Friday, August 27, 2010

Working with what we've got

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Even with the funding near-crisis which we've reached, our land management and land protection agencies still do some pretty fine work.  If you read Outdoor California, for example, you'll notice the great stories of game wardens out catching poachers, drug dealers, and other nefarious sorts - and remember, at every stop of hunters, the warden knows the person is armed.

Also, consider the wonderful job Phillip at the Hog Blog describes being done at a beautiful valley in Northwestern California.  It would appear the Forest Service is rehabilitating a land devastated by a catastrophic wildfire.  That is some hard work, and takes a lot of effort, planning, and achievement.

For those who don't know, a catastrophic wildfire is a largely unnatural event in California ecology.  Due to the high level of forest fuels from too much fire suppression over the past 150 years, coupled with a forest floor full of non-native invasive plants that burn hotter and into the soil, catastrophic fires destroy native plants, seeds, and soil biology, leaving rock and lifeless dirt in its place, to be re-populated by even more non-native, invasive plants.  To bring back these lands, planners and managers must take many factors into consideration, which in California is even more complicated than other places - we have more microclimates, and therefore more plant varieties.  In fact, we have more plant varieties than all other states.  Combined.

So please consider this great work.  Here's my tip of the hat to the wonderful, hard-working men and women of our public lands management.  Thank you.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Interesting that you bring up the warden stories in Outdoor California. I've just been catching up on my giant stack-o-hunting/outdoors mags and that is my favorite part of the magazine.

After doing a story about a warden for the Bee earlier this summer, I learned a lot about what they do and I have a lot of respect for them. It's not an easy job, and they work alone most of the time.

Josh said...

NorCal Cazadora, it is a cool magazine, isn't it? That's my favorite part, too!

Phillip said...

Law enforcement of every stripe will always have my respect. To wake up in the morning, pin a bullseye on your chest, and head out to face the worst elements of the human (and non-human) race is a task that can't be recognized enough. (Sure, there are occasional individual and even systemic abuses, but that doesn't override the whole.)

As far as the work done to rehab the fire damage, it's one of the more impressive things I've ever seen. The damage from the Trough Fire ranged from necessary ground disturbance to flat-out devastation. You can still see the scars, nine years later, but between the work of nature and the forest service, the place is looking great now.

I second your tip of the hat.

Josh said...

Phillip, I can't wait to see it, myself. Soon enough, I'll start begging you.

Carl said...

So you praise the public lands management for suppressing fires for 150 years but then working to rehabilitate the land after the disaster they fueled destroyed it. Has California heard of a controlled burn?

Josh said...

Carl, where did I say I support fire suppression? In fact, if you read back into my blog, you'll find where I talk about the need for fire in many California habitats.

Second, I'm guessing you don't live in California, because if you did, you would realize how big it is. California has 100,031,360 acres of land, and roughly half of it is federally owned. How much tax money would you be willing to give to enact a comprehensive series of controlled burns?

Carl said...

I'm not saying you supported it but you did say this is the result of 150 years of fire suppression. And no, I'm not from California but from the sound of it I am assuming that the Forest Service people do the fire suppression as well as the rehab.
I just think that this agency gets a lot of things wrong. I mean you just described the science that is pretty well known about the devastation this kind of fire can do, so why was no prevention done?

A little logging goes a long ways and doesn't cost much, and would definitely be a bit nicer on the native plants than this fire.

Josh said...

Carl, thank you for clarifying (although you did say that I "praised public lands management for suppressing fires for 150 years"). I absolutely agree with the newer methods for proper fire control.

However, in California, it isn't as easy as you make it sound. "A little logging" does not necessarily go a long way in California. Over our tens of millions of acres, we have more plant taxa than all other states combined, we have more climates than all other states, and within those "climates" we have hundreds of microclimates. This is because our geography is extraordinarily varied. Most places, logging is either economically insufficient, or just plain physically impossible. In addition, removing the trees that would make logging feasible in these more remote sections would do nothing positive for fire suppression, and in fact may exacerbate fires that do occur by opening up space for native plant incursions.

And that is the biggest problem for California fires: Non-native invasive species. These are mostly grasses and weeds with no economic value, but they (coupled with 150 years of fire suppression) set the stage for catastrophic fires. Logging often exacerbates non-native invasives by inadvertently bringing them in as hitchhikers (or opening roads for others to bring them in) and by opening up the habitat to sunlight and different water flows.

Logging can be a help, but it cannot be both lucrative and effective at fire suppression that rehabilitates the vast, vast majority of California habitats.

Josh said...

Also, the USFS and other agencies do a lot of controlled burns and other measures aimed at recreating ecologically appropriate fire regimes in California. It's just that the state is so darn big and varied, and many people (especially conservatives) aren't willing to pay for the huge scale of rehabilitation that would be required.

Carl said...

Yeah, as soon as I posted that the thought just hit me that I don't have the info on the terrain of this disaster area. That definitely has a lot to do with the feasibility both economical and practical of logging. The thing is we're running out of solutions. Controlled burns out because of economics and probably other reasons. Logging out due to economics and terrain and your take on the effectiveness. So what are we left with. The newly implemented Forest Service Weeding Project? I've lamented this to myself and other people. The encroachment of exotics in all areas they shouldn't be. The blame goes 10% to the first colonists and the rest to the modern gardening culture.

Ok, I'm from Minnesota and I enjoy going to the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area, I don't know how widely known it is so I better explain) and they list at least three exotic species (plants) out there in a completely unmanaged area. No controlled burns and no logging and no land management. These plants breached healthy ecosystems and will play an increasingly larger role in this ecosystem. I can't think of a positive solution without some possible negative side effects.

Any ideas?