Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sierra Club blazed trail for Black Hills habitat restoration

The collapse of the Black Hills ponderosa pine monoculture was forecast as early as 2002.

According to the Forest Service's Northern Research station South Dakota's forested areas have increased 2.9% since 2009.
“Nobody should be content with the management of the Forest over the last three decades,” wrote authors Ashley Hoffman, a graduate of the University of South Dakota Law School, and Sean Kammer, an assistant professor at the school. “Forest” refers to the Black Hills National Forest, of which the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve is a part. [SD Law Review authors: Black Hills reflective of need for 'new law of fire']
GOP forest consultant, Frank Carroll, struggles with the truth as he bemoans the lack of prescribed fires on the Black Hills National Forest after one got away in 1989.
By the time [Sen. Daschle broke the deadlock] and got environmental analyses approved, the infestation had grown to 32,000 acres, but, you guessed it, the Forest Service was limited to taking action on the original 8,000 acres. It would be simple and perhaps partly true to blame obstructionist groups for stopping management action on the one hand. On the other hand, the forest was in such a mess after a century of misguided fire-suppression policies coupled with unfettered private-land development that it’s probable the beetle would have come, lawsuits or no lawsuits. One wonders, for example, how environmentalists could abuse “federal law” if the law did not allow for such abuse? Recent efforts to help facilitate the bark beetle fight have only managed to compound the problem. Neither Sen. Thune nor Rep. Noem made compelling arguments that they have accomplished much on behalf of sensible forest policy. [Carroll, Congress could do more for forests]
From 2012:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today signaled the U.S. Department of Agriculture's intent to issue a new planning rule for America's 193-million acre National Forest System that seeks to deliver stronger protections for forests, water, and wildlife while supporting the economic vitality of our rural communities, by releasing online a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule. The planning rule provides the framework for Forest Service land management plans for the 155 forests, 20 grasslands and 1 prairie in the National Forest System.
The Sierra Club's Frances Hunt, director of the Resilient Habitats campaign issued a statement that included this:
The new standards announced today can help ensure that our forests will survive for future generations to explore and enjoy. We will continue to work with the Forest Service to promote effective enforcement of strong habitat protections and implementation of plans that are in the best long term interest of our great outdoors.
Wind Cave National Park has postponed a controlled burn.

Today in climate change:
Not so long ago the U.S. Forest Service considered it primarily a summer problem with a few regions breaking the trend in early spring and late fall. But climate change, according to most wildland fire experts, has turned fire season into a year-round issue. What used to slow down fire season was winter—a long and cold time of year with lots of snow that killed off many invasive or destructive pests and filled rivers and reservoirs with ample water to supply the needs of millions living in the West. Now winter is shorter and has far less snow accumulation in many areas. It will take years to slow and hopefully reverse the effects of climate change on our wildlands, but it’s not impossible — we just all have to pitch in. [US Forest Service]
Carroll is right about findings that show the world's oldest trees are dying while contracting out to the very industry taking the biggest Black Hills trees leaving doghair as a ladder fuel.

Hardwood forests and lighter-colored surfaces reflect sunlight and protect watersheds while the needles of conifers absorb heat creating faster snowmelt.
In summer, the eastern United States is the world’s major hot spot for volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.s) from trees. Chemical reactions involving tree V.O.C.s produce methane and ozone, two powerful greenhouse gases, and form particles that can affect the condensation of clouds. Research by my group at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and by other laboratories, suggests that changes in tree V.O.C.s affect the climate on a scale similar to changes in the earth’s surface color and carbon storage capacity. [Nadine Unger, New York Times.]
The Industrial Revolution and European settlement in the New World took hardwoods for charcoal then humans allowed fast-growing conifers to replace lost forests.

In the Mountain West vast tracts of land have been cleared by bark beetles where aquifers are being recharged: a practice well known to pre-Columbian cultures who burned forests to increase ungulate populations.

Department of Interior releases carbon findings:
Forests, grasslands and shrublands and other ecosystems in the West sequester nearly 100 million tons (90.9 million metric tons) of carbon each year, according to a Department of the Interior report released today.
Wildfire risk assessment proposed.
This non-native species was first introduced to the United Sates from Asia in packing material. Initially distributed along rail lines, it spread throughout many States including Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, and South Dakota.-- By Fabian Menalled MSU Extension Cropland Weeds Specialist
Christopher Joyce, NPR:
These cheatgrass fires are increasing partly because the climate is warmer and also because more people are living in cheatgrass country. There are some things that can be done though, like planting green borders of less flammable vegetation around cheatgrass as a fire break.
From the USGS Western Ecological Research Center:
There is significant concern that repeated burning at historically appropriate fire return intervals for ponderosa pine forest will benefit this invasive plant to the detriment of native species. There is additional concern that the high flammability of cheatgrass fuelbeds will lead to fire return intervals that are more frequent than occurred historically and that are prescribed in the agency fire management plans, potentially preventing recruitment of pine seedlings and leading to type conversion of native forests to alien grasslands.
Grazing cheatgrass early in the season by native ungulates that deposit organic fertilizer helps restore native plants.

Uncanny that as this interested party called for the Sioux District of Custer National Forest to be remanded to local control two wildland fires, one of unknown origin, began clearing cheatgrass in the Slim Buttes area on the same day.

Game, Fish & Parks and the livestock industry have had far too much control over Black Hills habitat to blame the Forest Service for the collapse of the ponderosa pine monoculture most of us have been warning of for over a decade. Two hundred years ago when the Lakota and other cultures burned off the region for ungulates, open spaces dominated the landscape and water supplies weren't being sapped by an oppressive conifer canopy.

Only hardwood release restoring aspen and bur oak to the Black Hills will reduce wildland fire risks.

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