Showing posts with label trees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trees. Show all posts

October 21, 2019

Chemical "Stewardship" and Vanishing Shelterbelts

Hunter walking a North Dakota tree row.
Beginning in the 1930s, government programs helped prairie farmers to plant shelterbelts (a/k/a tree rows or windbreaks) in order to reduce wind erosion and to protect isolated farmsteads across the Great Plains.

In the program's best years, the 1950s–1960s, hundreds of thousands of trees were planted. North Dakota alone had 55,000 miles of shelterbelts planted since the 1930s. They are not all there now.
“Those windbreaks still play a huge role out there. They do a lot to encourage protection from erosion, up to 10 times the distance of their height. They increase row crop productivity by 10 to 25 percent, and livestock sheltered there see improved weight gains of 10 percent,” [Larry Kotchman, head of the North Dakota Forest Service] said. “A farmstead will see energy savings of 20 to 30 percent in less heating and cooling.”
Shelterbelts changed the environment for wildlife, providing more habitat for songbirds and encouraging whitetail deer to move into more areas. Thanks to the increased deer population, eastern North Dakota—where I am writing this—now even has a few mountain lions.
Trees can also provide an important refuge for wildlife. Two years ago, [when]  the snow was very deep, wildlife suffered when their grass and food plots were buried, [Diane Erickson, district conservationist in Clark County, S.D.] explained.
“Deer and pheasant loss was high,” Erickson said. “Shelterbelts or thick tree plantings are their main source of shelter and even a good food source. Wildlife needs habitat, and tree belts are the best winter habitats.”
Today, government agencies still encourage and fund shelterbelt planting, but more and more are being bulldozed in the name of "stewardship," which means profit. An agricultural-business site reports,
Fields often are divided into quarter sections (160 acres) and "80s" (80 acres.)

Decades ago, one or more shelterbelts often were planted on a quarter or 80.
That divided a single field into several -- for example, an 80 might have become two 40-acre fields -- and protected topsoil in all the fields from wind erosion.
Now, many farmers are removing shelterbelts to combine fields into a single, bigger one.
Shelterbelts did what they were supposed to, but times have changed, [Terry Weckerly, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association] says.
Most farmers today use production methods that leave more organic matter on the field and disturb the soil less, greatly decreasing the need for windbreaks, he says.
Shelterbelts often become "a nuisance, an obstacle," he says. For example, branches breaking off trees and falling into fields complicates farming, he says.
More significantly, shelterbelts make it more difficult to apply chemicals properly, he says. (Emphasis added)
So let's review this. Shelterbelts, once established, provided all their agricultural benefits for free while benefiting multiple species.

But "Being a good steward of the land is more than just putting trees in the ground."

Evidently, "being a good steward" means cutting the trees to gain a few more acres, then spraying all kinds of herbicides and insecticides on the ground, which run off with the snowmelt and also filter into the groundwater. That is what "no-till" farming requires: lots of honeybee-killing Roundup and the like.

(See the picture-perfect farmstead with the neatly painted house, the huge metal equipment sheds, the rows of stately trees—they don't cut the ones by the house—and the perfectly mowed lawns? Who knows what is in its well water?)

Plus convenience: "Another reason farmers have wanted to take out windbreaks is to make it easier to turn equipment. In the wet years two and three years ago, when sloughs took over parts of fields, tree rows made it harder to navigate tractors and combines—especially since equipment is all larger than it was years ago."

Nevertheless, the financial incentives to plant new shelterbelts and replace dying trees are still there, through various agencies. Those staffers keep making the same recommendations that they made in the 1950s—and they are still good ones.

And the same farmer who defends today's methods—who says that he needs them to pay off his loans—will sit across from you at lunch and agree that there aren't as many sharptail grouse as there were even ten years ago, that there aren't as many big whitetail bucks as there used to be, that there aren't as many birds in general.

No contradictions, nope.

October 13, 2019

How Much Heat Is in that Firewood?

Split into six or eight or ten pieces, each round might last a mid-winter day.
A big (by foothills standards) ponderosa pine blew down several years ago, breaking into two with the top section hung up in some big one-seed juniper trees. I spent a lot of time last winter freeing and getting it onto the ground without killing myself, then cut it into rounds, rolled them down a little hill, split them, and moved them to the house.

In process, I ended up with a lot of juniper too, most of which has been drying through the summer, and I am moving it now. That is a one-seed juniper in the background.

Meanwhile, the butt section of the pine tree, which had been soaked by snow, is now dry, so I finished cutting it up today. (That small chunk next to the saw is from another tree.)

Intuitively, I thought the juniper offered more value as fuel, but it does not come in convenient pieces like pine.

But pine surrenders gracefully to the saw — juniper wants to hurt you. If it can't pinch the chain, its rigid twigs will rip your shirt.

Back in 1913, the eight-year-old US Forest Service was answering that question. "The object of the investigation is to determine the heating values of the woods commonly used for fuel in New Mexico and Arizona, including about 10 different species."

They compared them to coal, since many people burned coal for home-heating back then, and also to "Bakersfield crude oil."

The tests were conducted using a "bomb calorimeter." I would like to own one of those just for the name. ("Professor Murcheson will now demonstrate the bomb calorimeter.")

The big winners were alligator juniper and the bark (not the wood) of Douglas fir, both of them delivering more than 10,000 BTUs per pound, or 76 percent as much per pound as Cerrillos anthracite coal. (The area around Cerrillos and Madrid, N.M., used to produce a lot of coal.)

One-seed juniper was almost as good, 9,900 BTUs/lb., equivalent to 75 percent of Cerrillos anthracite.

Ponderosa pine sapwood produced 8,856 BTUs/lb., while the bark produced 9,275.

Aspen (quakies), incidentally, came in at 8,555. They did not measure Gambel oak, but another source placed it almost as high as the one-seed juniper, which fits what I feel standing next to the stove. Piñon pine, 8,629. Some people would that it burns hotter than ponderosa, which I always thought was true. At least one other site supports me.

Another site calculates heat values in million BTUs per cord, a cord being a tightly stacked pile of wood measuring 4 x 4 x 8 feet. (The method of measurement is not specified.)

Here we see ponderosa pine at 21.7 million BTUs/cord; cottonwood, 16.8; aspen, 18; Douglas fir, 26.5; white fir, 21.1— and they don't measure Gambel oak, one-seed juniper, or Rocky Mountain juniper.

What this means, in the end, is that I will pick up any piece of juniper that is as big around as my wrist.

August 07, 2019

Things that Grow from White Fir Stumps

Another fir seedling. It is not growing from the stump's
root system, but from a seed that started in the decayed sump.

A mushroom. Yes, it is attached.

A rock. I figured it was attached as well.

March 10, 2017

Nuts to You, Says Abert's Squirrel

Abert's squirrel in ponderosa pine.
Everyone thinks of squirrels as caching nuts (thus inadvertently planting trees), but not the Abert's squirrel of the Southern Rockies and Colorado Plateau.

They just eat their favorite tree, ponderosa pine, which happens to be my favorite tree too, although I rarely eat any parts. (The pollen is a tonic, though.) Colorado Parks and Wildlife says, "Abert’s squirrel does not hoard food, but eats whatever part of its host tree, ponderosa pine, is available in season: cones and inner bark of twigs."

Many are a sort of salt-and-pepper grey (like these), but in southern Colorado they are mostly black. I think I have seen one grey one near the house in twenty years.

This degenerate squirrel has abandoned its healthy wild lifestyle
to eat sunflower seeds under the bird feeder.
Its name is one of those 19th-century "Westward the course of empire" relics, for it is named after James William Abert—explorer (Corps of Topographical Engineers), artist, and Civil War staff officer.

James William Abert
As Lieutenant Abert roamed the West in the 1840s, his proud father wrote to John James Audubon, "My son, Lieut. A., has some taste for Natural History. He has just returned from Santa Fe, having been on General Kearney's expedition. . . "

Together with collecting specimens, he also discoursed in the 19th-century manner on color theory for artists interested in natural history.

You can see Lt. Abert's reconstructed room and sketchbook at Bent's Old Fort, where he (and Everyone who was Anyone) stayed c. 1846.

February 26, 2017

A Kid, a Dog (?), and the World's Greatest Cave Art

What he or she saw: lions and prey at Chauvet
Sometime, say 26,000 years ago or more, a kid and a canid (wolf? dog? wolf-dog?) went exploring  underground.
The human prints are of a barefooted child aged eight to ten years old and standing about 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) tall. The child was walking, not running, although at one point it appears that he or she slipped a little in the soft clay. Researchers know that the child carried a torch because there is evidence of him/her stopping at one point to clean the torch, leaving behind a stain of charcoal.

It is amazing to think of a Paleolithic kid exploring this ancient cave, examining the paintings and bear skulls that were placed reverently at the back of the cave. Even more amazing is that accompanying (not stalking) the child’s footprints are the paw prints of a wolf (or possibly a large dog). This timeless image of a child and dog shatters the notion that dogs were only domesticated 15,000 years ago. More importantly, the new time period radically alters the answer to how dogs became man’s best friend.
OTHER NEWS: 

There are more prairie dog towns in Colorado than we thought. But I am still sorry that my sister did not ever follow up on her plan to clandestinely reintroduce them in South Park, from where, she said, they had all been poisoned in the mid-20th century.

• Hunting writer Dave Petersen of Durango interviewed in High Country News.
When I interviewed Western writer David Petersen for a magazine article several years ago, I really only had one question to ask him: Could hunting be morally defended in the 21st century?

At a time when few people seem concerned about that question — either they’re already convinced that hunting is barbaric, or just the opposite, that it’s a right that ought to be exercised with as few restrictions and as easily as possible — Petersen has spent much of his life examining what it means to kill in order to eat.
More about his hunting-ethics documentary here.

New study revises tree-ring dating of archaeological sites.
Currently, archaeologists have to rely on relatively sparse evidence for dating the history of Western civilisation before 763 BCE, with Chinese history also only widely agreed from 841 BCE. For example, they depend on ancient records of rare astronomical phenomena, such as the solar eclipse during the ninth year of Ashur Dan III of Assyria, to determine the age of historical events. In the absence of such records, standard radiocarbon measurements provide the best estimates, but these are still often only accurate to within 200 to 300 calendar years. If the radiocarbon spikes in the tree-ring data were also found in archaeological items attributable to specific historical periods, the information could be used to anchor exactly when events occurred, says the paper.

September 10, 2015

"Leaf Spot" Threatens Fall Aspen-Viewing, Oh No!

This appears to be a "leaf spot" fungus on Gambel oak.
Many Colorado aspens will not be as intensely gold this fall as normal, thanks to "leaf spot" fungus.

Even though this article is from the Colorado Springs Gazette, it is probably a re-written Colorado State Forest Service news release, hence the northern Colorado focus (just another microaggression).
Some stands of aspen and cottonwood trees across northern Colorado and along the Front Range won’t be their most picturesque this fall, due to leaf spot diseases that benefited from an unusually wet spring and early summer, state foresters say.

Foresters say they’ve seen an unusually high degree of leaf blight in the mountains and along the Front Range – as far south as Aspen, the Collegiate Peaks and Colorado Springs – for about a month.

At least two fungal diseases are to blame for the leaves now showing significant spotting or dark splotches. Marssonina leaf spot is caused by the Marssonina fungus and is the most common leaf disease of aspen and cottonwoods in Colorado. The disease can be identified by the presence of dark brown spots or flecks on leaves, which can then fuse into large, black splotches on severely infected leaves.
I have been seeing a browning of Gambel oak leaves in some clone-stands all summer, and since it could not have been from pesticide (not on our land), what was causing it?

Apparently the fungus affecting oaks is different, Discula quercina (and maybe others), but the look is the same: "Leaves have scattered brown, irregular spots that can coalesce into nearly completely brown leaves." And the extremely wet spring is to blame.

June 05, 2012

Mysterious Radiation in 775

It's already in Wikipedia: Something happened in or about 775 CE — a burst of radiation that affected Carbon-14 levels.
The only known events that can produce a 14C spike are floods of γ-rays from supernova explosions or proton storms from giant solar flares. But neither seems likely . . . because each should have been large enough to have had other effects that would have been observed at the time.

A massive supernova, for example, should have been bright enough to produce a 'new' star visible even in the daytime, as was the case for two known supernovae in ad 1006 and ad 1054. Such an explosion would have needed to be brighter than either of these . . .  because those events were not large enough to leave traces in the 14C record.
Read the rest.

January 30, 2008

Trees, reviewed

Maybe with all the Last Child in the Woods stuff going on, it would be helpful to start by understanding trees:

Trees. It seems like you see them everywhere these days. But are trees viable in the long-term, or just another flash-in-the-pan fad for the under-30 crowd?

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

June 01, 2005

Oaks are nothing special

And that is the reason for their worldwide success, says William Bryant Logon in the L.A. Times

But the oaks have never sought a niche. "Oaks have been so successful exactly because there is no reason that they are," Cornell University taxonomist Kevin Nixon said. "Restricted distribution happens because there is just one reason for a creature's success." This is a tantalizing idea. The persistent, the common, the various, the adaptable is valuable in itself. The oak's distinction is its insistence and its flexibility. It specializes in not specializing.


Our oak here is the Gambel oak, more of a thicket than a tree, definitely nothing special as individuals (unless you prune and fuss over one), but cheerfully coming up again and again after fire or cutting. (A tip of the acorn hat to Jason Pitzl-Waters)

May 29, 2005

Planting and killing trees

I planted a tree this week, the first one in years. It's not that I don't know how: my parents started me young on landscaping grunt work. Or give me a hoedad and a burlap bag of bare-root seedlings, and I know what to do. But here in the forested foothills, my usual job is to be "mechanical fire"--thinning and pruning the pines, junipers, and Gambel oaks so that a forest fire does not do the job all in one hot and windy afternoon.

It was a little hackberry from Blossoms, a nursery in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. M. has been agitating to try more berry species that can can survive our violent springs.

I grew up thinking of hackberries as good drought-resistant shelter-belt trees, with the berries a bonus for the birds. But they are edible, in the sense that chokecherries (which grow here already) are.

The Eastern forests, meanwhile, lost a huge source of timber and of food for wildlife when the American chestnuts died, but the American Chestnut Foundation thinks it has turned the corner on bringing them back.

Likewise, things are looking better for American elms.

And speaking of elms, here is a poignant story about a gardener and her tree.