The Moroccan Food Forest That Inspired an Agricultural Revolution

By Eric J. Wallace
These ancient forest gardens may be more relevant than ever.

Before modernization, food forests were a staple of indigenous communities in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and beyond. Though most have vanished, vestiges have been identified in places as diverse as Tanzania, southern India, Indonesia, the Amazon Rainforest, Central America, and the Caribbean islands.

“This method of agriculture was used throughout the world, but particularly in tropical regions, where multi-species food forests were once the dominant method of production,” says John F. Munsell, Virginia Tech professor of agroforestry and co-author of 2018’s The Community Food Forest Handbook. Though little is known about their early history and adaption, Munsell says forest gardens began with villagers seeking to make their lives easier.

“They settled inside or along forest edges and relied on them for food,” he says. “Naturally, they started managing and altering the environment to their advantage.”

Useful plants were cultivated. Those that weren’t got weaned out. As space opened up, new species were added.

“Say you find bananas growing a mile away,” says Munsell. “That’s great. But it takes time and energy to harvest those resources. Planting them in your backyard is infinitely more convenient.” If you apply that thinking across centuries, “the region’s indigent edible plants became aggregated in one spot.”

Villagers mimicked natural relationships and planted certain species closer to others. Trade introduced non-native plants. Trial-and-error brought horticultural knowledge. Techniques were passed down and steadily improved.

In time, conditions supporting helpful or edible bugs were encouraged. Ditto for mushrooms and medicinal herbs. Gardens came to include plants and nuts that fed livestock such as pigs or goats. Waterways were diverted and rainwater impoundments installed. Domesticated birds including chickens, guineas, and pheasants ate unwanted insects. Restricted to given areas, goats cleared brush. Pigs rooted in the soil, preparing it for planting. The animals’ manure served as fertilizer.

“The goal was effectively to create an agricultural ecosystem that was as self-sustaining as possible,” says Munsell. As a result, advanced region-specific methodologies emerged.

Source: The Moroccan Food Forest That Inspired an Agricultural Revolution – Gastro Obscura, 2019-04-01

‘If we don’t burn it, nature will’: Georgia blazes old fears, leads nation in prescribed fire

By Samantha Max and Maya Miller
As wildfires ravage the West, environmentalists and landowners in Georgia and the Southeast are preventing uncontrolled blazes and preserving the environment with prescribed burns.

Mark Melvin lit a match and dropped it to the forest floor. He then lit another and another, blazing a circle of flames around a towering pine tree.

Soon, a bright orange glow swallowed 113 acres of brush, radiating a skin-piercing heat. A thick fog rose from the ground, casting a shadow on the amber tree trunks looming above.

Lighting fires is like playing a game of chess, Melvin said. You always have to be one step ahead.

“I can see the fire before I light it,” he said.

Melvin is no arsonist. He’s a forest manager, responsible for about 18,000 acres of woods at the Joseph W. Jones Center at Ichauway Plantation in southwest Georgia. The expansive range, once the quail hunting preserve of Coca-Cola’s former president and host to distinguished guests like former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is now a living laboratory for some of the country’s leading environmental scientists.

Each winter for the last two decades, Melvin has set fires to cement that legacy. On days when the weather and wind allow, he makes a detailed plan, applies for a burn permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission, and suits up in a mustard jacket and brown leather boots for a few hours of fire and smoke.

For him, fire is not just destructive — it’s an agent of change. The flames lick away layers of pine needles and fallen leaves, clearing a path for sunlight to seep in and sprout fresh shoots of grass.

Forests need fire. Without them, plants die, animals leave, and mounds of flammable undergrowth pile high. Rather than wait for a lightning strike or cigarette butt to spark an uncontrollable wave of flames, Melvin conducts controlled burns, also known as prescribed fire.

“Just like a doctor prescribes medication to keep their patient healthy, we prescribe fire to keep the forest healthy,” Melvin said.

Read more here: https://www.macon.com/news/state/georgia/article230380414.html#storylink=cpy

Source: ‘If we don’t burn it, nature will’: Georgia blazes old fears, leads nation in prescribed fire – The Telegraph, 2019-06-11

Trump’s wildfire plan eases environmental law to speed forest thinning in California

By Emily Cadei
The Trump administration’s wildfire plan would ease environmental restrictions in national forests to speed clearing, thinning and the removal of dead trees. He’s chided California for its forest management.

The Trump administration is proposing new regulations it argues could help prevent wildfires — but could also open up more federal land to logging and mineral exploration.

The U.S. Forest Service released proposed regulatory changes Wednesday that would exempt several new types of forest management projects from the typical review process under the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA.

The changes are part of an ongoing push by the Trump administration to speed forest management projects — things like clearing brush, removing dead trees and thinning smaller trees from overgrown forests.

Source: Trump’s wildfire plan eases environmental law to speed forest thinning in California – Sacramento Bee, 2019-06-12

A new strategy to regrow a forest on abandoned mineland: Start by tearing up the earth

By Andy Kubis
The relatively new technique counters what had been traditional practice. But, one forester said, “It’s more natural — the way it was supposed to be, the way it was before mining.”

Deep in the Moshannon State Forest in Elk County, there’s a sloped, barren patch of land surrounded by an otherwise healthy forest. It looks as if a tornado has torn through here — the earth has been churned up, with tangled roots and jumbled rocks.

In the late 1800s, this area was deep-mined. Later, it was strip-mined. When the coal companies left in the mid-1990s, the land was abandoned. Then about twelve years ago, the site was reclaimed. Trees were planted, but didn’t take, as often happens on reclaimed minelands.

“The technology back then was to just re-contour the land,” explains John Hecker, a forester for the state who manages this track of land. “But the bulldozers, as they ran over the land, they compacted the soil. Trees don’t do very well on compacted soil. This site is a good example of that.”

What few trees are here are extremely stunted and thin. But now this — and hundreds of acres of formerly mined land in Pennsylvania — are getting an ecological do-over. ‘Reclamation 2.0,’ you could call it.

That’s why the ground is ripped apart. A jumbo-sized bulldozer with a 3-foot blade came through here earlier in the year and criss crossed the area with deep furrows. As the dozer went through, it blended the materials together to make what looks like very healthy soil: a lot of shale, pre-mined and native soils and sandstone.

“Now the tree roots [can] grow down into that loose soil where it’s moist,” Hecker said. “Those trees will really grow well.”

This aggressive form of bulldozing is a relatively new technique; it’s only been used for the last 10 years or so. It’s called the Forestry Reclamation Approach.

Source: A new strategy to regrow a forest on abandoned mineland: Start by tearing up the earth – StateImpact Pennsylvania, 2019-06-07

BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal?

A documentary about the burning of wood at an industrial scale for energy, “BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal?” tells the little-known story of the accelerating destruction of our forests for fuel, and probes the policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and blatant greenwashing of the burgeoning biomass power industry.
By independent filmmakers Marlboro Films, LLC: Alan Dater, Lisa Merton, and Chris Hardee.

Source: BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal? – Link TV

Trees talk to each other and scientists have mapped the network

By Robert Dalheim
Scientists discovered that trees talk to each other through the Wood Wide Web. And now, they’ve mapped it.

Do trees actually talk to each other? And if so, how do they do it?

Just over 20 years ago, ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered that trees do communicate with each other, and it’s through a fungal network scientists have nicknamed the Wood Wide Web.

And now, an international team of scientists has created the first global map of the vast underground network. They did this by creating a computer algorithm to analyze a database from the Global Forest Inititiave, which includes 1.2 million trees in more than 70 countries.

The algorithm takes into account the different fungal species that associate with each tree species. It also takes into account local climate factors – which the scientists say has the biggest role to play.

“It’s the first time that we’ve been able to understand the world beneath our feet, but at a global scale,” Thomas Crowther, an author of the study from ETH Zurich, told the BBC. “Just like an MRI scan of the brain helps us to understand how the brain works, this global map of the fungi beneath the soil helps us to understand how global ecosystems work.

“What we find is that certain types of microorganisms live in certain parts of the world, and by understanding that we can figure out how to restore different types of ecosystems and also how the climate is changing,” he said.

Source: Trees talk to each other and scientists have mapped the network – Woodworking News, 2019-05-16

Eastern forests shaped more by Native Americans’ burning than climate change

By Jeff Mulhollem
Native Americans’ use of fire to manage vegetation in what is now the Eastern United States was more profound than previously believed, according to a Penn State researcher who determined that forest composition change in the region was caused more by land use than climate change.

“I believe Native Americans were excellent vegetation managers and we can learn a lot from them about how to best manage forests of the U.S.,” said Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “Native Americans knew that to regenerate plant species that they wanted for food, and to feed game animals they relied on, they needed to burn the forest understory regularly.”

Over the last 2,000 years at least, according to Abrams — who for three decades has been studying past and present qualities of eastern U.S. forests — frequent and widespread human-caused fire resulted in the predominance of fire-adapted tree species. And in the time since burning has been curtailed, forests are changing, with species such as oak, hickory and pine losing ground.

“The debate about whether forest composition has been largely determined by land use or climate continues, but a new study strongly suggests anthropogenic fire has been the major driver of forest change in the East,” said Abrams. “That is important to know because climate change is taking on an ever larger proportion of scientific endeavor.”

Source: Eastern forests shaped more by Native Americans’ burning than climate change – Penn State University, 2019-05-21

Resilience of Yellowstone’s forests tested by unprecedented fire

By Kelly April Tyrrell, University of Wisconsin
In August 2016, areas of Yellowstone National Park that burned in 1988 burned again. Shortly after, in October 2016, ecologist Monica Turner and her team of graduate students visited the park to begin to assess the landscape.

“We saw these areas where everything was combusted and we hadn’t seen that previously,” says Turner, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who has closely studied Yellowstone’s response to fire since 1988. “That was surprising.”

In a study published this week [May 20, 2019] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Turner and her team describe what happens when Yellowstone — adapted to recurring fires every 100 to 300 years — instead burns twice in fewer than 30 years. Yellowstone as we know it faces an uncertain future, the researchers say, and one of the big questions they hope to answer is whether the forests can recover.

“We were essentially able to reconstruct what the forest looked like before the fire happened, how many trees there were and how big they would have been,” Braziunas says. “Because we also measured nearby stands (of trees) that didn’t burn, we could compare what happens after the reburns and game out the scenarios in the model.”

The estimate, she and Turner say, represents a best-case, conservative scenario. With a warming climate and increased frequency of drought, the forests are likely to burn again in short intervals.

However, the forest has long shown itself to be resilient.

“The landscapes are going to look different than they have in the past,” says Turner, “but that doesn’t mean they won’t be beautiful. There will be species that benefit and species that see their ranges contract.”

“Change is going to happen and change is going to happen more quickly than we thought it would,” she adds. “We are learning how the system responds, but we don’t know to what degree it will be resilient or adapt in the future. But I am not ready to write it off. We have been surprised in the past.”

Source: Resilience of Yellowstone’s forests tested by unprecedented fire – Wildfire Today, 2019-05-21

Scientist finds rare, ancient tree in North Carolina swamp

By Carla Field
The bald cypress is on Black River property purchased by the Nature Conservancy.

Stahle led a group of media members and other interested parties on a paddling trip to the ancient cypress stand Thursday morning.

Stahle along with colleagues from the university’s Ancient Bald Cypress Consortium and other conservation groups, first discovered the trees in 2017, Science Daily reported.

Science Daily reported that the ancient trees are part of an intact ecosystem spanning most of the 65-mile length of the Black River.

The trees are scientifically valuable for reconstructing ancient climate conditions. The oldest trees extend the climate record in the southeast United States by 900 years. They show evidence of droughts and flooding during colonial and precolonial times that exceed any measured in modern times, experts say.

Less than 1% of original bald cypress forests survived the heavy logging of the past.

Source: Scientist finds rare, ancient tree in North Carolina swamp – WYFF 4, 2019-05-10

Researchers map symbiotic relationships between trees and microbes worldwide

by Taylor Kubota, Stanford University
In and around the tangled roots of the forest floor, fungi and bacteria grow with trees, exchanging nutrients for carbon in a vast, global marketplace. A new effort to map the most abundant of these symbiotic relationships—involving more than 1.1 million forest sites and 28,000 tree species—has revealed factors that determine where different types of symbionts will flourish. The work could help scientists understand how symbiotic partnerships structure the world’s forests and how they could be affected by a warming climate.

In and around the tangled roots of the forest floor, fungi and bacteria grow with trees, exchanging nutrients for carbon in a vast, global marketplace. A new effort to map the most abundant of these symbiotic relationships—involving more than 1.1 million forest sites and 28,000 tree species—has revealed factors that determine where different types of symbionts will flourish. The work could help scientists understand how symbiotic partnerships structure the world’s forests and how they could be affected by a warming climate.

Source: Researchers map symbiotic relationships between trees and microbes worldwide – Phys.org, 2019-05-15