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By Russ Finley on Aug 26, 2012 with 1 response

Unplug — Discover The Forest

I’ve seen several billboards around town with this image. I also saw it in an ad here on Consumer Energy Report. They’re part of a joint venture between the Ad Council and the USDA Forest Service. Here is a list of organizations supporting it. Every advertising executive knows that half of their money is being wasted. They just don’t know which half it is. In this case, I hope none of it is being wasted.

Coincidentally, I took the picture of that painted turtle to the right while camping this summer (full-size image here).

Forest fires have been getting bigger and more numerous. I listened to an NPR piece about how this is being called “the new normal.” The main driver appears to be decades of fire suppression that has allowed combustible brush and small trees to accumulate instead of allowing natural fires to periodically clear them out. The resulting infernos burn the mature trees that are normally impervious to smaller fires. The reporter stood on a ridge and looked out over a burned forest that extended as far as he could see. It isn’t expected to recover for thousands of years (i.e. never).

My own forest property is a bomb waiting for ignition. I am typically very critical of energy schemes that plan to burn biota in our cars and power plants. After watching the forest adjacent to my forest property be logged for paper pulp, I might support efforts to replace natural fires with the harvesting of brush and small trees to co-fire with coal, reducing the amount of coal consumed.

Obviously, mechanically harvesting that material is difficult and expensive, or paper pulp mills would do it instead of harvesting live trees. I’d also support laws that forced paper pulp to be made from thinning operations, although it would increase the cost of paper, but maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. I use very little paper anymore, and have practically lost the ability to write with a pen!

Ironically, Seattle has recently outlawed the use of plastic grocery bags. If you forget to bring cloth ones you can pay extra for paper bags, made out of trees. We always recycled our plastic grocery bags as trash can liners. Our supply has run out. I just purchased a box of plastic trash can liners.

George Monbiot summed up my thoughts on this topic nicely. Read Plastic bag obsession is carrier for environmental ignorance.

  1. By Jon White on August 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Re: forest fires getting bigger and more numerous.  Your post shows that you see there is no simple solution.

    Fire suppression is, indeed, a very important factor – both historically (especially over the last 130 years) and in terms of current forestry practice.  There are other related factors at work as well and these vary from region to region.  Fire suppression in western North America (as forest conservation) coincided with massive over-grazing by domestic cattle and sheep, the near extirpation of large predators, and wild swings in the populations of browsing species.  Much of the southwestern US was severely over-grazed in the 1880-90s with devastating consequences.  Open woodlands with grassy (fire-adapted) ground layers were transformed.  Fire was suppressed – both by deliberate action as well as by loss of grassy fuels.  Erosion of the denuded landscape led to severe loss of topsoil and arroyo cutting.  Grasslands gave way to brush.   Secondary forests tended to be brushier and much denser.  Many western forest areas never really recovered.  Against a backdrop of natural climates cycles, western forests had a long-established cycle of low-intensity ground fires (on the scale of 7-20 years) and occasional massive stand-altering fires (on the scale of 100-300 years).  The disruption of the low-intensity fire cycle meant there would inevitably be larger scale, and much more destructive fires.  Now comes the coup de grace.  Climate change is exacerbating the drought cycle as well as contributing to the rapid increase in destructive insect pests and fungal diseases.   Of course dense stands contribute (like a feedback loop) to the problem as well.   

    Here in central Texas we have dense Oak-Ashe Juniper woodlands.  Old growth stands (with mature Ashe Junipers) are critical habitat for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler – and are protected.  But the neighbors are alarmed at the potential for major fires. 

    We have to figure out what to do.  Solutions will not be simple. 

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