November 25, 2012

Are Trees the Enemy?

View from the front porch, September 1975
View from the front porch, November 2012. All natural reproduction.
Some time when driving you might a see a bumper sticker reading "Trees are the Answer," produced by the Arbor Day Foundation, whose slogan is, "We inspire people to plant, nutrure, and celebrate trees." (Interestingly, the foundation was formed in 1872, in eastern Nebraska, which was judged by settlers to need more trees.)

When M. and I moved into this house in 1992, we found in a crawlspace a box of the original owner's stuff, including this torn photograph, dated September 26, 1975 on the front and labeled "From the front porch—fall colors" on the back.

I don't know the fire history of the area. Up the ridge (180° from this view) there are a few big pine stumps and a log that was cut but never hauled away — bigger than 90 percent of today's trees.

From the 1870s–1960s, this was marginal grazing land, I think. Then part was subdivided in the early 1960s. My house and the one in the upper photograph were both built in the mid-1960s, as was the cabin that is now our guest house.

And the trees just kept growing. No fire, of course, and not enough thinning. (And you can't thin Gambel oak.)

Prescribed fire helps, but you cannot always burn right next to people's houses. Doing so makes the residents nervous, for some reason.

There is always controversuy. Take this New York Times piece by Jim Robbins, "Forest Fire Research Questions the Wisdom  of Prescribed Burns," It displays that typical journalistic  approach of "two sides" in disagreement. Who is "right"?
Scientists are at loggerheads over whether there is an ecological advantage to thinning forests and using prescribed fire to reduce fuel for subsequent fires — or whether those methods actually diminish ecological processes and biodiversity.
I don't think it works that way, but I suppose that Robbins has played up the agonistic aspect of the story because that is how most journalists think. When it comes to sides of a story, they can't count past two.

Remember this series of time-lapse photographs? The first view of the forest shows the result of lots of burning. You can get the same effect with mechanical thinning — but that is labor-intensive and then you have a lot of biomass to dispose of, usually by burning.


James R. Rummel said...

Tough to tell through the trees, but is the contours of the land slightly different now than in 1975? Could happen if a lot of roads were built.

Chas S. Clifton said...

To my knowledge, the basic terrain has not changed since the subdivision was created in the 1960.