By Nicky Ouellet
As fire season winds down, managers are intentionally setting fire to brush piles, slash and even large sections of forests in an effort to prevent out of control wildfires in future seasons. A group of scientists from Montana and Idaho recently published a paper arguing that strategies like these should be part of a radical rethinking of how people in the West live with fire.
Dave McWethy says Montana has passed a tipping point. Summers are hotter and drier, which means fire season lasts longer. Our approach to put every single fire out, like we’ve done for the past 100 years, just isn’t realistic anymore.
“The big take home message is that we can’t respond the way we have in the past to wildfire,” McWethy said.
McWethy is an assistant professor of earth sciences at Montana State University. In a recent article in Nature Sustainability, McWethy and his coauthors argue that people living in the West need to reconsider how we live with, and even harness, fire if we want to continue living here in the future.
“We have to make changes. And one of the great things we have to do that, is how we used to use fire as a tool in the past,” McWethy said.
McWethy’s team found a model in the Netherlands, where instead of fighting rising sea levels with taller and taller dams, engineers built an infrastructure system designed to work with water instead of fight it.
“And instead of rebuilding in the same way that they have in the past, they’ve decided to transform how they accept or live with these hazards… It’s coming back to this idea that fire is part of Western landscapes, it was in the past it is today and it’s going to be in the future. And I think becoming comfortable with the fact that with warming temps and a longer fire season, the best way we can move into the future is accept fire as a natural process, and start to think about how we could use fire itself to safeguard our communities,” McWethy said.
By Dan Kraker
Programs that pay landowners to keep carbon sequestered in forests are beginning to spread, now that California has a cap and trade system designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some say Minnesota should be a bigger player in the carbon offset market.
Money may not grow on trees — but the carbon that trees store could be worth millions, as consumers, companies and governments ramp up efforts to fight climate change.
Earlier this week, a group of land managers and scientists from around Minnesota came together in Duluth to start a conversation about how the state can join in the growing marketplace that pays to keep carbon sequestered in forests.
Minnesota’s climate change-fighting efforts so far have focused largely on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving away from coal power and towards cleaner energy like wind and solar.
But there’s been a lot less focus on the other side of the carbon equation: What to do with those greenhouse gases that continue to be emitted into the atmosphere, the heat-trapping culprits that cause global warming?
California is one of the few states that has taken the lead on incentivizing practices that lead to carbon sequestration, and established an official statewide cap and trade system in 2013. Dozens of forestry projects around the country are part of the program, including many on tribal lands.
But none of the carbon sequestration projects that are involved in California’s marketplace are based in Minnesota — at least, not yet. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is exploring the possibility of creating a forest carbon offset program on 14,000 acres of its reservation in northern Minnesota, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is exploring a 9,000-acre program on its land near Cloquet.
The idea is that polluters in California or elsewhere could then purchase offsets from those programs, as a way to counterbalance their own greenhouse gas emissions.
In Minnesota, land managers and forestry experts are looking for ways to encourage landowners to manage their forests in such a way that sucks more carbon out of the atmosphere.
By Lee Shearer
ATHENS, Ga. — Climate change gets the most attention nowadays when it comes to human-caused environmental destruction, but it’s only one of the ways humans are shredding ecological webs of life.
One that’s under-reported is the growing spread of foreign plants like privet, a nondescript Asian shrub a U.S. Forest Service scientist once compared to an atomic bomb in its ability to obliterate everything around it.
Used for more than a century as a landscaping plant — the Sanford Stadium hedge is one — seven species of privet have now made their way into more than 600,000 acres of Georgia forest and countless urban and rural yards.
Other plants, mainly from China and other Asian countries, have also reached millions of acres in Georgia in a kind of slow-motion life-and-death struggle playing out in various scenarios not just in Georgia but across the world.
They get here and spread in various ways. Many brought here for planting because they’re pretty. Privet and dozens of other invasive exotic plants are a big and under-rated factor in why scientists are seeing steep declines in insect numbers and bird numbers in Georgia and elsewhere, says Georgia Department of Natural Resources botanist and ecologist Mincy Moffett.
“Invasive exotics is about extinction,” he said.
“We’re losing the Southern forest,” said Athens-Clarke County Ecological Resource Manager Mike Wharton.
When Wharton says forest, he’s not just talking about trees, but all the life in a forest — the birds that nest in the trees, the rabbits and voles beneath, the bugs or greenery they eat, even the soil micorganisms and worms.
As privet grows up in thickets, nothing can grow beneath it, and even the soil acidity is changed.
Forest researchers have found that the changed soil is more hospitable for invasive species of worms whose appetites accelerate litter composition and make soil harder, increasing stormwater runoff, Wharton explained.
Humans have been moving plants and animals around thousands of years, but the pressure on natural systems today from invading plants — privet, Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy and many more — is unprecedented, said Karan Rawlins, invasive species coordinator at the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.
“People have always mixed things up, but in modern times it has sped up, more than a natural system can adapt to,” she said.
No one expects to be able to roll back the invasion, but state land managers, among others, are working to protect and restore what they can. Many landscapes still remain relatively untouched by non-native invasion.
Locally, the State Botanical Garden has been rolling back the exotic plants infesting its forests, and a volunteer group called the Weed Warriors saw native plants return to Athens’ Memorial Park as they worked over years to eradicate the park’s heavy load of privet, ivy and other exotics.
As Athens-Clarke’s Wharton spoke this summer, he watched a small army of volunteers from Athens’ Pilgrims Pride poultry processing plant toil for days in July heat removing privet and other invasive plants from a stretch of the North Oconee River near downtown Athens, giving a head start of years on what Wharton hopes will be a much larger restoration along the river.
When native plants return to the area, re-emerging or seeded with a recipe created by State Botanical Garden of Georgia conservationist Linda Chafin, the stretch will be a seed bank for native plantings elsewhere as Athens-Clarke land managers reclaim more exotic-occupied territory, Wharton said.
“As we pull it back, we’re going to see how beautiful this area is,” Wharton said.
Forest ecologists like Rawlins also hope state lawmakers can be convinced of how serious a threat invasive exotic plants really are.
Georgia is one of just four states that don’t have a noxious weed law that could reduce the sale and use of foreign plants known to be invasion threats.
By Christina Larson
Destruction of the forests can be swift. Regrowth is much, much slower.But around the world, people are putting shovels to ground to help it happen.
They labor amid spectacular recent losses — the Amazon jungle and the Congo basin ablaze, smoke from Indonesian rainforests wafting over Malaysia and Singapore, fires set mostly to make way for cattle pastures and farm fields. Between 2014 and 2018, a new report says, an area the size of the United Kingdom was stripped of forest each year.
Rebuilding woodland is slow and often difficult work. And it requires patience: It can take several decades or longer for forests to regrow as viable habitats, and to absorb the same amount of carbon lost when trees are cut and burned.
And yet, there is urgency to that work — forests are one of the planet’s first lines of defense against climate change, absorbing as much as a quarter of man-made carbon emissions each year.
The impact could be great: A recent study in the journal Science projected that if 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) of new trees were planted — around 500 billion saplings— they could absorb 205 gigatonnes (220 gigatons) of carbon once they reached maturity. The Swiss researchers estimated this would be equivalent to about two-thirds of man-made carbon emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Other scientists dispute those calculations, while some fear the theoretical promise of tree-planting as an easy solution to climate changes could distract people from the range and scope of the responses needed.
But all agree that trees matter. And in many places around the world, people are working to revive them:
An international conservation group is warning that more than half of the European tree species that exist nowhere else in the world are threatened with extinction.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature said in a new report Friday that 58% of the continent’s 454 native trees are threatened and 15% are “critically endangered” – one step away from extinction.
More than 150 experts contributed to the report, which the conservancy called the first comprehensive assessment of the extinction risk of trees in Europe.
The findings in the “European Red List of Trees” come amid heightened concern about environmental issues and extinction risks in Europe and beyond. A U.N. report on biodiversity released in May warned that extinction looms for over 1 million species of plants and animals.
IUCN, a 71-year-old organization known for its “Red List” classification of threatened species, said that “invasive and problematic” species are the top threat to European trees, with urban development and “unsustainable logging” as other factors.
The group’s Europe director, Luc Bas, said “human-led activities” were resulting in population declines of important tree species.
Among the recommendations , the report’s authors called for the creation of protected areas, improved monitoring and increased research on the impacts of climate change on forests and individual tree species.
By Peter Aleshire
WHITE MOUNTAINS — Granted, getting up your hopes for the 4-Forest Restoration Initiatives (4FRI) is just a little like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, with Lucy grinning at him like a crazy person.
Still, the most recent developments point to potenial improvements. This might really work out well for the struggling wood products industry in the White Mountains.
The Four Forests Restoration Initiative is the most ambitious forest restoration effort in the country, with the goal of thinning tree densities on more than 2 million acres of ponderosa pine forests in Arizona from perhaps 1,000 per acre to more like 100 per acre. Environmentalist, local officials, loggers and foresters agreed that a combination of prescribed burns and small-wood logging operations restoring the forest and returning low-intensity wildfires to their natural role. In the process, 4FRI hopes to reduce catastrophic wildfires, protecting watershed and saving forested communities. The project include much of the Kaibab, Coconino, Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests. However, the effort has floundered in the past seven years for lack of infrastructure and a market for the wood slash that constitutes half of the material to be removed — the biomass.
Novo Power President Brad Worsley says he’s feeling optimistic the 28 megawatt biomass-burning power plant in Snowflake may stay in business, now that the Forest Services has released the Rim Country request for proposals (RFP) on some 800,000 acres in dire need of thinning.
“I’m happy with the RFP, mainly because they continue to prioritize the biomass – that was really big,” said Worsley.
The wood products industry spawned by the decade-long White Mountains Stewardship Project accounts for hundreds of jobs in an area beset by unemployment and low growth rates. The shutdown of coal-fired power plants combined with the earlier shutdown of mills has thinned the job supply further.
But if things go just right – the Forest Service’s new flexibility and emphasis on getting rid of the could prove an economic boon to the White Mountains.
And that’s in addition to keeping the whole place from burning down.
WELZOW: Germany’s forests have long been treasured by its people, so the country has reacted with alarm and dismay as a beetle infestation has turned climate-stressed woodlands into brown ecological graveyards.
After two unusually hot summers in a row, vast patches of the forests mythologised by medieval fairytales, Goethe’s writings and Romantic painters have turned into tinder-dry dead zones.
Given the scale of the threat to the one third of German territory covered by trees, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government convened a “national forest summit” on Wednesday.
There Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner pledged 800 million euros (about $880 million) in federal and state funds over four years to restore the 180,000 hectares of forest destroyed by drought and pests as well as storms and fires — the equivalent of 250,000 football pitches.
The chief culprit has been the tiny bark beetle, which has gone on a rampage as trees in water-starved habitats have lost their natural defences.
In vast parts of Germany, like Welzow forest 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Berlin, once healthy trees have become defoliated skeletons, their trunks marked by tell-tale networks of tiny tunnels.
“The insect eats the bark and lays eggs inside,” said forest ranger Arne Barkhausen. “The larvae then start to eat the trunk and block the nutrient pathways of the tree, which dies in about four weeks.”
Forestry officials from across the southern United States have unveiled a new web application designed to help communities, investors and wood buyers determine the supply of available forest resources in a given area and make more informed decisions on where to locate wood-based businesses in the South.
“This tool could be a game changer in attracting and growing more forest-based businesses to the South,” said Southern Group of State Foresters Chairman Scott Bissette, assistant commissioner, North Carolina Forest Service.
Developed by the Southern Group of State Foresters and the USDA Forest Service, the Southern Timber Supply Analysis web application is accessible at southerntimbersupply.com. It uses maps that allow users to estimate the amount of timberland, standing timber, and growth and removals within a user-specified distance or trucking time of any site in the southern United States, the Southern Group of State Foresters said in a news release.
The Southern Timber Supply Analysis web application is the first of its kind in the nation, granting public access to timber supply data in a user-friendly format to anyone with access to the internet, according to the release.
By Paul Rogers
TULARE COUNTY — A Bay Area conservation group has signed a deal to purchase the world’s largest privately owned giant sequoia forest, a primeval landscape in California’s Southern Sierra Nevada with massive trees that soar 250 feet tall, span up to 80 feet around at their trunks and live for more than 2,000 years.
The 530-acre property, known as the Alder Creek, is roughly the same size as Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County. Located in Tulare County 10 miles south of Sequoia National Park, it is home to 483 massive trees that are larger than six feet in diameter — four more trees than the famed Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park.
“This is probably the most-coveted sequoia conservation opportunity in a generation,” said Sam Hodder, president of Save the Redwoods League, a non-profit group based in San Francisco that has agreed to pay $15.6 million to purchase the property.
“It’s not any single tree,” he said of the landscape, which eventually will be open to the public. “This is an alpine landscape covered with iconic, breathtaking, cinnamon-barked trees that are surrounded by pastures. It is such a superlative representation of nature. This is the prize. This is the best of what’s left. It’s a very special place.”
The league, founded in 1918, signed a purchase agreement with the Rouch family, who has owned it since the 1940s. The family’s patriarch, Claude Albert, bought the land for its logging potential just before World War II, said his grandson, Mike Rouch, of Fresno.
“When they bought the property there was not even a road to it,” he said. “They had to ride horses.”
Over the generations, the family cut down sugar pine, white fir, red fir and other trees to make framing lumber for houses and other products. But they left the massive sequoias largely untouched.
By John Buckner
John Fleming was minding his own business that particular morning. As the owner of J. R. Fleming Forestry LLC, he’s a forest consultant that helps landowners manage their timber. That includes tree species inventories, determining stocking rates, setting up timber sales and establishing management objectives to meet the needs of the landowner’s interests and tax burden.
This particular day, he was cruising a wood lot out in the Missouri River hills near Morrison, getting an idea of the property’s boundaries because he had organized a timber sale for a landowner and wanted to make sure the property lines were well-marked.
That’s when something on the ground caught his eye under the shady tree canopy. He squinted, trying to focus on the objects, because there were more than one.
“I noticed burs on the ground and I knew there were only a couple things that have a fruit that looks like that,” he said.
The forester thinks this chestnut is probably an off-spring of the [original] tree that was planted, putting this tree’s current age around 80 to 120 years-old.
If this tree has survived this long without contracting the blight, does it have chestnut blight resistance?
John’s best guess is the tree is too isolated from another chestnut tree stand infected with the blight to have contracted the disease.
“I do plan to have it tested for resistance to the fungus,” he says. “There is still a question as to whether it is a true American Chestnut or an American chestnut – Ozark chinkapin (Castanea ozarkensis) cross.”
The Ozark chinkapin is a rare southern Mo. tree in the Chestnut Family and has more genetic diversity than the American chestnut, therefore seems to be more resistant to the blight. Originally thought extinct, around 45 Ozark chinkapin trees have been “discovered” since the early 2000s.