This is an interesting article in the Bozeman Chronicle about their forest plan.
Many points of interest here.. but I’ll call one out. There’s also an interesting discussion with Dr. Phil Higuera of U of Montana on fuel treatments.
Areas where ponderosa pine forests burned years ago east of Livingston are showing little to no signs of recovery.
That’s according to Cathy Whitlock, Regents Professor Emerita of Earth sciences at Montana State University and co-lead on the newly released Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment.
“There needs to be a seed-source for the forest to recover, and then those seeds need to become seedlings and develop into mature trees,” Whitlock said. “The concern is, at low elevations it’s just getting too dry for that to happen.”
Scientists predict that as drought and wildfire ramp up in the coming decades, forest ecosystems will change. In some parts of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, trees that die off may never grow back.
It’s interesting to me that when we were interested in reforesting dry ponderosa pine sites in the 80’s (that also had seed source, seed crop size, competition from other plants, munching by predators, mycorrhizae and all those associated variables)… we assumed we could overcome those things and worked on them by a considering it a technical challenge, messing with nursery practices, transportation practices, seedling storage, slurries, vexar and all that. As I’ve mentioned here before in Area 4 (then the Ochoco, Winema, Deschutes and Fremont) we hired a person just to work on that .. the Area Reforestation Specialist. On the west side, they had fewer challenges but even SW Oregon had a major investment in Fundamental Fir with OSU. I wonder how many academics and FS researchers specialize in reforestation nowadays?
Are we assuming that trees won’t live in the future because they’re not coming back naturally? Because in the past, we looked at “not coming back naturally” and said “guess we need to plant, they’re not coming back on their own”. The fact is that we don’t know how the climate of the future will affect the microclimates that trees experience, so my view would be “let’s not give up yet.” A few examples are that we know that aspect is important, as are soil type, competitors and so on. There’s a major scale differential between climate models and the environment relevant to a planting project or even a planting program. And local folks have knowledge of these local kinds of difference (where does the snow stay longest? what different soils are there?)
Now we have arrived in a puzzling philosophical eddy between “leave it alone because that’s natural” and “climate change isn’t natural so should we open up manipulation for various reasons?”
Certainly ESA, even without climate change, has led to an array of manipulations including captive breeding, reintroductions and so on. So perhaps the question isn’t “should we manipulate?” but “what’s a good enough reason?”. Which is definitely a values question, not a science question.
Do we want trees back? For wildlife, people, watersheds, carbon etc.
If so, what are we willing to do about it?
If we take the longer timescale view, the infrastructure that supported large and successful planting programs in the 80’s has gone away, and the people who were involved in these efforts are mostly long retired. And one of the Forest Service’s and partners’ current challenges is to crank back up to reforest after large fires. That time gap of infrastructure availability and knowledge transmission will also make new planting efforts almost starting from scratch again. My point being that I hope people don’t point to some lack of success and assume the reason is climate change. If we’d assumed that in the 80’s, there’d be a lot fewer ponderosa pine trees out there sucking up carbon. It was hard enough to reforest dry sites when we assumed we could, but hadn’t yet figured out how.