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Wendigo Mountain

January 23rd, 2009

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Drinky
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Clint Harris

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January 23rd, 2009

Okay, just to let everyone know, yes I do read your posts.  I also enjoy the rabbit hole effect of following links in the occasional link salad.  My ears prick up especially when I notice articles about the West.  My backyard.  I found this one at Jay Lake's recent collection of interesting links, and honestly, it aggrivated me.  I will now share the link, and the aggrivation it has caused.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/22/AR2009012202473.html

First of all, I can't shake my head enough on this.  Please.  Where do I begin?  The theory of anthropowhatever global warming aside, yes, temperatures are getting higher.  Are people causing this?  I don't know.  Honestly, from as much as I know about past climate trends in North America, from the Holocene onward, I'm gonna say this:  I doubt it.  People are not that powerful.  Arrogant, yes.  I don't know, maybe we are just that bad.  But you know what else is bad?  Half-baked politicized science.  

Take the CU professor that goes on and on about forests storing carbon and so on and so forth.  Boulder is notoriously a trendy place.  Whatever freaky, radical, new aged, bleeding heart concept they can latch themselves onto, they do so with gusto, running with it, stiff-arming adversaries like the guy on the Heismann trophy.  This is no exception.

See, this guy talks about how global warming is causing droughts and bettle infestations and fires are killing old-growth trees and deminishing our forests.  That is indeed scary, but I'm a little more concerned about the Elves leaving Middle Earth and venturing to the lands to the West.  It's bullshit.  I'm going to let people in on a little secret.  Do you know what is killing the forests?  Cities.  And in several ways.

One way is simply the amount of urban sprawl that has crept into the forests of the Front Range and mountain communities of Colorado.  Why are people moving there?  For the views.  The forests, the mountains, etc.  The big problem is that the more people you move into the mountains, the more forests we have to clear and mountainsides we have to level to build this suburban utopia.  Which brings us to the next problem.  Water.  Where do they get all of that water so people can grow their Kentucky bluegrass, take their showers, fill their koi ponds, wash their cars, flush their toilets.  Well, in Colorado, a state that gets maybe 18 inches of rain a year, that would be from the mountains.  Specifically the rivers.  Of course Colorado sells a LARGE quantity of its water rights downstream, which is only right, but considering the urban sprawl in places like California and Arizona, which are also dry climates, not to mention heavily populated and expanding, well, we need to send a lot of water West.  And we do.  Canals are built in the mountains to divert water that for centuries headed one direction, to rivers heading in the other.  The Front Range takes its share, and retirement communities in Laughlin, Nevada need their golf courses, so they take some too.

The trees growing in the area are predominantly lodgepole pine.  A lodgepole can reach full height and maturity within about 20 years.  They aren't the type of pine many of us hang our lights and ornaments on in December.  Well, the top 15 feet is.  The trees grow in very acidic soil, tightly packed together.  The only light remaining for the forest is at the top half of the tree.  The rest falls off, contributing to the acidic nature of the undergrowth.  It builds up year after year, taking a very very long time to break down.  Only a few plants take to this combination of acidic soil and shade.  Pine beetles like these conditions just fine.  Not many birds to peck them out of the trunks, since other types of food are scarce.  Birds gravitate more towards clearings where berries and flowers can be found.  The trees start to get chewed apart from within.  Where do the pine beetles come from?  Well, they are a non-native species, so they got introduced and haven't left.

The trees turn brown, but due to logging restrictions, they aren't being cleared out.  Also a funny thing about Lodgepole pines.  They aren't very strong trees.  They grow fast, straight and tall, but their roots are pretty shallow, which means that they rely on each other as a wind break.  I've seen it where the government will thin out an area of trees only to find a week later that the wind blew over the rest.  It makes for great fun at populated campgrounds.  I will never understand why government policies treat a pine the same way they do an oak.  

With thousands of square miles of forest to cover, spraying insecticide on the beetles isn't viable, not to mention the environmental impact this could have.  And they are beetles.  They'd probably just get used to it and start drinking the poison as part of their diet.  The other way to get the beetles out would be to clearcut affected areas of forest.  But who will do this?  The wood is ruined, so it's not like a logging company would do it out of charity.  The government would just make a pigs ear out of it, not to mention they are understaffed for this sort of thing (even though we have a potential workforce of these people they call Felons, just hanging out, wishing they had something to do).  

What's that leave us?  Fire.  And yes, Frankenstein, "Fire Bad!"  But it's not that easy anymore, controlled burns would work excellently.  They do so many things.  One of them is to allow the forest to grow!  That's right, lodgepole pine trees rely on intermittent fires to clear out the underbrush and thin the trees that are not strong enough to withstand a fire.  In nature, lightning strikes usually accomplish this.  Intermittent fires move quickly, burning off the pine straw without doing much harm to living trees.  Plus, it allows pinecones to germinate and release their seeds so more trees can grow and replace the old.  Lodgepole pines are not "old growth" trees, unless you count the ones that have survived several fires and have been allowed to get big and round and tall.

But with forestry today, mostly figured out by professors that work in academia and not the forest itself, fires are put out, prevented, considered BAD.  Forget that Yellowstone park was filled with brown, dead wood until the fires in the 1980's, which returned them to lush habitats for wildlife and plants.  Cleared out areas allowed elk and deer to graze, bears to hunt, foxes to frolic, etc. etc.  But the undergrowth continues to pile up.  See, the park rangers don't sweep the forest floor, and when it burns, it doesn't move as fast as the trees are used to happening.  The fire burns hot and slow, taking out chunks of healthy trees, turning seedlings into ash.  So why not allow forests to experience the fire cycle to keep them healthy? 

More reasons:  first of all, you can't sell a burned tree any more than you can sell one chewed up by beetles.  So, there is potential revenue loss to consider. No matter that there are no large-scale logging operations in Colorado and most of the wood we use for houses and paper comes from Russian and Canada these days. Second, people have decided to expand their cities and suburbs, well, right into the forests.  So fire will destroy property.  Possibly threaten lives.  And now, you've got the AGW brigade fussing and fretting about Carbon footprints and you know they will tell you that fires will release all this bad carbon into the air.  Not thinking that a) this is a natural part of the world b) its actually good for the trees c) happy trees mean cleaner air and water and less erosion, therefore more carbon actually taken into the earth instead of the atmosphere.

 Holy shit!  It's like we are letting the planet do the work, instead of walking the earth with our arrogance, believing we know what is right for the planet.  I mean, damn, 100,000 years of evolution have prepared us for this.  A 3,000 religion or two has told us we are the stewards of the earth.  What does a planet with 6 billion years of varied ecological systems have on that!  According to some religions, the earth isn't even 10,000 years old anyway!

So, I got upset.  I went on a tirade.  I typed this post.  Why?  Because it's important that people get a different perspective on things.  I don't agree with the good professor at CU.  There are things called lakes that store water up for forests during times of drought. And if we weren't diverting the water someplace else to sprinkle on a golf course to make sure we have a big patch of green so rich old people can golf in 120 degree heat, there wouldn't be a problem.  But now some egghead jacktard treehugger (in my opinion) is going to throw the mystical carbon footprint into the mix, and this will mean more dead trees standing around with nothing better to do than hold carbon.  Not providing oxygen, animal habitats (unless you are a beetle), or even holding soil and groundwater in during droughts.

Yay science.
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