“Proforestation” It Aint What It Claims To Be

‘Proforestation’ separates people from forests

AKA: Ignorance and Arrogance Still Reign Supreme at the Sierra Club.

I picked this up from Nick Smith’s Newsletter (sign up here)
Emphasis added by myself as follows:
1)  Brown Text for items NOT SUPPORTED by science with long term and geographically extensive validation.                                                                                                                                                        2) Bold Green Text for items SUPPORTED by science with long term and geographically extensive validation.
3) >>>Bracketed Italics for my added thoughts based on 59 years of experience and review of a vast range of literature going back to way before the internet.<<<

“Proforestation” is a relatively new term in the environmental community. The Sierra Club defines it as: “extending protections so as to allow areas of previously-logged forest to mature, removing vast amounts of atmospheric carbon and recovering their ecological and carbon storage potential.”          >>>Apparently, after 130 years of existence, the Sierra Club still doesn’t know much about plant physiology, the carbon cycle or the increased risk of calamitous wild fire spread caused by the close proximity of stems and competition driven mortality in unmanged stands (i.e. the science of plant physiology regarding competition, limited resources and fire spread physics). Nor have they thought out the real risk of permanent destruction of the desired ecosystems nor the resulting impact on climate change.<<<

Not only must we preserve untouched forests, proponents argue, but we must also walk away from previously-managed forests too. People should be entirely separate from forest ecology and succession. >>>More abject ignorance and arrogant woke policy based only on vacuous wishful thinking.<<<

Except humans have managed forests for millennia. In North America, Indigenous communities managed forests and sustained its resources for at least 8,000 years prior to European settlement. It is true people have not always managed forests sustainably. Forest practices of the late 19th century are a good example.                                                                                                                                                 >>>Yes, and the political solution pushed on us by the Sierra Club and other faux conservationists beginning with false assumptions about the Northern Spotted Owl was to throw out the continuously improving science (i.e. Continuous Process Improvement [CPI]).  The concept of using the science to create sustainable practices and laws that regulated the bad practices driven by greed and arrogance wasn’t even considered seriously.  As always, the politicians listened to the well heeled squeaky voters.  Now, their arrogant ignorance has given us National Ashtrays, destruction of soils, and an ever increasing probability that great acreages of forest ecosystems will be lost to the generations that follow who will also have to cope with the exacerbated climate change.  So here we are, in 30+/- years the Faux Conservationists have made things worse than the greedy timber barons ever could have.  And the willfully blind can’t seem to see what they have done. Talk about arrogance.<<<

Forest management provides tools to correct past mistakes and restore ecosystems. But Proforestation even seems to reject forest restoration that helps return a forest to a healthy state, including controlling invasive species, maintaining tree diversity, returning forest composition and structure to a more natural state.

Proforestation is not just a philosophical exercise. The goal is to ban active forest management on public lands. It has real policy implications for the future management (or non-management) of forests and how we deal with wildfires, climate change and other disturbances.

We’ve written before about how this concept applies to so-called “carbon reserves.” Now, powerful and well-funded anti-forestry groups are pressuring the Biden Administration to set-aside national forests and other federally-owned lands under the guise of “protecting mature and old-growth” trees.

In its recent white paper on Proforestation (read more here), the Society of American Foresters writes that “preservation can be appropriate for unique protected areas, but it has not been demonstrated as a solution for carbon storage or climate change across all forested landscapes.”

Proforestation doesn’t work when forests convert from carbon sinks into carbon sources. A United Nations report pointed out that at least 10 World Heritage sites – the places with the highest formal environmental protections on the planet – are net sources of carbon pollution. This includes the iconic Yosemite National Park.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes active forest management will yield the highest carbon benefits over the long term because of its ability to mitigate carbon emitting disturbance events and store carbon in harvested wood products. Beyond carbon, forest management ensures forests continue to provide assets like clean water, wildlife habitat, recreation, and economic activity.

Forest management offers strategies to manage forests for carbon sequestration and long-term storage.Proforestation rejects active stewardship that can not only help cool the planet, but help meet the needs of people, wildlife and ecosystems. You can expect to see this debate intensify in 2023.

Effectiveness of Fuel Treatments at the Landscape Scale: Jain et al. 2022

I was looking for a “Scientist of the Week” to honor and ran across this JFSP report. I’d like to give a vote of appreciation to these authors, and to the folks at JFSP for funding a useful synthesis of the research.

What I think it interesting about this paper is that the authors used different forms of knowledge (empirical, simulation, and case studies) to look at the question.   I also like that they separated out (1) direct wildfire effects, (2) impacts to suppression strategies and tactics, and (3) opportunities for BWU. Some studies only talk about (1) or, in some cases,  it’s not clear what exactly they are talking about. Here’s one chart.

I particularly liked the section “Identified management and policy considerations and research gaps” on page 25.

Here is an interesting section of that:

Our synthesis focused primarily on how fuel treatments performed in the event of large wildfires, rather than the effect of fuel treatments at keeping wildfires small. Treatments offer suppression opportunities and subsequently influence how many fires are being extinguished in fuel treatments. In the case studies, there were comments that the wildfires ignited outside the fuel treatments and therefore when fuel treatments were burned by wildfires, the wildfires were already large. If fuel treatments allow for effective wildfire management, including successful full suppression compared to untreated areas, our focus may have undervalued their suppression benefit.

Longevity of fuel treatments was mentioned in all three synthesis types. In most cases fuel treatments were shortlived from 1 year to 20 years; however, in most cases the longevity of fuels was focused on surface fuels. Future studies should focus on the longevity of treatment effects in each relevant fuel stratum to test the following hypotheses: 1) surface fuels have the shortest fuel treatment longevity; 2) crown fuels have the longest fuel treatment longevity; 3) ladder fuels longevity decreases when crown fuels are separated creating growing space for latter fuels to flourish. Studies that focus on fuel strata longevity can inform managers when is it necessary to conduct maintenance treatments and choose a method of treatment that extends treatment longevity.

A discussion of research gaps in empirically based studies is premature given the current state of knowledge. Empirical approaches to understanding landscapelevel fuel treatment effectiveness are in their infancy. Indeed, the field is at a point where clear and precise terms and concepts are not broadly recognized. The fundamental issue is the varied and  imprecise use of the term ‘landscape.’ Wildfire is a landscapelevel process. Fuel treatment effectiveness should be evaluated by how it affects that process, functionally, from a landscape perspective. The terms landscape scale and landscape size have little generalizable meaning. Large wildfires and or large treatments may be called ‘landscape’, but our inference on treatment effectiveness will remain constrained to withinsite (i.e., within treatment) effects if the sampling design and analysis are sitelevel and not also measuring effects outside the treatment footprint. Therefore, instead of identifying gaps in understanding, there should be 1) broad recognition of what is meant by landscapelevel fuel treatment effectiveness and how the characteristics of fuel treatments affect wildfire activity outside of treatment boundaries, and 2) longterm commitment to designing and implementing research projects at the landscape level over large areas that can inform questions and test hypotheses about the type, size, density, and configuration of fuel treatments that best affect subsequent wildfire in desirable directions.

The authors say “Wildfire is a landscape-level process. Fuel treatment effectiveness should be evaluated by how it affects that process, functionally, from a landscape perspective.” It seems to me that effectiveness would be measured as “do these treatments make wildfires easier to manage, with management including protecting communities, water and other infrastructure, and protecting species and watersheds from excessively negative impacts.” And I don’t really care about defining “landscape scale” except for the idea that say if you are planning PODs, you obviously have to think at the appropriate scale. But perhaps we all have different definitions. That could certainly make researchers’ lives difficult if we are all operating from different definitions and thinking we mean the same thing.

From Where Wildfires Start to the Forest Service 10-Year Strategy: Tracking the Logic Path of the Downing et. al Paper

Many thanks to Matthew for posting the Downing et al. paper from Nature. There are so many fascinating things about this paper, I thought it was worthy of looking at carefully. 1) what the paper says (results) 2) how those relate to the methods (logic paths) and 3) how the conclusions made their way from the paper to the OSU public affairs and other media reports.  It’s a terrific example, because you don’t have to understand the methodologies to understand the knowledge claims and logic.  I’m hoping this analysis will be helpful to students and the paper is open source so anyone can view. This is a longer post than usual.

The first step is always to look at results and discussion.

Our empirical assessment of CB fire activity can support the development of strategies designed to foster fire-adapted communities, successful wildfire response, and ecologically resilient landscapes.

Then try to translate this from academic talk.  First, they talk about “cross boundary” wildfire, in fact, the whole paper is about “cross boundary” wildfire, so that is fires that move from private to public land or vice versa.  Why is this important?  They discuss this in a few paragraphs.

The tension between ecological processes (e.g., fire) and social processes (e.g., WUI development) in mixed ownership landscapes is brought into stark relief when fire ignites on one land tenure and spreads to other ownerships, especially when it results in severe damages to communities on private lands and/or highly valued natural resources on publicly managed wildlands. These cross-boundary (CB) wildfires present particularly acute management challenges because the responsibilities for preventing ignitions, stopping fire spread, and reducing the vulnerability of at-risk, high-value assets are often dispersed among disparate public and private actors with different objectives, values, capacity, and risk tolerances23–25
. Some CB risk mitigation strategies exist, such as fire protection exchanges, which transfer suppression responsibility from one agency (e.g., state) to another (e.g., U.S. Forest Service), and CB fuel treatment agreements, which allow managers to influence components of wildfire risk beyond their jurisdictional boundaries 2,26 . Improving CB wildfire risk management has been identified as a top national priority 27 , but effective, landscape-scale solutions are not readily apparent.
A common narrative used to describe CB fire is as follows: a wildfire ignites on remote public lands (e.g., US Forest Service), spreads to a community, showers homes with embers, and results in structure loss and fatalities 23,25,28 . In this framing, public land management agencies bear the primary responsibility for managing and mitigating CB fire risk, with effort focused on prevention, hazardous fuel reduction, and suppression—largely reinforcing the dominant management paradigm of fire exclusion 29,30 . An alternative risk management framing of this challenge has emerged, starting with the axiom that CB fire transmission is inevitable in fire-prone mixed ownership landscapes and that private landowners and homeowners are the actors best positioned to reduce fire risk to homes and other high-value assets regardless of where the fire starts 31 . In the absence of a broad-scale empirical assessment of CB fire transmission, it is difficult to determine which of these narratives more accurately reflects the nature of the problem, and whether CB fire risk management is best framed in terms of reducing fire transmission from public lands or decreasing the exposure and vulnerability of high-value developed assets on private lands.

So there’s a framing question here.  Where I live, people don’t much care where a fire starts, just if it’s burning close to them.  So the importance of addressing wildfire with the CB framing is based on a “common narrative” with cites 23, 25, and 28.  28 is an interesting paper by Ager et al., definitely worth taking a look at, about Central Oregon, where they found:

Among the land tenures examined, the area burned by incoming fires averaged 57% of the total burned area. Community exposure from incoming fires ignited on surrounding land tenures accounted for 67% of the total area burned.

I would call that an observation, rather than a narrative, but perhaps I’m being pedantic.  For those who don’t track this stuff,  Ager’s groups’ transmission and scenario analysis forms the basis for the prioritization scheme in the Forest Service 10 year action plan.

As to “Improving CB wildfire risk management has been identified as a top national priority 27 , but effective, landscape-scale solutions are not readily apparent.”  I think this is important as in a brief review of their cite to the Fire Plan Implementation Strategy, I didn’t actually see a reference to “cross boundary”-  maybe others can find it.  The other thing I’d point out is that PODS look like they might be an effective landscape-scale solution and they seem apparent to me.  So outside of a scientific paper, that would be an interesting conversation to have.

I found the conclusions interesting as I have just spent several days working on the logic of “fires are increasingly difficult and unpredictable due to fuel accumulation, climate change and increasing amounts of human infrastructure, therefore we need to keep all the tools in the toolkit, including prescribed fire and the Thing Formerly Known as WFU.”  This was rather well-stated IMHO in Wildfire Resolution Letter on  TFKWFU:

As we have seen over the past few years, especially in California and Colorado, we are now experiencing conditions that are causing extreme fire behavior, which is in part due to past full  suppression policy. The best management approach we have to combat this phenomenon is reducing the amount of fuel available to burn. Similar to how important thinning and prescribed burning are around our communities, the ability to manage wildland fires at appropriate times is equally important for reducing fuels in the wildland environment. We will never be able to reduce fire risk to communities with thinning or prescribed fire alone—we need all hands on deck, and all the tools in the toolbox.

So it looks like the authors of the Downing et al. paper ended up in a different place from many other practitioners and the usual fire science suspects.  To me this is a Science Situation That Shouts “Watch Out.”

So that’s why we need to dig deeper.. let’s go to conclusions again in their paper.

Our empirical assessment of CB fire activity can support the development of strategies designed to foster fire-adapted communities, successful wildfire response, and ecologically resilient landscapes. Adapting to increasing CB wildfire in the western US will require viewing socio-ecological risk linkages between CB fire sources and recipients as management assets rather than liabilities. We believe that a shared understanding of CB fire dynamics, based on empirical data, can strengthen the social component of these linkages and promote effective governance. The current wildfire management system is highly fragmented 74 , and increased social and ecological alignment between actors at multiple scales is necessary for effective wildfire risk governance 14,30 .
Cross-boundary fire activity can contribute to multijurisdictional alignment when fire transmission incentivizes actors to collaboratively manage components of risk that manifest outside their respective ownerships 15 . A broader acknowledgement that CB is inevitable in some fire-prone landscapes will ideally shift the focus away from excluding fire in multijurisdictional settings towards improved cross-jurisdictional pre-fire planning and reducing the vulnerability of high-value assets in and around wildlands 30,31 . Federal agencies like the USFS can provide capacity, analytics, and funding, but given that private lands are where most high-value assets are located and where most CB fires originate, communities and private landowners may be best positioned to reduce losses from CB wildfire.


Now, first of all, it’s kind of hard to parse some of the academic-ese here “will require viewing socio-ecological risk linkages between CB fire sources and recipients as management assets rather than liabilities.”  I hope it’s clear to others, they lost me. 

“We believe that a shared understanding of CB fire dynamics, based on empirical data, can strengthen the social component of these linkages and promote effective governance.”  That’s nice that they believe that, but I’d be curious about the mechanics of how that works.  Communities have their own lived knowledge of fires and it’s hard to tell them “some scientists ran some simulations and came up with …. “.  And effective governance of HOAs, fire departments, counties, states and feds.. there are many problems at coordination at all scales, but not clear that modeling fire transmissions with their model will be more helpful than all the other fire transmission models that have existed for some time.

“shift the focus away from excluding fire in multijurisdictional settings towards improved cross-jurisdictional pre-fire planning and reducing the vulnerability of high-value assets in and around wildland”  Hmm. We have a system that includes both- a very complicated process and alignment of CWPPs, federal lands and and suppression that takes into account all of the above.  Perhaps the authors have developed a straw person? or are they saying “leave the federal lands alone and focus on communities?”  Which wouldn’t be “all hands all tools”? Or perhaps a change in focus? But then you’d have to articulate what the current focus is and what needs to change.

An alternative risk management framing of this challenge has emerged, starting with the axiom that CB fire transmission is inevitable in fire-prone mixed ownership landscapes and that private landowners and homeowners are the actors best positioned to reduce fire risk to homes and other high-value assets regardless of where the fire starts

I agree that private landowners and homeowners , utilities, ski areas, water providers are best positioned to reduce direct risks.  But there are also people (fire suppression folks) working assiduously to keep fires away from infrastructure- and it actually works most of the time (I don’t have a cite, but I can see information on InciWeb).  This is a both/and thing.  Not sure how the simulations in this paper support changes to the current system.  If I’d reviewed it, I would have asked them to draw a logical line between “the system as we see it” “what our data show” and “how we think this information should inform changes.”

And here’s a quote from the OSU piece:

“The Forest Service’s new strategy for the wildfire crisis leads with a focus on thinning public lands to prevent wildfire intrusion into communities, which is not fully supported by our work, or the work of many other scientists, as the best way to mitigate community risk,” Dunn said.

I think this doesn’t take into consideration that that the strategy is the FS chunk of the overall work, of which there are many other bucks going to states and ultimately into communities.  They did not say it’s the best way, only what they can contribute.  Plus thinning and PB have other desirable attributes in making forests more climate-resilient, so not so much destruction occurs within them in the case of a wildfire.  Suppression folks work with a great variety of values at risk that include but are not restricted to communities.

What I would have said based on the data?  More fires go into the NFs than come from the NFs based on the data.  So working on reducing ignitions and spread before fires get to the FS boundary would be a good idea.  But everyone gets to conclude what you want from the data.. what do you conclude?




Friday Science Snippets and Bighorn Update

From article in New Scientist https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23831770-200-treeconomics-how-to-put-a-fair-price-tag-on-urban-forests/

I was cleaning out my office (people who have worked with me will know what a monumental task this is) and ran across many New Scientists from the past five years or so, and other snippets of interest from Bighorn Expert Melanie Woolever to Pliny the Elder.

Bighorn Followup

Also one followup on our earlier question of “why are bighorns in the Tetons so sensitive to human presence when ones around Mt. Evans are not?” Sadly, I can’t seem to find the notebook with my notes from my interview with the lovely and talented bighorn expert Melanie Woolever. This is what I recall from memory, so might have lost something, but she said that formerly, the Teton bighorns had a migration pathway and spent the winter somewhere else. But this has been cut off. So they have to make it through the winter on the rocky, windswept ridges in the Tetons. Which barely has enough food for their survival, so they are on the edge. And people recreating can push them off the edge by disturbing them when they are trying to eke out a living. If anyone has any further clarifications/corrections on this, please chime in.

And I also learned from Melanie that moose are not indigenous to Colorado, so it wasn’t reintroduction so much as introduction. And they seem to be doing very well here. Some wildlife folks did not think that introduction was a good idea.

Grazers and Fire: Megaherbivore Edition


This differing effect, however, does appear to vindicate our early ancestors of being totally responsible for the higher level of fires. While they are still likely to have hunted the megaherbivores and started fires, the effect would be the same for all environments if humans were the main cause.

The researchers hope that their research will help mitigate modern climate change by ensuring more is done to support grazing animals, which can reduce the risk of serious fires.

Co-author Professor Carla Staver says, ‘This work really highlights how important grazers may be for shaping fire activity. We need to pay close attention to these interactions if we want to accurately predict the future of fires.’

Trees cool the land surface temperature (not air) by up to 12 degrees C in Europe. Study here.

Farmer adaptation: although hops are not woody, they can grow to 10 meters tall, and are of cultural interest. Did you know (1) that hops are in the Cannabinaceae family? ithat the scientific name Humulus lupulus.. comes from the Latin lupus (wolf) “because as Pliny described in his Naturalis Historia, “when the plant is produced among osiers, it strangles them by its light, climbing
embraces, as the wolf does a sheep”. See this interesting pdf

Anyway, back to climate change.. I don’t know if there’s a paywall for this New Scientist article.

Hop growers may have no choice but to up sticks. “Michigan now has a small hop-growing area. The whole northern hemisphere industry is likely to go north” to Alaska and Canada, according to Nielsen – and also to extend its range in Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere.

This wouldn’t be unprecedented. While the European heartlands may have been pretty much unchanged for hundreds of years, “the US hop industry has a history of moving to get away from disease and pathogens”, says Nielsen. “One hundred years ago, it was in upstate New York; 70 years ago, it was in California; 30 to 60 years ago, it moved to the Pacific Northwest. There is no guarantee it will stay there,” he says.

That was mainly to escape mildew, a fungus that, once established in a hop-growing area, is nigh-on impossible to get rid of. Will climate change prove to be a more implacable foe? We can only hop for the best.

Tropical forest recovery.
Study here and . article in New Scientist

The team found that after 20 years, the average secondary forest that had grown from farmland that was used with low to medium intensity had recovered 78 per cent of old-growth forest attributes. “It goes way faster than we thought,” says Poorter.

But the researchers found significant variation between the recovery time for the different forest attributes. Soils were the quickest to bounce back, with most recovery happening within 10 years. It took between 25 to 60 years for plant species diversity to recover, and they projected it would take over a century for the forest biomass to mostly recover.

Despite the enormous amount of deforestation that has and continues to occur, there is hope that these forests can bounce back naturally, says Poorter. Secondary forests currently make up over 28 per cent of tropical forests in central and south America, and are important for locking up carbon which is crucial to tackle climate change. In addition, they attract mammals, birds and insects back to the area, which is important for ecosystem restoration. They can also be vital for the livelihoods of people who live close by.

Health news of a less than encouraging nature.
.. more than half of cancer biology lab findings cannot be replicated. Here’s the link to the New Scientist article and the link to the original paper.

“Just trying to understand what was done and reported in the papers in order to do it again was really hard. We couldn’t get access to the information,” he says.

In total, the 50 experiments included 112 potentially replicable binary “success or failure” outcomes. However, as detailed in the second study published today, Errington and his colleagues could replicate the effects of only 51 of these – or 46 per cent.

The experiments were all in-vitro or animal-based preclinical cancer biology studies, and didn’t include genomic or proteomic experiments. They were from papers published between 2010 and 2012 and were selected because they were all “high-impact” studies that had been read and heavily cited by other researchers.

The results are “a bit eye-opening”, says Errington.

The investigation’s findings do, however, align with those of earlier reports published by the big pharmaceutical companies Bayer and Amgen. C. Glenn Begley, who recently co-founded US biotech Parthenon Therapeutics, was a senior cancer biologist at Amgen and an author of its report, which was published in 2012.

“We looked back at the papers that we had relied upon at Amgen and found that we could only reproduce 11 per cent of the studies,” says Begley.

It’s interesting to me that replicating studies does not seem to be an aspect of our usual scientific fields. The only example I can think of is many years ago with FIA, there were industry folks in the South going over the data with a fine tooth comb. I wonder whether there are other examples out there?

Thought we could avoid mining for low-carbon technologies on the land?
Not so fast.. Race to start commercial deep-sea mining puts ecosystems at risk

Helen Scales, a marine biologist and author, says two years isn’t long enough to draw up a robust code. She wants to see a moratorium on deep-sea mining. “Nobody knows with any kind of certainty how we could go ahead extracting and exploiting these deposits in the deep sea without environmental harm,” she says. “All of the science we have so far is pointing towards significant long-term and largely irreversible damage.” The damage could stem directly from machines extracting nodules and from plumes of sediment generated by mining. Hundreds of marine researchers expressed their concerns in a statement earlier this year.

This is not a science snippet per se but an interesting book review about a book called The Ethnobotany of Eden: Rethinking the Jungle Medicine Narrative. Here’s a link to a review. It’s interesting to think about the similarities and differences between South American forests and their inhabitants, and North American forests and their inhabitants, history, culture and so on.

Simultaneously, explorers, traders, and missionaries were exposed to tropical diseases, but also to botanical cures employed by locals. This is the kernel of truth at the heart of this narrative. One of the success stories was the discovery of cinchona or fever-wood, a plant that contains the alkaloid compound quinine that effectively combats malaria. Voeks here highlights several more flaws in our narrative. Ironically, most medicinal plants are not associated with pristine rainforest. Careful ethnobotanical study has shown that most of them are found in disturbed habitats such as home gardens, trails, swiddens (areas cleared for cultivation by slashing and burning vegetation), or secondary-growth forest, and often derive from weeds and domesticated food plants. Furthermore, the cliché of the mystical (male) shaman completely overlooks the role of women, whose knowledge often overlaps, complements, or outshines that of men.

And a somewhat cheery story about the Immaculate Heart Sisters in Mexico breeding an endangered axolotl.

The Sciences That Matter in Forest Policy: Will Fire Science Be the New Winner?

Last fall I was filling out a form and realized that I joined the Society of American Foresters in 1974.. which means it’s only two years to fifty.  There are many others in the TSW community from the same and earlier time periods.  It seems to me that taking the long view (at a foot a year, seedlings I planted are now fifty feet tall) might lead to seeing trends that are otherwise not obvious.

To that end, I’d like to talk about The Sciences That Matter in Policy and How They Think About Things.  When I took forest policy as an undergrad at Berkeley, forest policy seemed to be mostly in the hands of the field of economics. 

At the time, I thought forest policy was the most boring thing imaginable (the 1872 Mining Law? really?), but here I am.

Later it was determined that the ESA was a good policy tool by environmental groups, as depicted in George Hoberg’s work. So wildlife sciences became key, as for example, Chief Thomas, the Gang of Four, and so on. Yes, there are qualities of science silverback-hood* that are larger than original discipline, but I’m talking about general trends.

Then somewhere along the lines, folks (I think veg ecologists) came up with the course/fine filter approach.  Which wasn’t exactly science itself, but seemingly a common-sensical idea by scientists.  If you get have the veg as in the past, you should have the species as in the past.  So if you manage that way (course filter) you’ll have fewer endangered species that require protection beyond that. Somehow that transitioned to HRV..as I said during the 2001 Planning Rule discussion.. a full employment program for vegetation ecologists.

As geneticist, I’ve never been a fan of HRV..just pragmatically, it’s too difficult to figure out how things would have been if Europeans hadn’t killed off Native Americans. Or possibly enshrining some post-Native American past as the way things ought to be.  In evolutionary biology, change through time in response to changing conditions IS the natural process.

And I think that’s to some degree behind the concept of “restoration”; if that abstraction is taken with it’s usual English meaning.  And so it has been. But sometimes “restoration” means “resilience” .. and sometimes it’s a clear concept as in the practices of watershed restoration.

But prioritizing PODs is a completely different kettle of scientific and practitioner fish.  The goal is not to restore, or even make forests climate-resilient. The goal of PODS is to help suppression people manage wildfires. It’s pretty clear who the experts are. Fire suppression folks.

If we choose to manage PODs, they will be on the basis of 1) what practicing fire suppression folks think they need including concerns of fish, wildlife, watershed, recreation and so on, with some degree of help from 2) fire modelers who include climate considerations. 

So we could be changing from vegetation ecologists being the key policy-relevant science, to fire science being the key policy-relevant science. But being a fire scientist is different from having on-the-ground fire experience. In my experience, this is a wider practitioner to academic gap than in silviculture or wildlife or watershed. So in this case, practitioner, Indigenous, and local knowledge will also be brought into the mix in specific places.

The Forest Service tried to do that with Strategic Fireshed Assessments in California as described in this post. And Don Yasuda’s presentation about “why it didn’t happen”.

Note, I’m just talking location and management of PODs here, not other efforts to promote resilience of forests to fires, for which vegetation ecology, fire science, watersheds and wildlife sciences, and climate science would also be involved. I think it might be hard for some to pass the torch of power gracefully, both with regard to different science disciplines, and perhaps most difficult, to admit that suppression practitioners and Indigenous folks have a key role to play. It’s possible, that for these projects, that the research/academic “science” card will no longer be trump.

* science silverback-hood.. I’ll define as “being a person who gets asked for their opinions in policies beyond the relatively narrow confines of their own discipline.” I call it silverback-hood because in my experience it’s been mostly males, at least in forest policy.

Practice of Science Friday: Mind the Model/Adaptation Gap

Scientist Neil Carter of Michigan State University sets a motion-activated camera with a colleague in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. Tigers in southern Nepal appear to be changing their habits so they can operate under cover of darkness and avoid coming into contact with humans, scientists said.

There seems to be a disciplinary adaptation gap between some climate scientists and “biodiversity” scientists on the one hand, and the disciplines involved in adaptation…fire science, plants, wildlife biologists and so on, on the other hand.  One of the gaps is that organisms adapt.  Critters and plants adapt, human beings adapt and we jointly adapt to each other.

There is the traditional genetic form of adaptation within species, and there are all kinds of adaptations beyond classical genetics.. behavioral, cultural, epigenetic.  And since these adaptations can’t be modeled (since most of them are unknown) to climate and biodiversity modelers, they don’t exist.  And yet.. in real life, and to certain disciplines, they do exist and are important.

Not to speak of humans.. so we have gaps like reading about crop improvement via new techniques like CRISPR, while at the same time climate modelers are predicting wheat yields in 2070.  GAP! Yet among science institutions, it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s job to notice gaps and attempt to fill them.  I think because while the CRISPR people would easily say “hey we have no clue what’s going to happen by then”, climate scientists seem to spend a great deal of time making predictions and mostly get published if the outcomes are bad… seemingly completely regardless of any characterization of the many uncertainties at the level the CRISPR people and farmers deal with.

Here’s an example of the kind of study I’m talking about..with regard to biodiversity predictions:

A new study by University of Arizona researchers presents detailed estimates of global extinction from climate change by 2070. By combining information on recent extinctions from climate change, rates of species movement and different projections of future climate, they estimate that one in three species of plants and animals may face extinction.

So here are a few papers that talk about wildlife adaptation:

First, mammals are becoming more active at night to avoid us. Here’s a link to an article by Michael Page, and here’s a link to the Science study.

Gaynor and her colleagues noticed animals were becoming more active at night to avoid human disturbances. They have now done a meta-analysis of 76 studies of 62 mammals all around the world. Almost all are shifting to the night to avoid us…
On the other hand, the shift is helping animals survive alongside humans. In Chitwan in Nepal, lots of tigers are able to live near people by being more active at night.

In this sense, the shift to the night may be good. “It’s a way to share space on an increasingly crowded planet,” says Gaynor. “We take the day and they take the night.” Thanks to their nocturnal ancestors, many mammals still have plenty of the characteristics needed to be more active at night, she says. And they are likely to be evolving to be even better at it.

“I would expect that this is an incredibly strong selective force,” says Kate Jones of University College London, who has shown that mammals only became active during the daytime after dinosaurs vanished.

Second, we’re finding out that habitats where critters are currently found might not be the only ones they can live in, maybe not even their preferred. This is in New Scientist by Isabelle Groc. Hopefully, there isn’t a paywall, it’s from 2018.

The story of California’s sea otters is not a one-off. Earlier this year, Silliman and his colleagues revealed a wider trend in a paper aptly titled “Are the ghosts of nature’s past haunting ecology today?“. As a result of conservation efforts, a variety of predators are reappearing in ecosystems they were pushed out of by hunting and development. “It is an exciting time for ecologists,” says Carswell, “because these species are coming back to these ecosystems from which they have been absent for many human generations and they are putting their house back in order.”

Mountain lions are another example. Unsurprisingly, we tend to associate them with mountains. But historical records show that in Patagonia they once lived in open grasslands. As sheep farming became established in South America, they were persecuted – along with their prey, a kind of llama called a guanaco. As a result, mountain lions survived only in the remote Andes away from humans. But in the past 20 years, sheep ranching has declined. “We started to see a change,” says Mark Elbroch from conservation society Panthera. “The mountain lions that had been removed from the open grassland began to come back out of the mountains at the same time as the guanaco was beginning to move back into the grassland.”

Third, critters are moving to places where they didn’t formerly live as far as we know. In this case, apparently without direct human assistance. This story is from Wudan Yan in High Country News (also 2018)

Otters were once unheard of in the Beartooths. In fact, there’s no evidence they’re native to this high alpine environment at all; their arrival appears to be part of the sweeping changes humans have brought to the plateau. In the 1960s, zoologists Donald Pattie and Nicolaas Verbeek spent years surveying the various mammals found in the Beartooths. They found creatures as small as dwarf shrews and as large as grizzly bears and mountain goats, but no otters. Continued but sporadic surveys done by field technicians and researchers at the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center in the 1990s yielded no sign of river otters, either. But for the last decade or so, there have been a few anecdotal reports from Cross, his colleagues, and some of the locals who frequent the plateau.

This of course raises philosophical issues as on this Yellowstone Ecological Research Center website

Are they “invasive species” in this alpine environment, impacting native carnivores like red foxes and American martens, or adaptive survivors seeking a climate refugium (not to mention food bonanza) at higher elevations?

I’m not suggesting we blow through wildlife habitat and ignore their needs. But when we hear predictions about the future, especially the distant future, even by scientists, I think we need to acknowledge that no one actually knows what will happen. And the people working at the interface of people and wildlife are actually the most knowledgeable about them, and how to work toward our continuing coexistence.

Snowless Western Mountains and Co-Design and Co-Production of Useful Scientific Knowledge

This paper was excerpted by the WaPo here.

But a new study projects that in about 35 to 60 years, mountainous states may be nearly snowless for years at a time if greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked and climate change does not slow. The resulting lack of water would be “potentially catastrophic,” according to the study’s authors.

It’s a really interesting paper with lots of great graphics and explanations of sources of uncertainty. For RCP watchers, it’s a review paper and there is some 8.5 and some 4.5 in the studies used, with a chart in the supplemental information page.
My favorite part was about planning, though. The numbers are citations.

Thus, at the same time that science evolves to increase predictive understanding of the mechanisms of hydroclimatic change, management practice must evolve to accommodate uncertainty regarding the changing patterns of current and future hydrologic variability. Developing a robust strategy and selecting investment options that balance competing societal objectives and multisectoral interactions (such as the interaction among water and energy 186 or water and carbon 207 reduction goals) requires new approaches to integrate water resource planning. Frameworks and planning methods for decision- making under deep uncertainty that acknowledge and accommodate imperfect knowledge regarding the probabilistic range of possible future conditions such as decision scaling 241, robust decision- making, dynamic adaptation pathways 242 and scenario planning can identify scientifically informed adaptive strategies that leverage best available science without overstating its confidence 243.

For instance, the United States Bureau of Reclamation and water management agencies within the Colorado River Basin engaged in a robust decision- making study that identified a range of potential future climate conditions under which water delivery obligations would be vulnerable. Portfolios of adaptation strategies aimed at demand reduction (including agricultural, municipal and industrial conservation) and supply augmentation (including reuse, desalination and water import) were evaluated for their ability to alleviate these vulnerabilities and for their trade- offs in cost, yield, technical feasibility, legal risk and other criteria. The portfolios generally increase system robustness but have a wide range of implementation costs, especially under the declining supply conditions, and vary between the Upper Basin and the Lower Basin 244. Making science usable for decision- making requires strong trust between the parties 245. This trust often develops over deliberate, long- term collaboration 246, with mutual understanding of the science, models and tools being discussed and demonstration of the credibility, saliency and legitimacy of the new approach(es) 247. Institutional, technical and financial capacity to implement these approaches must also be overcome 233. Scientists must also recognize that practitioners are often directly responsible, sometimes even personally liable, for the outcomes of decisions made, which makes them hesitant in the application of new climate science 236, especially if perceived as not fitting with existing knowledge or policy goals 233,248.A path forward can be made by including Earth scientists, infrastructure experts, decision scientists, water management practitioners and community stakeholders, in a collaborative, iterative process of scientific knowledge creation through a co- production framework 41,42,249,250. This process helps to ensure that new science is suited to challenges at hand and can provide meaningful input into decision- making processes.

My bold.

I picked out some interesting-looking citations below:

Arnott, J. C., Mach, K. J. & Wong- Parodi, G. Editorial overview: The science of actionable knowledge. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 42, A1–A5 (2020).246.
Meadow, A. M. etal. Moving toward the deliberate coproduction of climate science knowledge. Weather Clim. Soc. 7, 179–191 (2015).247.
Cash, D. W. etal. Knowledge systems for sustainable development. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 100, 8086–8091 (2003).248.
Dilling, L. & Lemos, M. C. Creating usable science: opportunities and constraints for climate knowledge use and their implications for science policy. Glob. Environ. Change 21, 680–689 (2011).249. Lemos, M. C. etal. To co- produce or not to co- produce. Nat. Sustain. 1, 722–724 (2018).250.
Cash, D. etal. Salience, credibility, legitimacy and boundaries: linking research, assessment and decision making. SSRN https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.372280 (2002).251. Cash, D. W., Borck, J. C. & Patt, A. G. Countering the loading- dock approach to linking science and decision making: comparative analysis of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecasting systems. Sci. Technol. Hum. Values 31, 465–494 (2006).252.
Goodrich, K. A. etal. Who are boundary spanners and how can we support them in making knowledge more actionable in sustainability fields? Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 42, 45–51 (2020).

Science is clear: Catastrophic wildfire requires forest management

Science is clear: Catastrophic wildfire requires forest management” was written by Steve Ellis, Chair of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR), who is a former U.S. Forest Service Forest Supervisor and retired Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director for Operations—the senior career position in that agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

I have extracted a few snippets (Emphasis added) from the above article published by the NAFSR:

1) Last year was a historically destructive wildfire season. While we haven’t yet seen the end of 2021, nationally 64 large fires have burned over 3 million acres. The economic damage caused by wildfire in 2020 is estimated at $150 billion. The loss of communities, loss of life, impacts on health, and untold environmental damage to our watersheds—not to mention the pumping of climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere—are devastating. This continuing disaster needs to be addressed like the catastrophe it is.

2) We are the National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR), an organization of dedicated natural resource professionals—field practitioners, firefighters, and scientists—with thousands of years of on the ground experience. Our membership lives in every state of the nation. We are dedicated to sustaining healthy National Forests and National Grasslands, the lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, to provide clean water, quality outdoor recreation, wildlife and fish habitat, and carbon sequestration, and to be more resilient to catastrophic wildfire as our climate changes.

3) As some of us here on the Smokey Wire have been explaining for years, the NAFSR very clearly and succinctly states:
Small treatment areas, scattered “random acts of restoration” across the landscape, are not large enough to make a meaningful difference. Decades of field observations and peer reviewed research both document the effectiveness of strategic landscape fuel treatments and support the pressing need to do more. The cost of necessary treatments is a fraction of the wildfire damage such treatments can prevent. Today’s wildfires in overstocked forests burn so hot and on such vast acreages that reforestation becomes difficult or next to impossible in some areas. Soil damage and erosion become extreme. Watersheds which supply vital domestic, industrial, and agricultural water are damaged or destroyed.

4) This summer, America watched with great apprehension as the Caldor Fire approached South Lake Tahoe. In a community briefing, wildfire incident commander Rocky Oplinger described how active management of forestlands assisted firefighters. “When the fire spotted above Meyers, it reached a fuels treatment that helped reduce flame lengths from 150 feet to 15 feet, enabling firefighters to mount a direct attack and protect homes,” The Los Angeles Times quoted him.

5) And in a Sacramento Bee interview in which fire researcher Scott Stephens was asked how much consensus there is among fire scientists that fuels treatments do help, he answered “I’d say at least 99%. I’ll be honest with you, it’s that strong; it’s that strong. There’s at least 99% certainty that treated areas do moderate fire behavior. You will always have the ignition potential, but the fires will be much easier to manage.” I (Steve Ellis) don’t know if it’s 99% or not, but a wildfire commander with decades of experience recently told me this figure would be at least 90%. What is important here is that there is broad agreement among professionals that properly treated landscapes do moderate fire behavior.

6) During my career (Steve Ellis), I have personally witnessed fire dropping from tree crowns to the ground when it hit a thinned forest. So have many NAFSR members. This is an issue where scientist and practitioners agree. More strategic landscape treatments are necessary to help avoid increasingly disastrous wildfires. So, the next time you read or hear someone say that thinning and prescribed fire in the forest does not work, remember that nothing can be further from the truth.

Science Friday: Are Trees Sentient? New Scientist Interview with Susan Simard

This is a great interview and explains much more than a recent HCN piece, so I’m posting it in its entirety for those without an NS subscription. If you want to learn about the current state of plant cooperation from a more materialistic approach, try this review paper by Dudley in 2015.


Suzanne Simard was raised in the Monashee mountains in British Columbia, Canada. Her research, beginning with the discovery of the wood wide web, has transformed our understanding of forests. She is now a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia.

FEW scientists make much impact with their PhD thesis, but, in 1997, Suzanne Simard did just that. She had discovered that forest trees share and trade food via fungal networks that connect their roots. Her research on “the wood wide web” made the cover of Nature. What was then a challenge to orthodox ideas is today widely accepted.

But Simard and her colleagues continue to challenge our preconceptions of how plants interact. Among other things, their research shows that the wood wide web is like a brain and can communicate information throughout the entire forest, that trees recognise their offspring and nurture them and that lessons learned from past experiences can be transmitted from old trees to young ones.

Simard calls herself a “forest detective”. Her childhood was spent in the woods of British Columbia, Canada, where her family had made a living as foresters for generations. As a young woman, she joined the family profession, but soon realised that modern forestry practices were threatening the survival of the ecosystem she loved. She knew that, when logged with a lighter touch, forests can heal themselves, and she set out to discover how they are so naturally resilient. Along the way, her concern for the future of forests sparked an intense curiosity about what makes them tick.

Simard is now a professor in the faculty of forestry at the University of British Columbia. Her new book, Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the wisdom and intelligence of the forest, tells how – like trees in a forest – her life and research are intricately intertwined.

Rowan Hooper: How did your discovery of the wood wide web change the received wisdom about forests?

Suzanne Simard: The key finding is that trees are in a connected society, and that it’s a physical network and that they trade and collaborate and interact in really sophisticated ways as a cohesive, holistic society. From my training, and from the way we viewed forests or any plant community prior to that – at least in Western thinking – we didn’t see plants as collaborative and linking. We thought that plants are solitary and compete to acquire as many resources as they can to increase their fitness. That idea isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s just that the way plants grow isn’t simply by competition. They also collaborate, and there are synergies.

The wood wide web consists of fungi as well as tree roots. What are fungi in these mycorrhizal networks like?

There are many different species of fungi, and they have niches and different physical and physiological structures. Some are really big pipelines. Some are little – tiny, fine threads. They all have different roles in extracting resources and moving things around. If you change the composition of that fungal community, you actually change how nutrients and carbon and water are moved around.

At first, some biologists were sceptical about the wood wide web. How did you convince them?

It was so tiring. I had to keep showing that these networks exist, and that plants are obligate mutualists with fungi; this means they need them to gather nutrients and water from the soil, especially in a stressful environment. That is what all seeds encounter when they are trying to germinate. The environment is a stressful place because seeds are small, there are predators, competitors – there’s all sorts going on. And this little boost, the boost provided by the fungi, even though it’s hard to measure, can make the difference between survival or death.


New Scientist Default Image

Mature trees, such as this oak, hold information accrued over centuries

Adam Burton/naturepl.com


This doesn’t challenge natural selection at all. Darwin wrote about the importance of collaboration in communities. It’s just that it didn’t gain traction like the idea of competition did. Natural selection results from more than competition. It involves a lot of different interactions and relationships between species and with the environment.

Richard Powers fictionalised your struggle in his arboreal novel The OverstoryDid his account ring true?

Powers did such a great job. He was able to construct this character, and I thought that he really captured it well. Even though Patricia Westerford studied above-ground communication and I was studying below ground, that didn’t really matter. All the personal things about the difficulties in advancing her ideas and getting her work out there, I encountered something in parallel.

The pushback against your work reminds me of the reaction James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis received. Do you agree?

I think it comes back to the fact that there had been this separation of humanity from nature, mind from body, spirit from intellect, and that we had moved away from this more holistic, spiritual way of seeing the world. Lovelock’s idea of the biosphere as a self-regulating system was antithetical to the view that we could dissect the world and understand all the parts in a deterministic way. It was similar with Lynn Margulis and her endosymbiotic theory, showing how eukaryotic cells evolved from the engulfment and collaboration between different prokaryotic cells. She was ridiculed and her papers were rejected – but now her ideas are mainstream.

You have continued to make remarkable discoveries. How did you find out that trees recognise their family members?

I was working on mycorrhizal networks, seeing if the networks were improving regeneration of seedlings around trees. And it seemed like the next logical question was: well, would the networks be able to favour seedlings that were coming from the mother trees, the parent trees? I worked with Susan Dudley at McMaster University [in Canada] and we have found that kin recognition occurs in conifers. It’s happening through mycorrhizal networks, and it’s an important phenomenon in structuring these forest communities.

We were able to trace the carbon transferred between trees. We would label a mother or a sibling plant [by feeding it with carbon dioxide that contained a radioactive form of carbon] and then we would see that the carbon would transmit to a kin seedling, but not to a stranger planted nearby. I don’t know how they recognise their kin, but I assume it’s by chemicals because when we allow seedlings to connect with the mother trees or with their siblings, through these mycorrhizal networks, we get responses much more dramatically than if they connect with non-kin. It changes the rooting behaviour. It changes their chemistry, the nutrition of the plants and the response to disease.

All this reminds me of the “mother tree” in Avatar, a film featuring an alien species that can tap into something like a forest-wide natural network. Were you involved with that?

It’s funny, when the movie came out, I got a call from someone who said that [director] James Cameron based his idea of the film’s “hometree” and the Na’vi people connecting to the network on my work. I was like: “Oh, really? That’s cool. I’m glad somebody picked it up.” And then when I went to see the movie, I’m just like: “Oh my god, of course he read my papers.” Interestingly enough, James Cameron is making sequels to Avatar right now, and they’re making a documentary on the science behind Avatar. And now they’ve contacted me.

Your latest findings are even more mind-blowing. Tell us what you discovered when you mapped the nodes and connections in mycorrhizal networks.

The architecture of those networks follows a biological neural network. In your brain, neurotransmitters have got to move from different lobes in order for your thought patterns to emerge. So they have evolved to do that efficiently.

It turns out, the underground network in the forest is designed the same way. I think it’s for efficient transfer of information and resources for the health of the full community. Not only that, but the chemicals that are moving in those networks include glutamate, which is one of the dominant neurotransmitters in brains.

Is it too much to suggest that, like in a brain, there is intelligence in this network, even wisdom?

From a purely biological, physical analysis, it looked like it had the hallmarks of intelligence. Not just the communication of information and changes in behaviour as a result, but just the pure, evolved, biological chemistry and the shape of the networks themselves spoke to the idea that they were wired and designed for wisdom.

If you look at the sophisticated interactions between plants – and some of that happens through the networks – their ability to respond and change their behaviours according to this information all speaks of wisdom to me.

What about awareness? Are trees aware of us?

Plants are attuned to any kind of disturbance or injury, and we can measure their biochemical responses to that. We know that certain biochemical pathways are triggered to develop these cascades of chemicals that are responses to stresses and disturbances, like chewing by herbivores. And if they are so attuned to small injuries like that, why wouldn’t they be attuned to us? We’re the dominant disturbance agent in forests. We cut down trees. We girdle them. We tap them.


New Scientist Default Image

Science points to ways in which we can improve forestry management

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images


If I injure trees so much that they start to die, they start sending their carbon through their roots to their neighbours. They are responsive to us. We’ve proven it by doing our experiments. People go: “Oh, that’s kind of scary”. But why wouldn’t plants be aware of people? They are aware of everything else.

That might surprise some people in the West, but not the Indigenous communities in North America with which you collaborate. How do they see the forest?

The work I do about trees being connected and nurturing each other represents a world view that has been known for thousands of years by the Aboriginal people of North America. But there’s been this long history of ignoring them and ridiculing them and destroying them. Maybe we won’t listen to Aboriginal people because we think it’s mystical and airy-fairy and spiritual, and that we really only want science, but I’ve been able to demonstrate some of these holistic connections with science. We’re doing the same things. We have the same findings and world views. So let’s work as a team.

How has your upbringing shaped your own views?

I grew up in the forest, seeing how it was this diverse, entwined, very complex place where all these creatures live together. The trees, the roots overlapping, the many species growing together, the lush, structured forest – that was what I knew. My family are foresters, and when I started getting involved as a forester, there was a big shift going on in industrial practices, with clear-cutting [felling all the trees in an area]. Intuitively, it didn’t make sense to me.

Have things got better now that we know about the connections in forests?

We know a ton about how to make it better, and there are definitely people who want to make it better. There’s a lot of pressure to improve practices, and we even have certification of our forests to show that we do sustainable forestry practices. But look at the big picture in British Columbia. We’ve turned, in my short lifetime, from a province of old-growth forest to a province full of clear cuts. Even the iconic old-growth forests with the big cedars and hemlocks and spruces on the west coast, those towering forests, only about 3 per cent are left. We’ve cut everything down, and it’s not stopping.

So, no, it hasn’t improved. In some ways, it’s got a lot worse. And I think that this is manifested in these big indicators, which are climate change and loss of biodiversity. A lot of that comes from forestry practices.

Should there be some sort of charter for trees, akin to animal rights or human rights?

That’s a great idea, yes. We have the United Nations Convention on Conservation of Biodiversity and we’ve got the Paris Agreement on climate change. Conservation of forests is crucial to both of those things. So we have treaties and yet we don’t honour them. The iconic old-growth forests are hugely diverse and store megatons of carbon. Those forests aren’t very well protected and they aren’t protected far into the future. When we push the system to collapse – which is what we’re doing if we lose those old-growth forests – what are we going to do? They are the places where that genetic diversity lives, that we are going to depend on in order to get us through climate change.

What would you like people to do after hearing about your work or reading your book?

I want them to want to go to the forest. That’s the most simple, basic thing. Just go and be with it and love it and care for it and talk to it and show your respect for it. I think that is the foundation of changing our behaviours. Ultimately, this will translate into action. Not everybody will act, of course, and not everybody has to act. But we need that change to happen, and it starts with connecting back with nature.

The Mother Tree Project


New Scientist Default Image

The roots of trees like this red cedar form an underground network with fungi to create a kind of forestwide brain

Cheryl-Samantha Owen/naturepl.com


Every forest has its share of mature, majestic trees. Forest ecologist Suzanne Simard at the University of British Columbia, Canada, calls these “mother trees”. She and her colleagues have found that they are crucial to the well-being of the entire forest community. They are the hubs of communication, protection and sentience, they nurture their own offspring and they provide information to help generations of trees survive. This has crucial implications for the way we manage forests, which is why, in 2016, Simard launched The Mother Tree Project to explore the role that mother trees play in forest regeneration.

“It’s the biggest project I’ve ever done,” says Simard. It involves 24 Douglas fir forests stretching across nine climate regions in British Columbia. Each forest is logged using five different harvesting treatments, ranging from felling all the trees in an area to keeping large patches of trees with mother trees present. The team monitors and measures how the forest responds and regenerates by collecting information before and after logging about things like carbon storage, biodiversity and productivity.

Research is ongoing, but there have already been some compelling results. “We’ve found that the more mother trees we leave, the more diverse and abundant the natural regeneration is,” says Simard. Her team also has good evidence that mother trees protect seedlings, especially when conditions get tough, such as when there is a frost or a particularly hot, dry day. By comparing results in different climate regions, the researchers aim to identify more sustainable ways to manage forests in the face of climate change.

“I wanted to create a project that would show people that you can do things in a different way and design forest practices around the idea that the forest is a connected, nurturing, healing place,” says Simard.


I’ve spend most of my time looking at regeneration in ponderosa pine forests. It seems to me that the more large trees, the more seed there is because large trees produce large amounts of seed (but there also needs to be openings).  And in dry areas, large trees can produce shade that keeps the seedlings and soil from drying up.  So my own experience with pine is about the same as in the Mother Tree above.  In fact, I remember the Keen classification system which was popular in certain ponderosa pine areas when I started working (in the early 1980’s) when even-aged management was catching hold.

The size of crown and abundance of foliage are probably the best outward indicators of the relative vigor of different trees of a given age.
Therefore, each age class was further subdivided into four sub-groups based upon relative crown vigor. These are designated by letters .d to D.
The position of the tree in the stand in the following descriptions is for uncut stands. The positions may be entirely changed in a cutover stand; however, the other criteria of vigor are readily recognized.
.d. Full vigorous crowns with a length of 55 percent or more of the total height and of average width or wider; foliage usually dense; needles long and dark green; position of tree isolated or dominant (rarely codominant).

This paper by Hornibrook about trees in the Black Hills is from 1939 in the Journal of Forestry. It seems perhaps we have come full cycle.  OTOH, I don’t think I’ve seen this in lodgepole.