Pines, spruces and firs are all suffering attacks from different beetles, and aspens are dying, too, prompting officials and environmentalists to rethink management of what rises among the dead trees. Photo: White River National Forest
This piece in New West on the White River and bug kill, plus a couple of days Martin and I spend in a discussion on landscape scale restoration and collaborative groups, made me think about what Jan Burke and Sloan Shoemaker were quoted as saying in this article:
But it’s not just pine beetles. A spruce beetle epidemic is on the rise. The Douglas fir beetle is taking a toll. So is a phenomenon called sudden aspen die-off.
“I think we are in for a period where we’re going to see some pretty dramatic changes happening,” Shoemaker said, “but that doesn’t mean there’s a crisis or it’s unhealthy or there’s something wrong.”
Over time, forests change slowly, he said, but when they change, they change dramatically. That’s what’s happening now, he said, and we just happen to be around to see it.
“It’s kind of a privilege to be observing a natural laboratory that otherwise we don’t have an opportunity to observe,” Shoemaker said.
The forest may come back differently than before. If it’s warmer, that may mean more deciduous trees, like aspen or Gambel oak, Burke said.
She said she would like to see the Forest Service play a role in encouraging more of a mixture on the forest.
“I’m not saying we’ll get out there and do gardening on 2.2 million acres, but you don’t stand down and do nothing,” Burke said. “By the same token, you don’t stand up and say you’re going to do something everywhere. But somewhere in the middle, there’s a stewardship role.”
Shoemaker is skeptical.
“I think we just need to step back and see how things are going to change and respond,” he said, “but we have a hard time doing that.”
That’s a great conversation to have, but I have a couple of questions..
–Things are changing faster than forest plans could keep up with, so are forest plans passe in this time of rapid change? (formal mechanism for planning)
— When a new climate induced problem shows up, how do we know the right scale to address it? (scale for planning)
— If you had landscape scale collaborative groups, would rapid or slow changes due to climate change just be one more thing to consider in their landscape planning?
And I have to say it is easy for me to agree with both Jan and Sloan on this. Yes, someone should be thinking about what actions we might take to deal with these changed conditions, but we should be very careful about what we actually invest in to deal with changes, and carefully consider the potential payoffs and alternative uses of the funding. The reason for my hinkiness is a great respect for the ability of Nature not to do as humans (however expensive and intricate the models) predict. I am all for investments that are good under current conditions as well as a variety of unknown future conditions. That’s why I am such a fan of TU’s approach “Protect, Reconnect and Restore.” Even if we simply saved some of the funding we put into hosting meetings, seminars, conferences and reading papers on “adapting to climate change” and built that funding into actually Protecting Reconnecting and Restoring, it’s possible that the environment would be better off in both the short and long runs. At least I think it’s worth consideration when we gauge the desirable degree of proactivity in dealing with climate change.