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How Low Flows Due to Irrigation are Destroying Oregon’s Deschutes River

How Low Flows Due to Irrigation are Destroying Oregon’s Deschutes River

The majority of water removed from the Deschutes is used to grow irrigated pasture and hay for livestock not crops consumed directly by humans.  Photo by George Wuerthner

The recent article “Low Flows On Deschutes” highlights why irrigation is a significant threat to our river’s ecological integrity.

According to the report, flows on a portion of the Deschutes dropped to 60 CFS leaving many parts of the river channel dry. To put this into perspective, historically, before irrigators took our water from us,  the river ran at 1000-1200 CFS year-round.  As a spring-fed river, the Deschutes supported outstanding fisheries.

Huge trout caught out of the Deschutes near the turn of the century before irrigation destroyed the river.

This tragedy continues because the public is not standing up for its rights. We, the people, own the water in the river, not the irrigators. We allow the irrigators to take water from the river without any compensation to the public, and regardless of the damage done to aquatic ecosystems. This system was devised by irrigators to serve irrigators a century ago.

Isn’t it time for us to enter the modern age? Using water in the desert to grow hay for livestock is just a crazy waste of a valuable resource. Keeping water in the river would provide for greater recreational use. And maintaining viable flows would protect aquatic life like spotted frogs, trout, and salmon, not to mention all the other water-dependent species like eagles, mink, otter, and the rest.

Despite the claims to “water rights” the actual water in all state rivers belongs to  Oregon citizens as affirmed by the Oregon Supreme Court.

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

Forest Restoration or Forest Degradation?

Forest Restoration or Forest Degradation?

These two images display a recent example of a forest “restoration” project designed to improve the “health” of a ponderosa pine forests. The area to the left of the path was recently (about a year ago) thinned and then burned. The area to the right of the trail shows what the “unhealthy” landscape was like before “restoration” occurred.

I would argue from a forest ecosystem health and biodiversity perspective, the managed landscape pictured here is degraded and less “healthy” than the right side of the pathway.

First, note that the forest left of the path is nearly uniform in species and tree size. You see little young age class trees. Other tree species that exist in the area and visible to the right side of the path like lodgepole pine and white fir are gone.

The “treated” side due to its more uniform species and age class is now much more vulnerable to future disease and insect outbreaks.

In addition to the loss of species diversity, there is almost no understory shrubs or other plant species on the left side (left) of the path. While the right side has a greater diversity of “habitat niches” that includes shrubs, flowers, grasses, and other plant species. All of this diversity supports a greater variety of insects, birds, small mammals, reptiles, and other wildlife.

There is a collective loss of dead wood, and even the potential for future snags and dead wood since the goal of these treatments is to preclude natural processes like bark beetles, wildfire and other natural disturbance processes from occurring.

The removal of trees by thinning has also reduced the carbon storage on the site, and as many papers extoll, this loss today is problematic and will take a long time to recover.[1]

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

The National Forests Should be Off Limits to Logging

The National Forests Should be Off Limits to Logging

Photograph Jeff Gunn | CC BY 2.0

Logging, conducted ostensibly to “thin the forest,” “reduce fuels” or for so-called “restoration,” causes a net loss of carbon from forest ecosystems.

One of the best strategies for reducing CO2 levels is by protecting our forests. Yet few environmental groups, even those who focus on climate change, advocate for the reduction of logging on federal lands.

Indeed, there are economic studies that demonstrate that protecting all our federal forests from logging/thinning and subsequent carbon sequestration that occurs is far more valuable than any wood produced.

Another study concludes that thinning forests costs more than the wildfire suppression costs that “may” be avoided. Not to mention, that most thinned forests will not encounter a fire during the period they might be effective.

Wildfires are not a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Even in the largest blazes, only a very small percentage of carbon stored in forest stands is released into the atmosphere by fire.

Even the remaining burnt trees hold more carbon than thinned/logged forests. In a forest fire, what burns are the fine fuels like needles, cones and small branches. The actual tree trunks seldom burn. So even in a high-severity blaze, the bulk of the carbon is left on site, stored in the snags and roots. These carbon storage units last for decades. During that same period, regrowth of vegetation packs even more carbon on to the site.

By contrast, logging forests remove the carbon that would otherwise remain stored on site. In addition, research shows that 45-60 percent of the carbon stored in trees that are logged is released as CO2 emissions during processing into wood products.

Policies that are advocated in the latest Farm Bill and elsewhere to speed taxpayer-subsidized logging/thinning on public lands ignores the significant value of these lands for carbon storage.

…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…

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…

Wilderness and Economics

Wilderness and Economics

glaciernps

“A national park will not save the area. Rather, the restrictions and red tape that come with federal control would inhibit growth. Survival requires economic development, but a national park will limit our options.”

— Kathy Gagnon editorial opposing a national park in Maine published in Bangor Daily News May 11, 2014 [i]

Wildland preservation is motivated by a variety of ethical, biological, cultural, and recreational concerns. Rarely are efforts to protect wildlands motivated by an interest in promoting economic growth. Those working on wildland preservation issues have been forced to take up with the issue of local economic impacts because those supporting commercial development of those wild natural landscapes emphatically assert that wildland preservation damages the local and national economies by restricting access to valuable natural resources and constraining commercial economic activity that otherwise would take place.

The above quote from a recent editorial in the Bangor Daily News represents a frequent response that people have to any proposal to designate lands as parks, wilderness or other wildlands reserve. Yet numerous economic studies suggest that protecting landscapes for their wildlands values at the very least has little negative impact on local/regional economies and in most instances is a positive net economic benefit.

Not only are there economic opportunities that come with protected lands, including the obvious tourism-related business enterprises, but land protection has other less direct economic benefits. Wilderness and park designation creates quality of life attributes that attracts residents whose incomes do not depend on local employment in activities extracting commercial materials from the natural landscape but choose to move to an area to enjoy its amenity values.

Wildlands designation can also reduce costs and expense for communities by providing ecosystem services that would otherwise entail costs to taxpayers.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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