastern Greenland, and the boreal forests of Alaska, some of which was completed in collaboration with the Canadian National Museum.

Following his tenure as research associate, Hugh Raup held a succession of professorial appointments at Harvard. He was appointed Assistant Professor in Plant Ecology in 1938, and rose quickly up the academic ranks, receiving a promotion to Assistant Professor of Plant Geography associate professor in 1945. In 1949, he was promoted to full professor with an appointment as Bullard Professor in Forestry. He became director of the Harvard Forest in 1946, thereafter devoting much of his energies to the Forest through his retirement in 1967. Following Raup’s from Harvard, Raup spent three years at Johns Hopkins as a Visiting Professor. He and his wife Lucy then spent 20 years living on the Common in Petersham, Massachusetts, where he continued to correspond with colleagues, debating and questioning matters in the fields of biology, forestry, and ecology in lengthy letters. Near the end of his life, Raup and his wife moved to Wisconsin to be closer to their younger son. Raup died on August 10, 1995 at 94 years of age.

One of Professor Raup’s most famous papers is John Sanderson’s Farm: A Perspective for the Use of the Land, first published in Forest History, April 1966. A reprint from Forest History Today, 1997, is available on the Internet [here] (2.1 MB).

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12 Mar 2009, 12:58pm
Saving Forests
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Wilderness - What Wilderness?

Historical human influences on the environment have been significant and widespread throughout North and South America for thousands of years. Landscapes that are thought of as “wilderness” or “natural” have in fact been subject to extensive and intensive human alteration and (dare we say it) stewardship for millennia.

Three scientific research papers newly posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: History of Western Landscapes demonstrate the extent of human impact on the West Coast.

Evaluating the Purpose, Extent, and Ecological Restoration Applications of Indigenous Burning Practices in Southwestern Washington by Linda Storm and Daniela Shebitz [here] reports on studies of ancient camas prairies in the Upper Chehalis River basin of Washington State.

[I]ndigenous peoples contributed to the long-term maintenance and distribution of prairie and savanna ecosystems in pre-European western Washington through traditional management techniques, such as burning…

The human history of western Washington extends back at least 10,000 years (Ames and Maschner 1999) with sedentary village life beginning after 3,800 years ago. Human populations increased as plank house village sites were established, salmon harvest intensified, and winter storage developed in some locales after this period. Some researchers postulate that during this period inland, up-river groups of indigenous peoples in southwestern Washington began using fire to maintain prairie and savanna habitats and subsequently increased their production and storage of important plant food resources…

The implications are that restoration of ecosystems requires an understanding of historical human influences and a re-application of those influences. Without anthropogenic tending of the land, ecological transformations lead to degradation of whole ecosystems. Land set-aside and abandonment of human stewardship can destroy ecosystems, or at least squander and debilitate primary ecological and historical values.

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Lock Up the Land Fanatics Go Nuts

Ready for some more bad news? Not only does the US Government own half the land in the West, they now wish to dedicate that land to catastrophic holocaust via wilderness designation.

Many people wrongly believe wilderness designation means “protection.” Far from it. Wilderness designation effectively condemns land to severe fires that destroy environmental values.

All of the land in the U.S. has been occupied by human beings for thousands of years. The residents have had significant impact, including alteration of vegetation through anthropogenic fire, extensive trail and home site development, agriculture and irrigation, and thousands of years of hunting and food gathering.

The 1964 Wilderness Act is fundamentally flawed in that it fails to acknowledge the true history and conditions of the land.

Further, wilderness designation means elimination of stewardship, unchecked fuel build-up, and as a result catastrophic fires that degrade heritage, habitat, watershed, airshed, recreation, and public health and safety values.

Wilderness is a myth, and a destructive one at that. It is based on a-historical, a-scientific, and anti-human bogosity. Further, it is manifestly untrue that land without wilderness designation is summarily raped and peppered with condos.

Despite these verities, spurred by the election of a Chicago socialist as President and a far left leaning Congress, the mad lust for new wilderness is reaching hysterical proportions. The NY Times reported:

By Scott Streater, Greenwire, NY Times, March 5, 2009 , [here]

The 111th Congress is poised to usher in the largest expansion of the nation’s wilderness in a generation, with 2.1 million acres of public land in line for the strictest environmental protections allowed under federal law.

An omnibus lands bill that could receive final congressional approval this month would create new wilderness areas in nine states — from the San Gabriel Mountains of California to Michigan’s Lake Superior shoreline to a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia — covering almost as much land as the 2.4 million acres designated during the entire eight years of the Bush presidency.

Meanwhile, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) last month introduced the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, which would designate 24 million acres of mostly Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land in five states as wilderness area.

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Old-Growth Forests and Global Warming

Old-growth logging in the Pacific Northwest was shut down 15 years ago with the imposition of the Northwest Forest Plan. Nary a stick has been cut in a decade and a half.

The idea was to “save” the spotted owls, a creature alleged to be “dependent” on old-growth.

Unfortunately, shutting down almost all logging of any kind on Fed lands (roughly 60 percent of the forested landscape) did not aid the owl. Spotted owl populations plummeted anyway, and owls now number less than 40 percent of what they did 15 years ago.

It seems that spotted owls are not old-growth dependent, due to the fact that they live and fledge young in second-growth forests. And it seems that predator-prey relations dictate owl population change, much as they do for virtually every species of wildlife.

But no matter. This post is not about spotted owls. It’s about that tired old canard that logging is killing all the old-growth.

Actually, that’s not the case. Competition from the dense thickets of young trees and the catastrophic forests fires that incinerate multi-cohort (old and young growth mixed) stands are to blame for the destruction of old-growth trees over the last 15 years.

But the old lie lives on, now with a new twist. Old-growth is claimed to have the magical property of staving off climate change. How do they do it, you ask? Why, by sequestering carbon dioxide, of course.

The trouble is, the sequestration is temporary. When the old-growth catches fire and burns with unnatural severity, a goodly portion of the biomass goes up in smoke. The remainder consists of newly dead wood, cooked at fatal temperatures, and the dead biomass rapidly rots, releasing (you guessed it) more CO2.

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1 Mar 2009, 5:27pm
Forestry education Saving Forests
by admin

Biochar and Forests

We have posted three new studies on biochar at the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences. Biochar is charcoal worked into soil as an amendment for increased fertility and productivity.

Biochar has some interesting implications for forests, and the three new studies express those.

The first is Soil respiration curves as soil fertility indicators in perennial central Amazonian plantations treated with charcoal, and mineral or organic fertilisers by Christoph Steiner, Murilo Rodrigues de Arruda, Wenceslau G. Teixeira, and Wolfgang Zech [here]. The lead author, Dr. Christoph Steiner, Ph.D., is Research Associate at the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, University of Georgia, and a co-editor of Amazonian Dark Earths: Wim Sombroek’s Vision [here, here].

Amazon dark earths, or terra preta, are ancient human-developed soils found in pre-Columbian settlement sites throughout the Amazonia. The deep, rich terra preta soils are in stark contrast to the nutrient-poor, red clay latisols that represent the unmodified soil condition. As noted in many research reports, including Amazonian Dark Earths: Wim Sombroek’s Vision, terra preta contains abundant charcoal (biochar) as well as compost and pottery shards. Scientists hypothesize anthropogenic terra preta supported intensive agriculture for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, whereas the common latisols can’t support intensive agriculture at all.

To test that hypothesis, Steiner et al. planted banana and guarana starts in holes filled with charcoal, chicken manure, super phosphate, and lime, and top dressed the plants with potassium, zinc sulphate, ground charcoal, bone meal, and chicken manure. The idea was to create terra preta from scratch. They then tested the soil for microbial activity, specifically substrate (glucose) induced respiration. If microbes are present, they eat the glucose and emit the metabolic byproduct, CO2 (much like you and I do).

Different mixtures of charcoal, organic, inorganic fertilizers were tested. Both plantations received charcoal, the guarana plantation got organic (chicken manure and bone meal) fertilizers, and the banana plantation got inorganic (mineral) fertilizers.

The presence of charcoal increased microbial respiration (due to increased microbial biomass) in the banana plantation (inorganic fertilizers), but not so much in the guarana plantation. The organic fertilizers (chicken manure and bone meal) had more effect than charcoal in the guarana plantation.

Charcoal is not a plant nutrient, but it can bind to nutrients and prevent them from leaching out of soils. The propensity of charcoal to bind with metallic oxides (cations) is the reason it is used in many filtration systems.

The soil testing was done about a year after planting. Terra preta is thought to have been built up over many human generations. The upshot is that a one-time, short-term charcoal incorporation treatment is not sufficient, in and of itself, to create terra preta.

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