Hundreds of Giant Sequoias Considered Dead From Wildfires

It appears that rumors of ‘natural and beneficial’ wildfires in the southern Sierra Nevada have been ‘greatly exaggerated’. Even the Alder Creek grove, which was recently bought by Save the Redwoods, was decimated. Of course, this eventuality has been long-predicted.

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2020-11-16/sierra-nevada-giant-sequoias-killed-castle-fire

Why Pinyons and Junipers Are Where They Are or Were Where They Were: Many Possibilities

This study says that PJ coming into sagebrush is not good for sage grouse. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550742416300811

Last week I ran across two studies (a paper and a presentation) that both illustrate what I think it an important point. When we look at what happened in the past (usually from photos, or history books, or what’s there today) and see changes, we don’t know for sure if that is due to (1) previous people doing things (Natives and settlers), or (2) what happened when previous people stopped doing things, (3) vagaries of weather/climate or (4) other causes.

Last week I attended a Colorado State University featuring Dr. Marina Redmond, talking about pinyon-juniper woodlands and their expansion and contraction. The first point that she made is that there is an enormous range, and each situation/place is different. In some areas, PJ is expanding, and in other areas contracting, due to drought-induced mortality. According to this paper the mortality in pinyon is due to Ips species, and in juniper due to “plain old” drought stress.

If you just look at PJ expansion, you might think it’s due to fire suppression, which has changed over time. But it might also be caused by wetter conditions that were good for tree seedling establishment. Or it might even be that there was overgrazing in the past, which established conditions (little grass cover) in which PJs got a chance to take hold. It could even be a combination of several of these factors. Or in more generic terms, climate change (that is change mostly before what we call anthropogenic cc based on GHGS), post-disturbance recovery (I guess these would be “natural” disturbances, but perhaps these may not be obvious 100 years later), and changes due to human interventions (say, removing bison, adding cattle) and recovery from human interventions. Humans have a long history in the Southwest. Then, when you get into interactions among these, it seems like it would be hard to know for sure, and perhaps even harder to find (1) an ideal target NRV that people agree on (2) the FS can afford to intervene to produce and that (3) will be resilient to climate change.

It seems to me that keeping endangered species around (as in the study shown in the image above), producing useful things for wildlife and people (and cows) like forage and pinyon nuts, and at least thinking about resilience to climate change are challenging (and expensive) enough for land managers without introducing ideas like NRV or HRV. Perhaps the above observations in PJ are an example of what Millar and Woolfenden point out as “conceptual and practical” problems with ideas such as NRV.

While there are many important lessons to learn from the past, we believe that we cannot rely on past forest conditions to provide us with blueprints for current and future management (Millar et al 2007). In particular, the nature and scale of past variability in climate and forest conditions, coupled with our imprecise ability to fully reconstruct those conditions, introduce a number of conceptual and practical problems (Millar and Woolfenden 1999a). Detailed reconstructions of historical forest conditions, often dendroecologically based,
are very useful but represent a relatively narrow window of time and tend to coincide with tree recruitment in the generally cooler period referred to as the little ice age (figure 1). As such, manipulation of current forests to resemble past conditions may not produce the desired result when considering future climates.

This quote is from this paper by Stephens, Millar and Collins (2010). I’d only add to that list “the nature and scale of past variability in human actions and our imprecise ability to fully construct” them.

“Intact” Ecosystems: What Does That Mean?

Vehicles waiting to enter the North Entrance of Yellowstone;
Jim Peaco;
July 28, 2015;
Catalog #20471d;
Original #IMG_9185

I wanted to highlight some interesting information from Lance, which was embedded way down in a different thread here. I’d like to start by reiterating one of my favorite Andrew Greeley quotes
in which Bishop Blackie Ryan says about individualism:
“Actually, individualism doesn’t exist”..””the word is a label, an artifact under which one may subsume a number of often contrasting and sometimes contradictory developments and ideas. Such constructs ought not be reified as if there is some overpowering reality in the outside world that corresponds to them.” From The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Garmain. Today we might also ask of popular abstractions “who or what communities initiated these abstraction?” “why” and what other people or communities might win or lose from such framing?”

We old people remember forest management before the idea of sustainability took hold, and then the idea of ecosystem management,then ecosystem health, restoration, and ecosystem integrity. Basically, you could have the same thinning project and discuss whether it was sustainable, whether it fits in to ecosystem management, whether it contributes to ecosystem health, or ecosystem integrity, or restoration. But if you were watching, often the same folks were on the same side of arguing that the project is, or is not, sustainable, etc. all the way to integrity. I call this the “abstraction of the decade.” It’s great for producing new conferences and scientific papers with basically the same on-the ground information with a few new ideas thrown in. basically the same old disagreements (bad vs. good) under the mantle of a new abstraction. Again, as an old person, I’m not sure we’re moving the ball forward, however we might mutually envision what that would look like, by changing labels. Nevertheless it appears that a new abstraction has entered our abstraction corral.. the “intact” ecosystem.

Given that, let’s go on to what Lance observed in his comment here:

When the Greater Yellowstone Coalition talks about ecosystem integrity they state as their vision, “Our vision is a healthy and intact Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where critical lands and waters are adequately protected, wildlife is managed in a thoughtful, sustainable manner and a strong, diverse base of support is working to conserve this special place as part of a larger, connected Northern Rocky Mountain Region.”

When the Trust for Public Land talks about an intact ecosystem they highlight the area having all the species that were present during the Lewis and Clark expedition.

In my quick review a few key themes came out: viable populations of historic flora and fauna, clean water, and connectivity to other regions. Less explicit were a relative lack of a human presence and natural process progressing unimpeded by human intervention (dare we say untrammeled.) I don’t have an issue with a definition based on these key points. I would disagree with a definition based on , “ those hunks of landscape we all know of that deserve more protection than they’re getting…” since it is presumptuous of me assume that my preferences are universal. We are lucky in Montana to have ecosystems so intact. Much like the Eastern Wilderness Act allowed more trammeled land to become wilderness along the east coast than we we consider pristine in the west, a certain amount of flexibility would need to be applied to implement in other states.

Now the Bitterroot Front abuts the Selway-Bitterroot and is part of the Central Idaho ecosystem and at this time is one large furry omnivore away from having it’s full complement of animals. So one issue of the Bitterroot Front Proposal impact the future introduction of grizzlies naturally, as one did this summer, or by introduction. A related question would be impacts on connectivity to the Glacier region and the Yellowstone region. As an aside it is interesting the the core of both of these ecosystems are trammeled National Parks, indicating that wilderness designation is not an absolute requirement for a healthy ecosystem.

I am still puzzled by how you can have a heavily trammeled Park in the middle of an “intact” ecosystem. Is it really as simple as “grizzly bears and wolves are there?”. Or does it mean “impacted by recreation and tourism only”?

Forest planning for “sustainable” recreation

A former Forest Service backcountry specialist talks about ecological integrity and increasing human recreation activities, and tries to answer the question of “what is sustainable recreation?”  The 2012 Planning Rule requires plan components “to provide for: (i) Sustainable recreation; including recreation settings, opportunities, and access; and scenic character.”

What is “Sustainable Recreation”? The Forest Service defines it as “the set of recreation settings and opportunities in the National Forest System that is ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable for present and future generations.”

Here’s how it’s done:

The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum can be used in forest planning to define a desired condition for management within each zone. Indicators and standards are meant to define the tipping point beyond which management action must be taken.
 If the standard for a backcountry area (called “semi-primitive non-motorized” in ROS jargon) is that no more than six other parties are encountered on a typical day, when the encounter rate exceeds that number some action is supposed to take place to return to the desired condition.
It’s a neat framework, but doesn’t always play out as intended on the ground. ROS doesn’t differentiate between a semi-primitive area in the back yard of a town like Jackson or Bozeman and one that’s two hours away.
That seems like a major shortcoming, especially if all areas with a SPNM designation must have the same desired level of semi-primitive non-motorized use.  However, the Planning Handbook encourages “new approaches,” including creating “desired recreation opportunity spectrum subclasses” §(23.23a).
The usual sequence of remedial actions begins with non-intrusive measures like visitor education. If the problem isn’t solved, additional actions are considered.
The Bridger-Teton forest plan is typical in its prescribed sequence of actions, this excerpt taken from its direction on wilderness. The following recreational strategies should be used, listed in descending order of preference:
First Action – Efforts are directed towards information and education programs and correction of visible resource damage.
Second Action – If the first action is unsuccessful, restrict activities by regulation (for example, set a minimum distance between a lakeshore and where people can camp).
Third Action – If the first and second actions fail, restrict numbers of visitors.
Fourth Action – If first, second, and third actions are not successful, a zone can be closed to all recreation use until the area is rehabilitated and restored to natural conditions.
In my experience, outside of designated wilderness and other special areas where specific laws apply, the Forest Service keeps circling around the first action, which isn’t a bad strategy given the continuing need for it in communities where resident turnover is high.  It’s an ongoing need regardless of the often unmet requirement to step up restrictions. But restrictions trigger blowback, as when the Shasta-Trinity National Forest tried to set encounter limits for the wilderness that includes Mt. Shasta.
People basically said they don’t care if it’s crowded—they just want to reach the summit, and a judge agreed with them. On the other hand, those who float the Selway River are happy to wait until they get a launch day shared by no one else. Since everyone is going the same direction at about the same speed, everyone can experience a bit of peace and quiet. So the application of sustainable recreation standards depends on who is using the forest and what they will accept.
And those are the questions that forest planning should be designed to answer.  (Note:  the Bridger-Teton plan has not been revised, so may not be the current state-of-the-art.  Also, I couldn’t find the court case referred to.)  And this must be done against the backdrop of a requirement for ecological integrity.
User-built trails and roads are often the opposite of sustainable. They develop incrementally and aren’t designed with soil type, grades and curve radii in mind, or the needs of resident wildlife. The trail system after adoption by the Forest Service usually gets reworked so it doesn’t turn into deep ruts or wash into the creek, but where is the analysis that determines that the trail location is right in the first place?  The trail itself becomes more sustainable, but where do the grouse and elk and owls go?
The adoption of forest plan of components for desired recreational use has effects that must be evaluated during the NEPA process, but rarely does the Forest Service devote much attention to this.
The author describes a common fallacious argument that the Forest Service likes to make about sustainability to avoid controversy:
While the planning rule makes clear that ecological integrity underlies compatible uses in a national forest, the ecological, economical, and social sustainability have since been referred to as a three-legged stool, with all three legs of equal importance.
But if you parse the actual language of the Planning Rule, it is apparent that the ecological leg needs to support more weight (driven by the substantive diversity requirement of NFMA) (my emphasis).
“Plans will guide management of NFS lands so that they ARE ecologically sustainable and CONTRIBUTE TO social and economic sustainability; CONSIST OF ecosystems and watersheds with ecological integrity and diverse plant and animal communities; and HAVE THE CAPACITY TO PROVIDE people and communities with ecosystem services and multiple uses that provide a range of social, economic, and ecological benefits for the present and into the future.

Bark Beetle Epidemic in Calaveras County

 

The bark beetles started their invasion when I used to live there, in Mark Twain’s famous Calaveras County. Now it looks like it has reached epidemic levels, requiring emergency action, from multiple agencies.

http://www.calaverasenterprise.com/news/article_fbc896b8-7d6f-11e9-94ea-7b4b381822a0.html

Even with recent wet winters, tree mortality will remain a pressing issue as long as bark beetle infestations and drought conditions continue, said Brady McElroy, a hazard tree specialist in the Calaveras Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest.

“By no means is the issue going away,” McElroy said. “What the Forest Service has to focus on are the high priority areas, the immediate hazards to homes, roads and highways.”

In the long-term, McElroy said the Forest Service hopes to increase the pace and scale of thinning projects to restore overstocked forests that have been allowed for by a century of fire suppression.

“Our forests are overstocked, which increases competition (and) stressors on the trees, (and consequently) their ability to defend against bark beetle,” McElroy said. “The ongoing goal is to thin forests to a healthy kind of pre-European settlement stand to where they’re a little more resilient. We’re focusing on high-priority areas in the wildland-urban interface … We know what happens when these overstocked forests catch fire – we lose them.”

Diana Fredlund, a public affairs officer with the Stanislaus National Forest, said that although federal budget decreases have impacted the scale of the work for the Forest Service, the agency has been able to collaborate with private, county, state and other federal agencies and contractors for tree removal projects.

“We do what we can with what we have,” Fredlund said.

The Forest Service offers its own tree mortality program for homeowners with properties adjacent to Forest Service land. Property owners can fill out a Hazard Tree Evaluation Request Form to be considered for hazard tree abatement.

The Feral Conference and the Nativism Paradigm- Exploring Ideas About Nature

I originally became interested in the conference “Defining Nature in a Globalizing World”,  co-hosted by Massey University Political Ecology Research Centre (PERC) and Wageningen University Centre for Space, Place and Society (CSPS) because it was carbon-neutral and worldwide, for those of us with low or nonexistent travel budgets. See link here. I also really liked how respectful folks were in the comments. Here is a link to the abstracts. Here is a link to  the keynote talk by Mark Davis, of Macalester College in Minnesota.

We’ll hear more from Irus Braverman, one of the commenters,  in later posts on our site.

Davis says “History is not a directive… restoration goals are management decisions” . Sound familiar? Oh, but someone changed “historic range of variation” to “natural range of variation”- so that’s a different idea (or is it?), currently enshrined in the 2012 NFMA Planning Rule. So ideas matter and it is open to all of us to question those ideas.

Macalester talks about the “Nativism” paradigm and its current popularity in the fields of conservation biology and restoration ecology.  This is one of those talks in which values and views of scientific disciplines are teased apart.  As he says, this is an interaction between the fields of environmental philosophy, history and sociology of science, and various scientific disciplines about the definition of Nature. But each individual person gets to have our own “ideas about things”, in this case, about the nature of Nature, which are just as legitimate as anyone else’s.  These are not particularly complex ideas to grasp, nor do any particular group of scientists or philosopher have authority to determine which ideas are OK.

Here are some comments from the Davis keynote talk which may resonate with Smokey Wire concerns and issues.

Comment from Marianne Milne:

The challenges for ecologists or perhaps us all is to decide what is it that we need to do to retain biodiversity in our local spaces. I too would like to see a move away from the war on weeds/war on pests analogies but also fear loss of whole species if unbalanced ecosystems are left to their own devices. How do we manage our wild spaces? Which immigrants are tipping the scales and need active management. Which can or should be eradicated and which can we manage alongside. The context is different for each spaces and dependent on presence of species threatened with extinction. I love the idea of novel ecosystems but there is a place for preservation of unique species. So much rapid change, so much unpredictability. How do we build resilience?

Response from Mark Davis:

Hello Marian, you pose several good questions. Adopting the ecological novelty paradigm certainly does not mean that ecosystems should be left to their own devices. There is no easy answer to your question regarding how to manage our wild (or not wild) spaces. There is no ecological or divine imperative to guide us. It is up to us to decide how we want to manage the environment, which will emerge from our value systems. Do we want to manage for productivity, biodiversity, to prevent erosion, to protect a particular endangered or unique species? Our objectives will vary from site to site and ultimately will be decided in the public square. What does society value?–Mark

Davis also touches on how ideas get supported in different scientific communities, and how hard it is to break free of a paradigm once established and funded in a scientific discipline.

You all are invited to check out this conference and see what else you might find interesting, and comment below.

Sierra Club Comments

I have seen a trend in postings from the Sierra Club, on their Facebook page. Online petitions have been popular with eco-groups but, those petitions really don’t do anything. They seem to be a way of riling up their followers, gathering personal information, and receiving donations. There is also a sizable amount of people commenting who do not side with the Sierra Club.

The particular posting I will be presenting regards the Giant Sequoia National Monument, and how the Trump Administration would affect it. The Sierra Club implies (and their public believes) that Trump would cut down the Giant Sequoia National Monument, without immediate action. With over 500 comments, there are ample examples of what people are thinking.

 

“So much of the redwoods and Giant Sequoias have already been cut down… the lumber trucks involved had signs which read ” Trees… America’s renewable resource”… and just exactly how to you “renew” a 2 thousand year old tree??? When a job becomes even remotely scarce, one must find a new occupation. Having cut down the redwoods,(RIP Pacific Lumber and the “Redwood Highway”) and when they’ve cut down the national forests (public lands), are “they” going to insist on the right to come onto my land and cut down my trees as well… to provide jobs for the lumber industry? The National forests and Monuments are public lands, and no one has the right to turn them over to private interests for money making purposes. When are they going to see that there is a higher calling here? The forests provide for much of the fresh air we enjoy… they take in the carbon monoxide we exhale, and they exhale the oxygen so necessary to us. They each also take up 300 gallons of water, so provide for erosion control, and I could go on forever with the benefits of trees… but there will still be short sighted detractors who are only able to see the dollar signs in this issue. If providing jobs is the object… bring back our manufacturing jobs from overseas, all you big companies… your bottom line profit will be less, but you will have brought back the jobs to the USA, and you claim that is the object…???? Investing in the big companies in order to get rich does not make the investing noble or honorable when it is condoning taking jobs off-shore to enrich the few. … at the cost of the lost jobs for our people. Love your neighbor..”

I think that statement speaks for itself. Well-meaning but, misinformed.

 

“Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Keep loggers out of National Giant Sequoia Forests. Forest rangers and the National Parks already do controlled burning when needed to protect forest ecosystem health. The idea that commerical logging companies can be trusted with that task is preposterous.”

I wonder if he had noticed all those dead trees inside the Monument. Another example of not knowing who is taking care of the Monument.

 

“No such thing as controlled logging look at the clear cut coast. Once you let them in they will take it all and say Oops. A long time ago Pacific lumber clear cut thousands of acres illegally and Department of forestry did nothing. Things have not changed.”

Yes, things have changed. Logging IS controlled in Sierra Nevada National Forests… for the last 26 years.

 

“Destroying over 200k acres of sequoias and leaving ONLY 90k acres is NOT “CONTROLLED LOGGING “. OUR planet needs trees to produce oxygen and just how long do you think those jobs will last?”

Someone thinks there is a HUGE chunk of pristine pure Giant Sequoia groves. Thinning forests is not destruction, folks.

 

“I went to sign this and put my address and what not but then I skipped over my phone number and it won’t let me sign it! Unless you give your phone number it’s not going to San. I will not give out my phone number. Is there another way to sign for this?”

There were many comments like this one.

 

“They are both classified under same genisus of Sequoia, It’s their enviroment that makes them different. The Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) along N Cal coastline and then the Sequoias trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) found in the Sierra Nevadas mountain regions are the same yet very different trees because of the chactoristics. Both trees share their unique and acceptional height and massive girth size, they share the same red wood tones.”

Someone thinks they are an authority in tree Taxonomy.

 

“As someone who works in timber, don’t blame it on us! Many foresters care about sustainable forestry. I hate Donald Trump just as much as anyone who cares about the environment”

Well, that is sure saying something, eh?

 

“The forests are being burned down by all these un-natural wild fires that are created by the powers that be to carry out agenda 21/30. It’s not a secret but most people don’t want to see it & the common mentality is if we don’t see it, or address it, it will go away. Right?”

There’s more and more loonies out there saying this stuff, and blaming “Directed Energy Weapons” for starting all the wildfires.

 

“There will be no more forest in America, it will be a big cacino and golf courses.”

And there’s other conspiracy theories out there, too!

 

“The most deushiest thing ever! Poor Trees “

People do believe that Trump would clearcut the Giant Sequoias.

 

“Oh yes look what tree hungers did to Oregon”

I love a well-mispelled insult!

 

“No More RAPE AND MURDER OF OUR TREES”

I wonder what real violent crime victims think of this comparison. Should we let those trees be horribly burned alive, or eaten by insects, resulting in a long and slow starvation death? *smirk*

 

“Wth…. He truely is satin”

Soooo smoooooth!

 

“Drop big rocks on their heads. Something like Ewoks from Return of the Jedi all those years ago. Ewoks were “original” monkey wrenchers.”

That’s a lovely solution! Violence will fix everything!

 

“I think you could stand to be a bit less adversarial in your comments. Oil has nothing to do with this subject and devalues your argument. There is no reason why the land cannot be managed without giving it away to unregulated for-profit companies. That is the right answer.”

Yep, there just might be oil underneath those giant trees. Yep, gotta cut em all down to make sure! Misguided but, kinda, sorta, on the right path.

 

“The devil could burn it all down there because most of the state is so ungodly. Trump isn’t your problem. Godlessness and son keeps your minds and state in a state of anarchy. Poor people. I will keep praying you will find out that you all need to pray to the living God.”

Yep, because…. ummm, …. God recognizes where California’s boundaries are???!!??

 

“Try direct energy weapons”

Certainly, the Reptilians and Nibiru are to blame, fer sure, fer sure.

 

“Because of Monoculture”

Blame the old clearcuts!

 

“Anyone cutting a tree should be SHOT!!!!”

And another violent solution.

 

“The lumbar goes to China and else where, not used used in USA, great loose loose thing.the logs get shipped out of country destroys old growth forest well some one will make $$$$$ of it but it won’t be you”

Dumb, dumb!

 

“Its not about forest management its about trumps business buddies being allowed to buy the land and develop it”

And even another conspiracy theory. People love to say “I wouldn’t put it past him” when promoting such stuff.

This American mindset, on a world stage, is troubling. People proudly display their ignorance and stupidity to fight a non-existent issue. America doesn’t believe the truth anymore, and the Sierra Club, and others, are spreading misinformation through phony petitions.

 

 

A Picture is Worth at Least 1000 Words

“Natural Forest Regeneration”? (in the Eldorado National Forest.)

Slanted News?

I found an LA Times article regarding the Rim Fire, as well as the future of forest management within the Sierra Nevada. Of course, Chad Hanson re-affirms his preference to end all logging, everywhere. There’s a lot of seemingly balanced reporting but, there is no mention of the Sierra Nevada Framework, and its diameter limits. There is also the fact that any change to the SNF will take years to amend. There was also no mention that only about 20,000 Federal acres of the Rim Fire was salvaged, with some of that being in 40-year old plantations.

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-rim-fire-restoration-20180718-story.html

There might also be another ‘PictureGate“, involving Chad Hanson displaying supposed Forest Service clearcut salvage logging. His folks have already displayed their inability to locate themselves on a map. If he really had solid evidence, he SURELY would have brought it into court

Additionally, the comments are a gold mine for the misinformation and polarization of the supposedly ‘progressive’ community of readers.

Trump “demands” more logging. Really? Does he ever request, suggest or ask for information? I’m tired of hearing of Trump’s “demands.” It could be that some logging would be beneficial but the minute Trump “demands” it, it is suspect. One of his friends will be making millions on the logging and probably giving a kickback to a Trump business. Trump is the destructor of all things beautiful or sacred, the King Midas of the GOP.

A tiny increase in logging of small trees is very unlikely to generate “millions”.

You have no idea what “forest management” is. You want to clearcut all of the old growth forests and then turn them into Christmas tree lots and pine plantations. That is industrial tree farming, not forest management. That is the dumb dogma, speaking, not actual management of the forests.

Most people in southern California don’t know that Forest Service clearcutting and old growth harvesting in the Sierra Nevada has been banned since 1993. The article makes no mention of that.

Riddle me this, Lou. How did the forests manage before we spent $2.5 billion dollars a year on fire suppression? Are we the problem or the cure? Is this just another out of control bureaucracy with a life of its own?

Of course, no solution offered.

Months Late Park Service Releases Report on Climate Change

I posted a note on claims of possible censorship earlier, along with a very long time lag in waiting for the report to be released. Now we wait to see if anyone sees anything amiss. And we, at least I, wonder whether the earlier outcry had any impact on the final product that appears to be unsanitized. Here is a snip from The Hill, 5/21/2018:

The National Park Service (NPS) released a major report on rising sea levels after the Trump administration was accused of censoring it.

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal reported last month that administration officials removed mentions of human-caused climate change in the report, reflecting President Trump’s and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s skepticism that manmade greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

But the report released late Friday puts the blame for sea-level rise squarely in human hands.

“Human activities continue to release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm,” the report says.

“Further warming of the atmosphere will cause sea levels to continue to rise, which will affect how we protect and manage our national parks.”

NPS spokesman Jeremy Barnum said the report went through the usual editing process, and the agency is confident in its scientific accuracy.