Tuesday, December 22, 2015

All the above: fire, bark beetle, thinning critical for water supplies

Update, 28 December, 1350 MST:
Despite the gains, at least 65 million National Forest System acres are still in need of restoration, agency leaders said, explaining that the rising cost of wildfire suppression has taken funding away from restoration, watershed and wildlife programs, limiting the Forest Service’s ability to do the work that would prevent fires in the first place. [Bob Berwyn]
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Update, 26 December, 0915 MST: "Fire top factor as officials update forest management plan:" Santa Fe New Mexican.

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Laura McCarthy is director of conservation for the Nature Conservancy in New Mexico.
“Healthy forests, which are not so packed, release more water,” McCarthy said. “Overgrown forests are not in the condition to function as the water towers we need them to be. Overgrown forests work at 70 percent of their capacity.” She said investors know that water is critical to the economy, and that water fund projects are as important to business as they are to the environment. [Albuquerque Journal]
And, from the US Geological Survey:
Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), the most widely distributed pine in North America, experienced one of the most rapid and extensive of these post-glacial plant migrations. The eastern race of ponderosa pine (variety scopulorum) spread northward along the Rocky Mountains, starting at its northernmost known distribution in southern New Mexico and Arizona around 13,000 years ago, and reached central Montana only within the last millennium. The western race (variety ponderosa) experienced a parallel but less well-known migration along the Sierra Nevada, eventually mingling with the northernmost populations of the eastern race in the northern Rockies. [Climate Past as Prologue for Ponderosa Pines]
Talk about shutting the barn door after the horses were incinerated by arsonists.
Any fire study that only looks back as far as 1979 ignores huge fires that resulted from major droughts in earlier decades. The 1970s were one of the wettest decades on record, with an average of just 3 million acres a year burned. By comparison, there were 9 million acres of annual fires in the 1950s; 23 million in the 1940s; and 39 million in the 1930s. While there are some problems with data from those early decades, they are valid enough to show that recent changes in droughts and fires are due to cyclical variations in climate, not to human-caused warming. [The Antiplanner]
How firing off those forests didn't contribute to a warming planet remains a mystery.
On average, the Forest Service spends about $1.3 billion on fire suppression, but that cost has been steadily rising in recent years. This year, for the first time ever, more than half of the Forest Service’s budget was dedicated to fire, meaning that other, non-fire programs — like watershed management or road maintenance — have seen their budgets decline. [2015 Was The Costliest Wildfire Season Ever]
Global warming has been accelerating since humans began setting fires to clear habitat, as a weapon or just for amusement. The Industrial Revolution and European settlement in the New World took hardwoods for charcoal then humans allowed fast-growing conifers to replace lost forests.
A new analysis of the fossil record by scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has revealed that the structure of plant and animal communities changed significantly about 6,000 years ago, around the time agriculture began to spread across North America. Obviously, something had changed the way plants and animals interacted with each other and with their environments — the question that remained was what might have been the cause. The researchers had two main theories: the first was that changes in the climate were responsible, and the second was that some kind of other biological pressure, likely human activities — which were on the rise during this period in history — was to blame.
Read that here.

Grass, gambel oak and creosote bushes would replace the piñon and juniper stands where groundwater is threatened.
According to a new scientific study, New Mexicans might come to live amid such a landscape, virtually barren of all coniferous trees, within a generation or two. The study, led by a Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher, says the conifers of the southwestern United States’ pine-juniper woodlands could be wiped out by climate change. “What we found is that by 2050, give or take multiple decades, there should be no forests in the Southwest,” said Los Alamos ecologist Nate McDowell. [Albuquerque Journal]
According to the US Department of Interior forests, grasslands, shrublands and other ecosystems in the West sequester nearly 100 million tons (90.9 million metric tons) of carbon each year.

The US Forest Service responded to 52 new wildland fire starts totaling 23,425 acres during just one day in August. 15,089 of those acres are in the Northwest. The US Army mobilized to assist with structure protection. A record 35 Incident Meteorologists were deployed to support firefighters and to provide vital weather info to responders.

Latest reports place western wildfire damage at a record-breaking 6.9 million acres so far this season, 45% higher than in an average year. Half of the Forest Service budget is ear-marked for wildland fire costs and this year's allotment is up in flames.

Dense Douglas fir, spruce, lodgepole, ponderosa pine stands prevent aspen restoration and hardwood release while opposition to mechanical harvest rages on in the environmental community. No longer natural after a century of fire suppression Montana's forests are building fuel loads in habitats where indigenous cultures cleared for millennia.

Last year the western spruce budworm defoliated 25,000 acres of Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce and lodgepole pine in northwestern Wyoming: more evidence of anthropogenic climate change.

Trees growing on public land are not agriculture any more than wild salmon are aquaculture. One part of a solution to forest management woes is to move the US Forest Service from the US Department of Agriculture into Interior where American Indian nations could more easily assume additional responsibilities for stewardship on public land.

People building in or near these hazards should be denied homeowners insurance but blaming federal land managers for running out of money to protect private property while denying climate disruptions are influenced by human activity is just delusional.

Pre-emptive burns and managed lightning-struck fires are essential to restoring balance in western ecosystems just like letting bison crop invasive grasses is to the Greater Missouri Basin.

There are no naturally-occurring Black Hills spruce in the Wyoming Bear Lodge Mountains likely due to the massive aspen community there.
The area near the headwaters of Middle Redwater Creek is hardly extraordinary. Located in the Black Hills National Forest 10 miles north of Sundance, scraggly trees and brush surround shallow ponds and slow-moving streams. Because the beavers left, the ponds started to deteriorate. This not only affected finescale dace, which were no longer in the immediate area, but also surrounding vegetation and deer, waterfowl and other wildlife. But people eventually moved in, killing beavers, blowing up dams and redirecting water for human consumption and use. This transformed the environment of the region. Aside from that, the finescale dace still hold an important place on the landscape if nothing else than the fact they are a “glacial relic.” [Sheridan region biologists work to preserve finescale dace]
Recall that dace was the only fish identified in Black Hills streams by the Custer Expedition in 1874 and trout are not native to the region.

Box Elder Creek is still running in December because of the mountain pine beetle's feast of pine while a town named for a war criminal is preparing another celebration of ecocide.

South Dakota Governor Denny Daugaard is a climate and Anthropocene denier yet state climatologist Dennis Todey is ringing the climate alarm.

So, the question remains: should rewilding efforts seek to restore sustainable wild lands to Pleistocene Era conditions or let the Anthropocene lay waste desertifying precious resources changing the landscape forever leaving survivors to cleave out habitable zones forsaking native species?

“Clearcuts are the prescription for lodgepole pines,” according to Kelly Norris, the Wyoming State Forestry district forester in Buffalo.

Get cattle off the Black Hills National Forest and make it part of the Greater Missouri Basin National Wildlife Refuge.

If enviros succeed in driving from office the only Democrats who can preserve public lands and leave Republicans to their devices we are truly fucked.



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