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By Russ Finley on May 24, 2012 with 2 responses

Multidisciplinary Problem Solving

I made a trip to my forest property last weekend where I took these photos. The rough skinned newts had returned to the lakes from their terrestrial stage winter wonderings, just in time to avoid their main predators, the snakes that were hibernating. The frog tadpoles were plentiful in seasonal ponds that will eventually dry up, concentrating their numbers into smaller and smaller areas. The snakes and herons will have a heyday then, but that is part of the reproductive strategy. Like with salmon, the tadpoles will be too numerous to all be eaten. The snakes will get full way before the tadpoles are gone. The emerald tree frogs only lay eggs in ponds that dry up in the summer because they don’t have major predators in them like fish and turtles. Nature, what remains of it, always amazes me.

E.O. Wilson (who recently gave a lecture here in town that I attended) has suggested that we need a more multidisciplinary approach to problem solving (teams consisting of diverse disciplines like economists, engineers, biologists, sociologists, etc) in our complex modern world. If we are going to  extract biomass from forests to make electricity we should be consulting with biologists who can give guidance to avoid the degradation of forest ecosystems. Designers of wind farms might want to talk to ornithologists before building in raptor migration corridors.

Several years ago I arrived at my forest property to find the adjacent land being logged. I don’t have a problem with sustainable use of a natural resource like wood. A clear cut that gets replanted can be preferable to a clearing caused by a forest fire. Like a forest fire, clear cuts let the sunshine in, creating a burst of biodiversity until the trees shade everything out again, hogging up all of the energy for themselves. Logging done right, can be a win-win situation.

The trees didn’t seem big enough for lumber. I later learned they were used for paper pulp. In the future it might be for energy of one kind or another (in addition to paper pulp and lumber). After taking the trees, a bulldozer scraped up all of the branches (slash) into three large piles. Gasoline was poured on them and set on fire.

I was curious why they did it and found a few old studies on the internet that suggested they might be wasting their time and money. They might have been better off just leaving the slash in place to improve soil moisture and nutrients, as well as provide habitat for the termites, rodents, lizards, salamanders, and everything else up the food chain that thrives in the presence of decaying wood. The next best option would be to use it for energy to offset a fossil fuel, although if it were profitable to do that, it would probably already be done.

  1. By Robert Rapier on May 29, 2012 at 6:24 am

    Russ, is your forest property in Washington?

    • By Russ Finley on May 30, 2012 at 12:40 am

      It is. Not far from Seattle.


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