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Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too

Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too

The case for adaptive management by land management agencies has been in the making for a long time, and takes on a new urgency with the changes being forced by the emissions from consumer and industrial combustion of fossil fuels. The case for adaptive conservationby non-governmental organizations takes on its own urgency for the same reason. 

As conceived so far, adaptive management implies adaptation by land management agencies such as the USDA Forest Service. By now, it’s clear as clear can be that, among others, the Forest Service simply must adapt to the new conditions of heat and drought driven by emissions from consumer and industrial combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas. Taken down to cases, the agency must adapt by recognizing which species are unlikely to persist under increasing emissions, and by shifting its management emphasis to species that might hang in there.

At least some in the Forest Service “get it.” For example, consider this November 1, 2016 assessment by Randy Johnson, U.S. Forest Service Research and Development Program: “Forests are changing in ways they’ve never experienced before because today’s growing conditions are different from anything in the past. The climate is changing at an unprecedented rate.” Johnson thus asks, “When replanting a forest after disturbances, does it make sense to try to reestablish what was there before? Or, should we find re-plant material that might be more appropriate to current and future conditions of a changing environment?”

Ya can’t always get what ya want

By forcing change on the set of conditions — temperature, rainfall, snowfall, wind, etc. — that we summarize as climate, we’ve been forcing change on the forests.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Harvest timber without destroying forests

Harvest timber without destroying forests

A prehistoric squirrel, it is said, could have scampered from Norway to Singapore without touching the ground, so dense was the carpet of trees that stretched across the world. Similar forests stretched across North America and many other parts of the world – all of them providing a home to thousands of living things, all of them vacuuming the carbon dioxide from the air and keeping the climate stable.

Most of that landscape was felled for timber and paper long ago, the land given over to crops and suburbia – or to wasteland. Of course, humans need food and houses, but we also need timber and wildlife, and our ancestors would have been wiser to preserve some of those forests for future generations. And sometimes, they did – for at least six thousand years, some humans have used an old technique to continually harvest timber from a forest while keeping it alive indefinitely.

When the evergreen trees around here are cut at the base, their roots die. But many broad-leaved, deciduous trees continue to soak up water and nutrients through their roots. The roots put their energy into creating shoots, which grow into new saplings – and soon you will have several smaller trees where you had one before. In a matter of years or decades – how long depends on the type of tree – you can harvest those smaller trees, called “underwood,” and the process begins again. You can keep doing this as long as the original base continues to live, which can be more than a hundred years.

Commonly coppiced species included ash, chestnut, oak, hazel, sycamore and alder, and most of these created shoot from the cut stump, called a stool. The new trunks usually curved outward from the original stool, and so their naturally bowed wood was often prized for ship-building.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why are We Still Logging Our Forests?

Why are We Still Logging Our Forests?

Anyone who accepts true science realizes that today’s big forest fires are driven far more by climate warming than by a lack of “active forest management” as claimed in previous editorial opinions.

Active forest management, more honestly called “logging,” has always been the timber industry’s cure-all for every perceived problem in our forests.Until science confirmed the amazing diversity and value of our old forests, they were deemed to be “decadent,” badly in need of logging and replacement with more efficient tree farms. When there were budworm or bark beetle breakouts, industry said our forests were being decimated and needed logging to “restore” them. Science disagreed, noting that insects and disease were important components of healthy forest ecosystems. When our forests burn, industry claims quick logging and replanting is necessary to salvage their value. Science again exposed their myths, showing the value of leaving burned forests as critical habitat and how forests reseed and recover naturally from fires like the Biscuit.

I kept a cabin within the huge weather-caused and weather-extinguished Biscuit Fire in Oregon. It was years of cutting and burning non-merchantable understories that saved my cabin, not logging. In the aftermath, I witnessed how little difference commercially thinned stands made to fire spread or intensity. I photographed sites where flames consumed thinned stands only to lie down when they hit the cooler, moister, unthinned forest.

To me, as a timber cruiser and broker who’s tracked timber data and sale prices for decades, it’s obvious why industry preaches logging for all that ails our forests. They make grossly unfair profits from logging public timber sales — far more than the environmental attorneys who litigate them. Scorched old sugar pines and Douglas firs from Biscuit salvage sales sold at literally a dime to the dollar of real value. These sales were sold at a net loss to us as the forest owners, as are many federal timber sales.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Forests are the Best ‘Technology’ to Fight Climate Change

Why Forests are the Best ‘Technology’ to Fight Climate Change

The warning from the world’s top climate scientists that carbon dioxide (CO2) will need to be removed from the atmosphere to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is both a due and dire recognition of the great task in front of us. What must not be forgotten, however, is the hope that our forests provide.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said limiting global warming to 1.5C is not only achievable but also critical, given the previously underestimated accelerating risks for every degree of warming beyond that target.

It has also suggested that the amount of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) that will be needed can be limited by significant and rapid cuts in emissions, but also reduced energy and land demand to a few hundred gigatonnes without relying on Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).

This means forests and land use can and must play a key role in efforts to achieve 1.5 degrees, but governments and industry too often overlook why improved forest protection, as well as forest restoration, are crucial alternative solutions to risky CDR technologies such as BECCS.

While greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and the destruction of forests and peatlands contribute heavily to climate change, the growth and restoration of forests can contribute significantly to reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Recent research suggests that forest protection and restoration, together with other “natural climate solutions”, can provide over one-third of the climate mitigation needed between now and 2030.

The IPCC has estimated that between 100 and 1,000 gigatonnes of CO2 will need to be removed from the atmosphere to meet the Paris goals. It has been broadly agreed that the most important natural “carbon sinks” are the world’s forests. To limit climate change, we must urgently adopt an holistic approach to forest and peatland protection.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tree Teachings: How Forests and Wildfires Are Critically Linked

Tree Teachings: How Forests and Wildfires Are Critically Linked

First in a series about the work of famed botanist .

I have called up Diana Beresford-Kroeger, the famed Irish botanist and bestselling author, to ask about the megafires that carpeted much of North America in dense smoke last summer.

In British Columbia alone, wildfires released between 150 and 200 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2017. That’s more than twice the volume created by human activities in the province.

Beresford-Kroeger, who calls herself a renegade scientist, has been studying forests all her life and is one of the world’s leading experts on the many medicinal properties of trees.

Coming from a strong Celtic tradition, the 74-year-old plain speaker delivers a good dose of traditional knowledge with her science, combining data with old-fashioned wisdom.

The global forest, which keeps the atmosphere rich in oxygen and low in carbon dioxide, “forecasts our future in every breath it takes and every seed it releases into the leaf mold of the forest floor,” she has written.

On the day when I reach her to discuss the megafires that consumed parts of California, Chile, Sweden and B.C. last summer, she says she has both good and terrifying news.

But first Beresford-Kroeger tells me she has just walked into her house just south of Ottawa from her research garden, where native and endangered trees thrive, and is covered in mud.

“You should know,” she begins with a laugh, “that you are talking to a dirty woman.”

And then she plunges into the subject of wildfires, which burned almost 3.4 million hectares of forest last year across Canada — a nearly threefold increase over 2016.

Fires foretold

The first point Beresford-Kroeger wants to make is that the fires consuming places like California and B.C.’s Interior were foretold by Indigenous people thousands of years ago.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Turning Trees Into Enemies. The New War on Forests

Turning Trees Into Enemies. The New War on Forests

The San Marco Square in Florence in 2017. You can see the ancient trees of the square being cut as part of a plan that involved the removal of several hundred trees in the whole city. The action was accompanied by a propaganda campaign against trees that looked curiously similar to that used to justify the invasion of Iraq, in 2003. “Trees are a threat to citizens,”, “There is no alternative,” “Killer Trees,” and the like.

The war on trees seems to be starting. I don’t know about what’s happening where you live, but here, in Italy, we see it clearly, accompanied by all the propaganda tricks normally used to start wars. So, we have seen a string of accusations in the media against “killer trees,” supposed to be a danger for the citizens because they can fall on them or on their beloved shiny cars. The image on the right, here shows the first page of an Italian newspaper in 2014 informing us there are “50,000 killer trees” in Rome. Truly an invading army to be fought with the appropriate weaponry in the form of chainsaws.

One century ago, city administrations were proud of planting trees, today they are proud of cutting them. What happened that changed their attitude so much is hard to say. Maybe it is the general degradation of the ecosystem that has turned trees into monsters, but that doesn’t explain how administrations are starting also a war on forests – surely not threatening citizens or their cars. In a previous post, I commented on a recent piece of legislation in Italy that forces land owners to cut their woods even if they don’t want to. From the comments I received to that post and from what I can read on the Web, I think I can say that the war on trees is not just an Italian phenomenon, it is worldwide.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The road to the Seneca Cliff is paved with evil intentions. How to destroy the world’s forests

The road to the Seneca Cliff is paved with evil intentions. How to destroy the world’s forests

The oldest stories of human lore have to do with cutting trees and with the disasters that followed as a consequence. Above, Legendary Sumerian heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the guardian of the trees, Huwawa (image source). Several thousand years afterward, we don’t seem to have learned much about how to manage our natural resources.

I expected this to happen, perhaps not so soon and not in this form, but it had to come. With the era of cheap fossil fuels coming to a close, what’s left as low-cost fuel is wood and that had to be the target of the next wave of exploitation. Naively, I was thinking that the rush to wood would have taken the form of desperate people moving to the woods with hand-held axes, but no, in Italy it is coming in a much more destructive way. It is a government decree approved on Dec 1st, 2017 which allows local administrations to cut woods, even against the will of the owners of the land. It is the start of a new wave of deforestation in Italy, probably an example that the rest of the world may follow in the near future.

It is a long story that goes back to the roots of Italian history. Already in Roman times, deforestation was a major problem, believed to have generated the marshes still present in Italy in modern times. During the Middle Ages, woods returned and were cut again in several cycles, the last one coming with the political unification of Italy, in 1861. At that time, the Piedmontese government treated the newly acquired lands as spoils of war, razing down ancient forests without any regrets. The story is reported in a novelized form by the British writer Ouida, in “A village commune.” (1881).
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Foresters vs. Ecologists

Foresters vs. Ecologists

Photo by Andrew Malone | CC BY 2.0

There is a huge difference between the Industrial Forestry worldview and an ecological perspective. Many people assume that foresters understand forest ecosystems, but what you learn in forestry school is how to produce wood fiber to sell to the wood products industry. I know because I attended a forestry school as an undergraduate in college.

Assuming that foresters understand forest ecosystems is like assuming that a realtor who sells houses understands how to construct a building because they peddle homes.

Foresters usually view ecological disturbance from insects, drought, wildfire, and disease as undesirable and indications of “unhealthy” forests. That is why they work to sanitize forests by removing dead and dying trees and attempt to limit with thinning influences like bark beetles or wildfire.

An ecologist sees these disturbance processes not as a threat to forests, but the critical factors that maintain healthy forest ecosystems. Indeed, one could argue that natural mortality processes like drought, bark beetles or wildfire are “keystone” processes that sustain the forest ecosystem.

Where foresters seek to prevent large wildfires through logging/thinning or what can be described as chainsaw medicine, ecologists see large high severity fires as essential to functioning ecosystems.

Where foresters remove shrubs by mastication (chopping them up) to reduce what they call “fuel”, an ecologist sees wildlife habitat. Indeed, one recent study found mastication reduced bird occurrence by half.

Where foresters seek to reduce tree density to speed growth, an ecologist seeks to maintain density to slow growth because slow-growing trees have denser wood that is slower to rot, hence last longer in the ecosystem.

Where foresters justify thinning to preclude wildfires, an ecologist notes that the probability of a fire encountering a thinned stand is extremely low.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Up in Smoke

Trees are dying at unprecedented rates. Can we rethink conservation before it’s too late?

Each year, the Earth’s trees suck more than a hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s an impossibly huge number to consider, about 60 times the weight of all the humans currently on the planet.

Our forests perform a cornucopia of services: Serving as a stabilizing force for nearly all of terrestrial life, they foster biodiversity and even make us happier. But as climate change accelerates, drawing that carbon out of the air has become trees’ most critical role.

Absorbing CO2 is key to avoiding the worst effects of climate change when each year matters so much. Carbon “sinks,” like the wood of trees and organic matter buried in dirt, prevent the gas from returning to the atmosphere for dozens or even hundreds of years. Right now, about a third of all human carbon emissions are absorbed by trees and other land plants — the rest remains in the atmosphere or gets buried at sea. That share will need to rise toward and beyond 100 percent in order to counter all of humanity’s emissions past and present.

For trees to pull this off, though, they have to be alive, thriving, and spreading. And at the moment, the world’s forests are trending in the opposite direction.

New evidence shows that the climate is shifting so quickly, it’s putting many of the world’s trees in jeopardy. Rising temperatures and increasingly unusual rainfall patterns inflict more frequent drought, pest outbreaks, and fires. Trees are dying at the fastest rate ever seen, on the backs of extreme events like the 2015 El Niño, which sparked massive forest fires across the tropics. In 2016, the world lost a New Zealand-sized amount of trees, the most in recorded history.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Logging Can’t Restore Burnt Forests

Logging Can’t Restore Burnt Forests

Photo by USDA Forest Service Alaska | CC BY 2.0

Every time I drive up to Mount Bachelor in Central Oregon I pass the Deschutes National Forest’s logging and mastication projects. The Forest Service and the Deschutes Collaborative suggest they are “thinning” the forest to preclude large wildfires and to “restore it.” (The collaborative is a working group of various stakeholders who advise the Forest Service about management issues.)

Neither of these assertions is accurate. What they are creating is tree plantations of largely even-aged trees — all done in the name of “fixing” the forest.

The first myth they are selling to the public is that logging can preclude large wildfires. There is a host of research — much by Forest Service’s own fire researchers as well as other ecologists — that concludes that under “extreme fire weather” nothing stops a wildfire.

When you have high temps, low humidity, drought and high winds, wildfires are unstoppable. It does not matter how much “thinning” or other fuel treatment you have done; wildfires will charge through, over and around any “fire break.”

When it appears that a fire break has stopped a blaze, check again. Almost always, the weather has changed. It is weather change, not firefighting, that allows humans to stop large wildfires.

I just visited the Thomas Fire in Southern California, the largest blaze in recent California history. Despite thousands of firefighters, and numerous fire breaks along the pathway of the fire, including 12-lane freeways, the only fire break that halted the Thomas Fire was the Pacific Ocean!

The only way to protect Bend and other communities is through mandatory firewise regulations that include nonflammable roofs, removal of flammable materials from near homes, and planning for rapid evacuation in the event of a wind-driven blaze.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Making Local Woods Work

The Forestry Commission estimates that 47% of England’s woodlands are unmanaged. If you like to think of woods as wild places and flinch at the idea of a tree being felled, then you might consider this a good thing. But woodlands, at least in this country, need management.

Whilst truly wild woodlands are ‘climax vegetation’ that has achieved a balance between death and renewal, these generally need to be at a scale much bigger than any of our remaining woodlands to thrive independently of humans.

Here in Britain, “the wildwood” has a central place in our culture and imaginations, but the reality is that active management has shaped our woodlands since the ice age, providing supplies of food, fuel and timber, and creating diverse habitats amongst the trees. Unmanaged woodland lacks diversity and can result in poor tree health and increase the spread of tree diseases.

Whilst most of that unmanaged woodland is in private ownership, the future management of our public forest estate also remains uncertain. Attempts in 2010 to sell off the national forest estate were abandoned in the face of a public outcry, but austerity has resulted in many local authority woodland teams being disbanded and the future for the management of the national public forest estate – at least in England – remains unclear.

It is in that gap between the market and the state that we find the commons and, increasingly, a diverse range of community businesses, co-operatives and other forms of social enterprise creating value and livelihoods from its management. So does social and community business have a role in reinvigorating our woods and forests and rebuilding our woodland culture?

In 2012, in the aftermath of the failed forestry sell off and in the wake of the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report, a number of organisations came together to discuss alternative approaches to the management of our woods and forests.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?

What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?

Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice. Ultimately, our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.

For a moment, the most important news in the entire world flashed across the media like a shooting star in the night sky. Then it was gone. Last month, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.”

This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world’s leaders ignored what they were told twenty-five years earlier. Whether it’s CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species, or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday. The chart for marine catch shows something even scarier: in 1996, the catch peaked at 130 million tonnes and in spite of massively increased industrial fishing, it’s been declining ever since—a harbinger of the kind of overshoot that unsustainable exploitation threatens across the board.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Hornshurst Forest Garden – growing food in a forest clearing

As many of you know, permaculture will often have you disappear down a rabbit hole, if not an entire warren. Or, in permaculture-speak, will take you off the well-beaten track to explore those infamous edges.
The Hornshurst Forest Garden is one such edge. It is an acre site, deer and rabbit fenced, within a much larger 160 acre wood. I have been designing it for the wood owner, Doro Marden, for about 3 years.

We are lucky to have relaxed time frames, allowing us to take a very slow and low-risk approach, doing things incrementally and also letting the design emerge over time – especially the people aspects. It is on a north west facing slope and is literally a clearing in the forest.

Trying to grow fruit trees on a newly cut pine plantation (a.k.a – an ecological desert) was never going to be easy and we certainly have had challenges to overcome. I now have some things to report that I hope will be of interest and help you.

Managing the Acidity

With an initial soil acidity of pH 4.1 in our clearing, I can now report localised changes – in some areas we have readings of neutral (pH 7).

How did we get there?

A number of elements have been working towards the function of neutralising the acidity.

  1. What I call my ‘mulch-making’ machines. Several young deciduous trees that had been growing amongst the tall pines were purposefully left. Sweet chestnuts, birch, rowan and oak have been shedding their leaves for three seasons. (Literally feeding the soil some salad leaves for its acid indigestion).
  2. Localised sprinklings of lime – in the major growing sites, about twice a year.
  3. Some localised addition of well rotted cow manure.

    …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tree Crops

Chestnut bud in spring day

TREE CROPS

For thousands of years, farmers have generally differentiated forestry and agriculture. Forests were either left alone or planted and maintained as a source of fuel and building material. In the best of cases, certain trees also offered forage for livestock and other farm animals. The farm fields were generally kept clear of any trees because farming was relegated to nothing more than the planting and harvesting of annual (mostly grain) crops.

The only trees acceptable to farming were fruit bearing trees, and these were usually planted on areas of the farm where the terrain was too steep or otherwise unfit for the tillage needed for annual grain crops. With the ever more obvious problems related to the annual tillage of the soil and annual agriculture in general, many people have begun to consider the possibility of growing trees as crops.

THE BEGINNINGS OF FOREST AGRICULTURE

The idea of growing trees as crops is not a new one. Indigenous cultures around the world have been growing and managing diversified, edible forest ecosystems (food forests, in permaculture jargon) for thousands of years. From the multi-story tropical food forests of Mesoamerica to growing evidence that large swaths of the Amazon Jungle were actually human-controlled environments, indigenous peoples around the world have long understood the benefits of tree crops and perennial agriculture systems.

From the western perspective, however, it was J. Russell Smith in the 1920´s who first began considering the idea of trees as crops. Smith´s seminal work was published under the title of “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture” in 1929. In this book, he looked at several farming cultures around the world that, instead of relying on the annual tillage of the soil for grain crops, actually depended on carefully managed forest ecosystems that provided an abundance of edible foodstuffs.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Forest Loss Is Leading To a Rise in Human Disease

How Forest Loss Is Leading To a Rise in Human Disease

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the felling of tropical forests creates optimal conditions for the spread of mosquito-borne scourges, including malaria and dengue. Primates and other animals are also spreading disease from cleared forests to people.


In Borneo, an island shared by Indonesia and Malaysia, some of the world’s oldest tropical forests are being cut down and replaced with oil palm plantations at a breakneck pace. Wiping forests high in biodiversity off the land for monoculture plantations causes numerous environmental problems, from the destruction of wildlife habitat to the rapid release of stored carbon, which contributes to global warming.

But deforestation is having another worrisome effect: an increase in the spread of life-threatening diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. For a host of ecological reasons, the loss of forest can act as an incubator for insect-borne and other infectious diseases that afflict humans. The most recent example came to light this month in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases, with researchers documenting a steep rise in human malaria cases in a region of Malaysian Borneo undergoing rapid deforestation.

CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images
An area of forest in Indonesia that was cleared to make way for an oil palm plantation.

This form of the disease was once found mainly in primates called macaques, and scientists from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene wondered why there was a sudden spike in human cases. Studying satellite maps of where forest was being cut down and where it was left standing, the researchers compared the patchwork to the locations of recent malaria outbreaks. They realized the primates were concentrating in the remaining fragments of forest habitat, possibly increasing disease transmission among their own populations.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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