Spring ends with wildfires making people homeless. After the fires are contained and controlled, does it really matter if ignitions were man-caused or the result of “nature”? Actually, there seems to be a “natural component” of human-caused wildfires. We should not be welcoming this “natural” and inescapable component.
This view from an abandoned fire lookout on the Toiyabe National Forest shows a decreased snowpack compared to a “normal” June. The Colorado fires were expected but, the “whatever happens” strategy has once again failed us humans. There are MANY things we could have done to reduce or eliminate this tragedy but, it seems that some people prefer shade over safety. The Forest Service seems willing to reduce detection services, to save a few pennies.
This view of the Black Forest area shows how very little fuels work was done prior to this year. News footage seems to show that homeowners preserved the trees all around them. The aerial view shows why people wanted to build their homes there. They love their shade! It IS unfortunate that so many people’s homes burned but, there is ignored reality working here.
Similarly, are we really prepared to accept whatever damage or loss to our forest ecosystems? We do know that there will be big wildfires this year, due to weather conditions. Are we willing to let “whatever happens” (including arson, stupidity, auto accidents and any other human ignitions) determine the state of our National Forests? Remember, there ARE people out there who will sue to stop fuels projects that sell merchantable trees.
I will be vacationing until June 24th. Others are welcome to post. Those who are interested in posting, please send to Larry Harrell at firstname.lastname@example.org, who has generously volunteered to keep watch for me.
I think this is interesting; nice work by Steve Wilent in the Forestry Source so here goes:Introduced Species Forestry Source June 2013. Below is an excerpt.
I recently talked with Schulz to learn more about the inventories as well as her and Gray’s findings and what they tell us about introduced plant species. What follows is a portion of that conversation.
Were you surprised that two-thirds of the plots had at least one introduced species?
Yes, at first it was a big surprise. And then when we started looking at what species were coming out as introduced. When you’re dealing with thousands of plots and tens of thousands of species, you
need to go to a database to sort things out and find which species are introduced and which are native. We used the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Plants Database to look for introduced species.
We had to narrow the field, because there are many species that are natural in some areas and introduced in others. We tried to be conservative in determining which were the introduced species.
And there are many species that people aren’t aware are introduced, such as the grass timothy, which is easily recognized, and other benign species like common plantain. They are indeed introduced
species, but not every introduced species turns out to be a nasty ecosystem transformer.
Many of the ones that do become transformers started off as introduced species, and sometimes they sit around in the environment for quite a while before something happens—some sort of disturbance—
that lets them start to gain ground and become more successful. It can be many years before they are recognized as being a species that may be of concern.
A couple of thoughts..I think she highlights that there are “bad” non-natives and “OK” non-natives. Non-natives are labelled “bad” for a reason. Which fits in with Lackey’s point in his paper here.
or example, in science, why is it that native species are almost always considered preferable to nonnative species? Nothing in science says one species is inherently better than another, that one species is inherently preferred, or that one species should be protected and another eradicated.
To illustrate, why do most people lament the sorry state of European honeybees in North America, a nonnative species that has outcompeted native bee species? Yes, our honeybees are nonnative, what many people would label as an invasive species, but people value their ecological role.
Conversely, zebra mussels, another common, but nonnative species are nearly universally regarded as a scourge. Where are the advocates of this species? Even with increased water clarity, no cheerleaders.
Or, what about North American feral horses — wild horses — mustangs! This is another nonnative species, but one that enjoys an exalted status by many. Would you want to be the land manager tasked with culling the ever-expanding population of this invasive, nonnative species?
Values drive these categorizations, not science.
But more pragmatically, there are many non-natives around. Any public money directed to their eradication (in my view) should be based on criteria including how “bad” they are specifically, to what; and (not inconsequentially) the likelihood of some kind of specific success.
Public release date: 11-Jun-2013
Contact: John Cramer
Wood not so green a biofuel: New Dartmouth-led study finds logging may have greater impact on carbon emissions than previously thought
Using wood for energy is considered cleaner than fossil fuels, but a Dartmouth College-led study finds that logging may release large amounts of carbon stored in deep forest soils. The results appear in the journal Global Change Biology-Bioenergy.
Global atmospheric studies often don’t consider carbon in deep (or mineral) soil because it is thought to be stable and unaffected by timber harvesting. But the Dartmouth findings show deep soil can play an important role in carbon emissions in clear-cutting and other intensive forest management practices. The findings suggest that calls for an increased reliance on forest biomass be re-evaluated and that forest carbon analyses are incomplete unless they include deep soil, which stores more than 50 percent of the carbon in forest soils.
“Our paper suggests the carbon in the mineral soil may change more rapidly, and result in increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, as a result of disturbances such as logging,” said Dartmouth Professor Andrew Friedland, a co-author. “Our paper suggests that increased reliance on wood may have the unintended effect of increasing the transfer of carbon from the mineral soil to the atmosphere. So the intended goal of reducing carbon in the atmosphere may not be met.”
The federal government is looking to wood, wind, solar, hydropower and other renewable energy sources to address concerns about climate change and energy security. Woody biomass, which includes trees grown on plantations, managed natural forests and logging waste, makes up about 75 percent of global biofuel production. Mineral soil carbon responses can vary highly depending on harvesting intensity, surface disturbance and soil type.
“Analysis of forest carbon cycles is central to understanding and mitigating climate change, and understanding forest carbon cycles requires an in-depth analysis of the storage in and fluxes among different forest carbon pools, which include aboveground live and dead biomass, as well as the belowground organic soil horizon, mineral soil horizon and roots,” Friedland said.
Co-authors included Dartmouth’s Thomas Buchholz, a former post-doctoral student, and Claire Hornig, a recent undergraduate student, and researchers from the University of Vermont, Lund University in Sweden and the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation. The research was supported by awards to Friedland from the Northeastern States Research Cooperative and the Porter Fund.
Friedland’s research focuses on understanding the effects of atmospheric deposition of pollutants and biomass harvesting on elemental cycling processes in high-elevation forests in the Northeastern United States. He considers many elements including carbon, trace elements such as lead and major elements such as nitrogen and calcium. He also is examining issues related to personal choices, energy use and environmental impact.
We have posted other work by Bob Lackey here before (you can search in the box to the right).
Scientific Assertions and Ecological Policy – Keynote – Lackey is a keynote address presented at the 58th Annual Meeting of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Montreal, Canada, May 29, 2013.
It’s all worth reading, as Bob’s work usually is. Still, I felt the need to extract something to pique your interest, and given the planning directives and rule discussion about plans needing to promote “ecosystem integrity”, I thought that this second assertion is relevant. Here’s one of a series of posts on the concept of “ecosystem integrity” and how it is used in the new planning rule and directives. (Recursive question: if you don’t use the “best science” in developing a rule about how to develop plans, then can you require it in the plans themselves? How can you do the “best science” based on a “not best science” concept? Perhaps a judge will illuminate this apparent contradiction when the time comes…
What happens is that if you think that this is a fact (“natural” is best), then you just need scientists to tell you how not to change them from what they used to be. You also need armies of scientists to study exactly how things “used to be” because even though the climate was different then, and Native Americans were impacting the landscape, somehow that will tell us .. something.. about what we “should” (normative) do in the future.
If it’s simply a values choice, then scientists can be helpful about figuring out how to get there, or reducing negative impacts, but they are not in the driver’s seat. Since I was trained by the “helpful to society” school of science and not the “we know more than the rest of people, so we should tell them what to do” school of science (this came later), it’s not a big loss to me. Because people might even listen to scientists more if they trusted us not to be following their own agendas. IMHO.
Second Scientific Assertion
Now let’s move to a second scientific assertion that needs to be hauled to the nearest landfill, and the sooner, the better:
“Natural ecosystems are superior to human altered ones.”
Who says that natural ecosystems are superior to human altered ones?
This assumption is so pervasive, so commonplace, that some scientists just take it as a self-evident fact.
Perhaps even some in this room.
Let me illustrate how this assertion actually plays out in the scientific enterprise.
From the perspective of a scientist, think about the question of whether or not to dam a river to produce electricity. There is absolutely nothing in science that implies that an undammed river is more, or less, valuable than that same river dammed to generate electricity.
Free flowing rivers, and dammed rivers, are different ecologically, most definitely different, but neither is better or worse until a policy preference is endorsed, until a value judgment is applied.
Applying value judgments, choosing between competing policy preferences, is beyond the scope of science.
But is it common for science to be biased toward the unaltered state of ecosystems, toward natural? Most scientists will answer unflinchingly “no way” — or perhaps “well, at least not my science.”
Let me counter with some data.
For many years, I have surveyed students who take my graduate level policy class. They complete a survey on the first day of the term, a survey to determine inherent policy bias. The result?
There is absolutely no question that, among these students at least, all with bachelor’s degrees and many with master’s degrees in some field of science, there is a strong feeling that natural ecosystems are inherently superior, just somehow better than human altered ones.
Further, most of these students describe unaltered ecosystems as “healthy” and highly altered ecosystems as “degraded.” The implied conclusion: a “healthy” ecosystem is clearly in better shape than a “degraded” one. And further, human alteration is a bad thing, perhaps necessary for providing food or shelter, but still not really a good thing.
Therefore, my conclusion, the term ecosystem “health” presupposes that natural is preferred to human altered. But, and we scientists need to remember this, whether society wants a fish community dominated by Chinook salmon and alewives, or one dominated by lake trout and ciscoes is a policy choice, informed by science, yes, but a policy choice nevertheless.”
Here’s a link and below is an excerpt.
On Monday, the court agreed to referee the dispute pitting environmentalists with the Portland, Ore.-based Pacific Rivers Council against the U.S. Forest Service over decision-making that dates back to the second Bush administration. While the specific case involves 11 Sierra Nevada forests, the eventual outcome could shape everything from who gets to file lawsuits to the scope of future environmental studies.
“Definitely, throughout the West, this could have huge impacts on the moving of projects forward,” Dustin Van Liew, executive director of the conservative Public Lands Council in Washington, D.C., said in an interview Monday.
One key question confronting the court will be whether environmentalists have the “standing” to sue against a general forest plan, as opposed to a specific project proposal, by virtue of their making recreational use of the national forests. To gain standing in federal court, individuals must show they’ve been injured or face imminent injury.
A second major question is how extensively detailed the Forest Service must be when preparing overarching management plans, such as the one governing the 11 Sierra Nevada forests.
“The only role for a court is to insure that the agency has taken a ‘hard look’ at the environmental consequences of its proposed action,” Pacific Rivers Council’s attorneys said in a legal brief, adding that “agencies cannot take a ‘hard look’ unless they have reasonably identified the consequences of their actions.”
Underscoring the case’s potential significance, the Public Lands Council and the affiliated National Cattlemen’s Beef Association secured Supreme Court permission Monday to file a brief opposing the environmental group. Many more briefs, from both sides, are sure to come.
The court’s decision to hear the Sierra Nevada case, sometime during the 2013 term that starts in October, means that at least four of the court’s nine justices agreed to reconsider a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision from last year in which environmentalists prevailed.
In that 2-1 appellate court decision, the 9th Circuit panel concluded the Forest Service in 2004 failed to adequately study the effect of dramatically revised forest plans on Sierra Nevada fish populations.
“The Forest Service provided no analysis despite the fact that the 2004 (plan) allows much more logging, burning, road construction and grazing,” Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the appellate panel.
Has anyone actually looked at what they did write about fish? Seems like if they wrote “enough” about everything else in the document they would have also written about fish “enough”.
Funny that Judge Fletcher says that the 2004 plan “allows” more burning, as if that was a bad thing.. prescribed as opposed to wildfires?
Of course, I am not a believer in hypothesized future effects of unknown projects in unknown numbers, of unknown kinds with unknown mitigation requirements in unknown locations…
“My first Sierra Nevada backpacking trip was to the Mineral King area in 2000, during which time I also fished,” Pacific Rivers Council Chairman Bob Anderson, a South Lake Tahoe resident, said in a court declaration used to establish injury and standing. “I plan to continue these activities as long as the management of Sierra Nevada national forests does not prevent me from doing so.”
Of course, forest plans require actual projects to be “management” that could have environmental impacts of the kind Mr. Anderson is concerned about.
This follows a bit of the ocean liner vs. flotillas of dinghies discussions about NEPA documents. As NEPA documents grow in size and area covered, they are increasingly functions of assumptions made about what might happen, and move further from physical reality (“might-could” NEPA). That makes them both easier, and more important, targets for litigation. The idea of humungo-NEPA makes the ultimate disposition dependent on the vagaries of random sets of judges determining what is “enough,” and or small sets of people at DOJ and for groups working to settle. The nexus of decision making moves further from the area impacted, and from those familiar with the actual land and people most impacted by the decisions. I don’t think that that’s a good thing.
Don’t know if this is broader than Colorado, from the Denver Post this morning. Here’s the link, below is an excerpt.
Last summer, insurers in Colorado paid out an estimated $449.7 million in wildfire claims. This year, many are saying they no longer want to take on the risk, even for loyal policyholders like the Littles, who have worked extensively to create a “defensible space” cleared of flammable vegetation that buffers their home from the surrounding forest.
Although the insurance companies in Colorado paid out $1.37 for every $1 in premiums collected in 2009 (the most recent year for which figures are available), it’s not as though they are not still wildly profitable. The net income of U.S. property-insurance companies grew to $33.5 billion in 2012, up from $19.5 billion in 2011, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
Interestingly, wildfire insurance claims amount only to about 2 percent of all property-insurance payouts nationally. Hurricanes and tropical storms chew up 44 percent, followed by tornadoes at 30 percent.
But recognizing a sharp rise in large-scale weather-related disasters — if you doubt the effects of climate change, just look to the insurance companies’ actuarial tables for proof — the nation’s second-largest insurer, Allstate, last year moved to get out of catastrophe insurance altogether.
Because of a series of bad wildfire seasons, on top of the costly hailstorms that routinely tear up roofs in these parts, Colorado has joined the nation’s top 10 states in terms of disasters, according to Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
That means premiums have risen sharply in many cases, policies have been dropped outright in others, and some areas are considered so risky that insurance companies have placed moratoriums on new policies.
(Local governments only now are beginning to take note when crafting zoning rules for new residential development along the forest boundaries and considering restrictions or requiring defensible space. One positive out of the insurance companies’ skittishness is that they increasingly are requiring property owners to clear out defensible space and use fire-resistant construction.)
Some disaster-stricken states — including California, Texas and Florida — have seen the availability of affordable property insurance dry up so much so that they’ve resorted to government-backed plans.
Colorado hasn’t reached that point, yet, but it’s obvious that insurance companies want only to maximize profits rather than provide, you know, policies that would actually insure property owners in the case of catastrophic loss.
Amy Bach, executive director of the non-profit United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group, said it’s not unusual for insurance companies to overreact to catastrophes by sharply increasing premiums or axing coverage, but options remain in the insurance marketplace.
“People wonder: ‘How is this fair? I paid money to this insurance company for so many years, and I finally need it, and now that I need it, they’re dropping me,’ ” she said. “There’s just no law that forces insurance companies to take on customers they don’t want. My message is don’t be loyal to the insurance company, because they’re not going to be loyal to you if it’s not in their economic interest to do so.”
Calls to several of the largest insurance companies about their approach to wildfire coverage went unanswered.
The Littles ultimately were able to acquire a policy from a different company for only a couple hundred dollars more annually, one that actually sends out private firefighters to douse their home in a fire-resistant gel in the face of an encroaching wildfire.
Note: in case you haven’t been following the relationship of climate change and insurance companies, check out this post on Roger Pielke, Jr.’s blog or just search for Munich Re. There’s considerably more to this than meets the eye.