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Glomalin and Conservation in Humboldt County The 1996 discovery of the soil glue glomalin is changing our understanding of the impact of elevated carbon dioxide, while giving important clues to forest health, watersheds, revegetation, wildfire and carbon sequestration. Here I share what I have found so others may read and draw their own conclusions, and relate it to my own experience, Humboldt County issues and stories from the news.
Friday, July 22, 2005
A lot of people have spent a long time teasing out the factors involved in wholesale watershed destruction and we finally have actionable intelligence.
As with many large-scale projects, opposition came from people not totally versed in the intent of the program. To the average owner, the program is essentially free roadwork done in a responsible manner and intended to last for years. A small amount of time will be spent in stream moving the creek back into its old bed and away from failing banks that have contributed massive amounts of sediment to the Mattole. This project has taken about seven years to get off the ground, and we have been working on a watershed stabilization plan since 1989 just for Middle Creek. Our efforts before that were contained to our own property but it eventually became clear that the major impacts on the stream were from activities like building and driveways that change drainages further up the watershed. Mattole restoration Council came up with the idea and has successfully sold it to DFG and the Coastal Commission.
The Mattole has somewhere near seventy named tributaries. This years program for the Middle Mattole includes five creeks- Westlund, Middle and part of Dry creeks on the east side of the Mattole and Four Mile and Sholes on the West side. These lands are in or near stewardship zones for Gilham Butte and HRSP, and lie in the Redwoods to the Sea wildlife corridor. All these public lands and most of the private lands are in a state of rapid recovery. With minimal new insults to the landscape we will have a remarkable newly functioning wilderness right in our own backyard.
The Mattole itself is a microcosm of restoration work. Starting in stream salmon restorers realized stream conditions could not improve until uphill discharges of sediment were somehow reduced. A relatively small and closed system, it is possible to fix the majority of currently used roads, the primary source of recurring sedimentation. In many areas its economic value has been stripped and recovering lands are only marginally threatened with new development or extraction. Protections on its main fish species as well as several birds means a lot of land uses are precluded even if topography didn’t already reduce profits to nil.
MRC has entered into a long term agreement called the River and Range project ot restore the river basin. This project seeks to improve the roads in all seventy Mattole sub-basins over the next fifteen years to reduce sedimentation. There is not enough funds to reshape artificially vertical banks or put all the roads to bed but a fully functioning watershed including fisheries, is right around the corner. The biggest current threat would be new roads and logging in the PL ownership near the mouth of the Mattole. Here the estuary is already full of sediment making it shallower and warmer, dangerous to the fry that school there in summer waiting for the mouth to open so they can go to sea.
Good Roads Clean Creeks is one of those ideas so big and so good it deserves to be looked at by other restoration groups, that is, it makes an excellent model. Tied together with tree planting and an understanding of the precipitation, tree, fungi ground storage concept we will actually stabilize the watershed and make that more permanent by regrowing it. By delaying and filtering runoff we control the damage caused by peak events and extend positive effects later into the summer. The investment will be made worthwhile as fish stocks rise, sport fishing is eventually reinstated, and also by cleaner waters being more open to kayakers and canoers, more miles of scenic bike touring open up and more opportunities for camping become available, and higher fuel moisture levels mitigate fire threat to some extent.
Salute and thanks to MRC for this ambitious project!
Tom Sinestra (www.sfgate.com) today reported in his outdoor column on the state of DFG programs after the governors last minute axing of funds to the department. Although the governor reduced restoration money from eight million to four million, the 25/75% matching funds program set up by the feds allows leveraging the 4 million dollars into 16 million in restoration work. We wonder why the governor would cut the other four million since it brings another twelve million to the state for programs seemingly beyond the governor’s radar.
Less supportable is the refusing to provide five million dollars to fund fifty new Department of Fish and Game wardens, the eyes and ears on the ground that protect our wildlife, as well as oversee restoration projects, and comment on land use issues and provide information and guidance to property owners. These guys are desperately thin in the field and need more help, not less, especially as many agents took early retirement in 2004 to trim the budget. So we let our experienced guys go and now refuse to replace them. Just the amount of development encroaching on wild lands indicates more field workers are needed. We also note that some restoration work is succeeding and so the amount of fishable streams in California is on the up tick. Seven rural counties have no DFG officials at all. We know lack of law enforcement will lead to a leap in poaching. We also need people thinking about how to put problems right. A good example is the Pikeminnow Derby on the Eel River, a fishing derby to reduce the numbers of an invasive species. This is the first California fishing I am aware of that encourages catching and keeping as many fish as possible, a common feature of East Coast salt water fishing. The Derby runs July 1 to September 30. All California fishing regulations for the Eel River are in place, such as barbless hooks, artificial baits and release of any salmonid caught, and anyone over sixteen needs a license. Still this is a great opportunity to get some fishing in with the kids while reducing a voracious salmonid predator and invasive species. More info at: www.eelriver.org/html/publications_article_89.htm. We worry this fish will escape into other local river systems like the Mattole and the Mad.
Bringing us to the next cut of three million dollars for hatcheries. We are glad to see Mad River was resourceful enough to go to alternate funding and so has survived this round of budgeteering. Having grown up fishing for hatchery trout in the Nissaquogue River we know how quickly transplanted trout are fished out. Replenishment is a necessary to keep anglers happy while allowing a percentage to mature in stream, and another percentage to make it to salt water. Along the way hatchery trout feed lamprey, heron, egrets raccoons and a host of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. Some escape and become the “big ones” in a year or two, and a couple of survivors in hard to get to places become the stuff of legend.
With California’s growing population and programs directly linked to license fees it is hard to justify this approach. Sixty one percent of anglers fish for trout but only seven percent of license fee money goes to hatchery and wild trout programs. The anglers have a right to be upset here, along with hunters who pay increasing fees for diminishing opportunities. The hatcheries lose three million proposed dollars but remain at last years level of 8.6 million dollars. .Dave Coghill, R-Modesto, has pa bill proposing 33% of license fees go to hatcheries and wild trout restoration.
The last million dollars cut by the governor was earmarked for the Wild Trout Heritage program, making a total of nine million dollars in last minute budget cuts to DFG programs. There seems to be no vision of the rural places in the governors office, and especially where wild processes need insight and protection. Without some grounding, new science like glomalin will appear totally alien and a growth impediment, rather than as a natural process we all count on for the very conditions that make California attractive in the first place.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
Ythe core reserve at Gilham Butte was put off limits by BLM in the late 1980’s. Residents challenged and won battles over nine THP’s surrounding the Core Reserve because of inadequate protections and mitigations. The money for these came from potlucks and cabaret nights and T shirt sales, and in many cases good arguments were not followed in order to put more money into imperative ones. Like talking common sense wasn’t good enough. EPIC filed these suits because that is their mission- to enable affected parties to sue, and they were asked to. Residents showed good faith by buying the land with help from Save the Redwoods and others, and ERS was happy to have the cash.
As Walter Berry said last winter, environmentalists have lost every issue because they compromise on everything. That’s democracy in action. It is not clear what offers Mr. Wills says were turned down but lawyers do the bidding of their clients, that is, they have to be hired to get anything done, and they are not the ones to decide when enough is enough. Instigators need to look in the mirror when seeking the cause of public dismay.
Their role was made critical by the Habitat Conservation Plan, which excluded pre-emptions by signatory agencies, thus making lawsuits the only way to be heard. CDF became consumer friendly once they realized they had no role in the obvious demonstrations outside their window. All they were legally allowed to do was take it all in, so they were nice about it.
Someone forgot about the Water Quality Boards and they are not signatories to the Headwaters deal Their job is to protect water resources, and in residential or undeveloped areas that means sediment. Sediment has a long and unhappy history of ruining land, streams and fisheries. A lot of money and effort has gone into figuring out what exactly happens when trees are cut. Now some evidence is available, from the US government(USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research Lab) no less, and when you logically follow the meaning of these discoveries, a lot of old fights just look like stupidity warmed over.
PL’s HCP was an honest attempt to minimize damage to watersheds based on the best science available in 1992, the same basis used for the Northwest Forest Plan. It is pretty immutable except in one area, new findings by science. Since we have seen the plan is missing something, we apply new science as mandated. That science has discovered a new operating feature in vegetated landscapes that holds soils together and stores water and carbon in the ground. Many universities now have their own research looking into this now as farmers have altered their methods and saved millions in fuel, labor, herbicides and erosion in a decade. This same science applies to trees as well as crops, but a farm field with one species and a couple of mycorhizzia fungi are a long way from large trees with millions of mycorhizzia. In effect, the discovery was made in a stripped down environment of limited factors. The results can be applied to any vegetated landscape you choose. The stuff the fungi make from shared photosynthesis products is what makes topsoil topsoil. We have all seen it, held it our hands, dug in it, and prized it for lawns and gardens. It is the very stuff global warming is supposedly caused by. When exposed to sunlight, running water or ambient air it reverts to CO2 and the topsoil returns to unaggregated silt and clay particles.
My own search for causes of sedimentation led to this realization, and I have been emailing and blogging for a year now. I notified all parties in this case several times so people should be at least aware, and I have suggested using Headwaters Fund money to sponsor a group to study this and make its findings part of the public record, since it goes to the heart of all forms of land management and development, showing us the opportunity cost of land use and development in a new and enlightening way. We can be smart and move into green development or not and lose every lawsuit on scientific merits, although they might be overturned on economic basis.
EPIC is not dependant on PL for work, in fact they are probably sick of them. There are and have been plenty of other fights going on over water, rivers, air quality, industrial ocean discharges, salvage logging in roadless areas and in fact everywhere monied interests are degrading the environment for profit, especially on public lands. All watersheds contain the public properties of air, water and wildlife, and all private landowners are to some extent corralled by these public issues. Without new science or agencies willing to buck corporate power we will never solve these problems in an evenhanded manner, and so today we see the screw turn and PL the one suing.
Its hard to say how many logs ERS was able to buy with the Gilham Butte purchase, but they were out of logs real quick. The entire mountain wouldn’t have lasted them a couple of months. Buying logs should allow larger numbers since there is no operating costs, that absorbed by the sellers contract loggers even if himself, and especially in times of cheap foreign logs. Same with PLs refusal of 40 million for their Mattole holdings last year. More attention was focused on this than the press seems to have realized, and some of its components deserve the attention of investigative journalism like the SLAPP suits used to threaten landowners into submission for fear of the loss of their homes, the unexpected appearance of golden eagles and using private real estate negotiations to ward off local protest. Its all good in business but it makes people mad as hell, and their rebuttal is simply that we are taking away jobs. Now they blame closure of Fortuna mill on environmentalists, while the new automated mill and previous negotiations to sell the land belie them.
This year PL comes to the Mattole with a fresh crop of university grads, many locals, to make peace and ask for input into planning for the Mattole. In the Mattole they own about 18000 acres, 10% of the land base, compared to 95% in Elk River and Freshwater, and are neither the largest landowner nor beyond the reach of public resources. BLM holdings are far greater than PL in the Mattole and they are also responsible for habitat conditions in the estuary. BLM and Save the Redwoods have cooperated to purchase lands to connect Humboldt Redwoods State Park and King Range NCA, striving for an eventual hiking trail, currently the Redwoods to the Sea Wildlife Corridor, as wildlife is willing to use private property inaccessible to humans. Salmon restoration is the single thread running throughout the Mattole and many believe a new round of sedimentation from tributaries both in extreme orographic influence and close to the estuary may push the estuary beyond suitable conditions for young salmon in the summer, putting at risk twenty plus years and at least thousands if not millions of dollars. This must be weighed against the proposed income as opportunity cost and recognized by the agencies that have spent the money and expertise.
No one has tried to buy the lands in Freshwater and Elk River but they have stopped operations after much of the job was already done and impacts to other private property was obvious. But what about the logs they didn’t get? They’ll be back or die trying. For this reason alone it makes sense to go back to the science and see if we can discern something either new or profound to base decisions on. That is now at hand, and we need other scientists already studying logging issues to take a good look at this. Redwood Sciences lab has never been able to explain conditions after clear falling its study area at Caspar Creek, the 2003 report essentially a throwing up of hands in frustration. The PNW Forest Mycology team tells us there are thousands of fungi living in symbiosis with Douglas fir, assuring us the soil glue is present and operating even if they haven’t recognized it themselves yet. CO2 Science magazine reports regularly on CO2 use by plants and has incorporated the glomalin into their global warming studies.
In the Mattole, they listened to purchase offers and suggestions, went about their business and now expect to come peacefully back to let us know what we are in for next. But we are prepared and so people shouldn’t think this is made up as we go. It is the hammer of truth. We are all malleable, and once this information becomes common knowledge and incorporated into practice and law, we will have logs AND fish.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
As the Times-Standard points out there are real community losses here besides jobs. Lack of competition will allow log buyers to offer less to landowners. Opportunities for “off species” are dwindling or disappearing as well. In either case it results in less economic return on timber improvement activities, which in large measure include thinning and reducing fire risk. This together with the pre-paid expense of the timber harvest plan process makes it almost imperative to remove a lot trees just to balance the books. Just growing trees is a recipe for catastrophic wildfires. We need to manage the forest and earn a sustainable living in the process.
Meanwhile restoration money was vetoed in the latest budget. We have said previously government restoration funding was likely an unsustainable source of income and jobs and a peace time dividend. Repair jobs are not expected to provide job security, and can’t in today’s business environment. While it remains to be seen what the local effects will be, the overall effort to return anadramous fisheries to health will roll along. The correction of drainages and tree planting are the principal activities. Laws technically tell us that there should be no need for restoration on lands managed under today’s guidelines, but we know that is a false presumption because the law admits it is malleable in the face of new science.
An article in yesterdays LA Times was entitled Kool Aid Fish. It was about how heavy rains this year scoured streambeds, some long devoid of fish, creating spawning conditions ripe for steel head, and the fish have appeared as if by magic. The Sacramento is having a bumper year for salmon.
But from the Klamath north, were the drought has migrated to, the picture is much uglier. A report the other day from Lake Washington in the Seattle area said two thirds of the schooling fish simply disappeared before venturing upstream, and the hundred thousand remaining are the smallest run on record. Bonneville fish station was counting dozens when it usually counts thousands. Studies are underway, especially in Lake Washington, an estuary with heavy siltation problems from upstream land use patterns.
All of the trouble centers around the unexpected results of massive removal of forest cover, particularly on streams and rivers, which began suffering from epidemics of mass wasting in steep, wet country. Scientists of all stripes have studied and engineered but can not fully explain why slopes are failing in many areas, not just timbered areas. They discovered a lot about weathering and erosion and soil building and pore space and saturation and so on. But in the end they said too much rainfall triggers these events.
Today I watched a PBS series on KEET 8 about geology including episodes on Weathering and Soils, and Mass Wasting. An excellent series, if a little old and simplistic and no recognition of the moderating influence of vegetative cover or belowground conditions was mentioned. Glomalin dots the I’s and crosses the T’s by explaining added soil structure to weathered soils, the precipitation interface as well as the biological conditioning of the soil to hold more water, all of which reduces the amount of excess water in peak events and reduces the likelihood of earth movements and catastrophic flooding downstream. It won’t prevent them all but as pointed out, human activity is often a triggering event in a natural process.
None of these studies has looked at the effects of vegetation on the likelihood of moderating mass wasting, which to some extent is simply gravity having its way in the world. Almost all of the examples were from landscapes devoid of trees, including the California coast. All types of mass wasting from creep to slump to landslide and debris torrents were shown and I believe I have seen all of them. There was no explanation that the hillside in Colombia had been clear cut before it buried 22,000 people in an hour. Nature has a way of selecting the appropriate species for conditions that allow it to live there. By not recognizing the role of vegetation as a community we fail to recognize impacts on other parts of those communities. So while in relatively flat land the major erosive forces are wind and running water, a quick fix of grasses and forbs can create topsoil, bind it together and host fungi and bacteria to do those operations. In low rainfall areas this all you get. In higher moisture environments woody plants become dominant. Rather than several inches deep, roots extend feet out and below the trees, creating larger conditioned soil reservoirs that hold water. Trees that grow for decades or centuries have massive reservoirs and these contribute to summer flows that keep rivers cool and flowing. Clear cutting removes these deposits from further nutrition, and they atrophy, eventually leading to unaggregated material in a steep wet place.
A recent report from the Oak Mortality Task Force tells us the pathogen has been found in diseases wood itself. Previously it was believed bark removal would prevent the spread of the disease. This is troublesome because it will be hard to use even as firewood anywhere but at the site without risking spreading the disease.
So we need to create a method of putting the forests back together while reducing the fuel load. This means pretty much every acre of timber and wildlands. We need to keep a certain amount of large trees on each acre but we can take a few from almost every acre. Large capacity markets should be developed to take small wood, chips and green matter from large and small operators, to assure cash flow and value added for fuel reduction. Restoration projects should stay the course because we are harnessing the healing power by taking time and allowing vegetative processes to work their wonders. Timber is king here because it is nature’s way of dealing with heavy rain on loose soils. Once that lesson is learned we can sustain ourselves on the benefits of a fully functioning forest ecosystem.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
CO2 Effects on Fine Roots of Ponderosa Pine Trees
Reference Tingey, D.T., Johnson, M.G. and Phillips, D.L. 2005. Independent and contrasting effects of elevated CO2 and N-fertilization on root architecture in Pinus ponderosa. Trees 19: 43-50.
What was done: The effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment (to approximately 350 ppm above ambient) on the fine-root architecture of seedlings of Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. ex P. Laws & C. Laws) growing in open-top chambers were studied via minirhizotron tubes at the U.S. Forest Service Institute of Forest Genetics near Placerville, California, USA, over a period of four years.
What was learned: The authors report that "elevated CO2 increased both fine root extensity (degree of soil exploration) and intensity (extent that roots use explored areas) but had no effect on mycorrhizae," the latter of which observations was presumed to be due to the fact that soil nitrogen was not limiting to growth in this study. More specifically, they report that "extensity increased 1.5- to 2-fold in elevated CO2 while intensity increased only 20% or less," noting that similar extensity results had been obtained over shorter periods of 4 months to 2 years by Arnon (1997), Berntson and Bazzaz (1998), DeLucia et al. (1997) and Runion et al. (1997), while similar intensity results had been obtained by Berntson (1994).
What it means: The results of this study add to the growing body of evidence that suggests that the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content will enable trees to continually increase the volume of soil from which they can access water and nutrients, as well as enable them to more thoroughly explore that enlarged volume of soil, both of which responses should allow earth's trees to acquire more of these essential resources and thereby realize the enhanced potential for growth that is provided by the aerial fertilization effect of atmospheric CO2 enrichment.
Arnone, J.A. 1997. Temporal responses of community fine root populations to long-term elevated atmospheric CO2 and soil nutrient patches in model tropical ecosystems. Acta Oecologia 18: 367-376.
Berntson, G.M. 1994. Modeling root architecture: are there tradeoffs between efficiency and potential of resource acquisition? New Phytologist 127: 483-493.
Berntson, G.M. and Bazzaz, F.A. 1998. Regenerating temperate forest mesocosms in elevated CO2: belowground growth and nitrogen cycling. Oecologia 113: 115-125.DeLucia, E.H., Callaway, R.M., Thomas, E.M. and Schlesinger, W.H. 1997. Mechanisms of phosphorus acquisition for ponderosa pine seedlings under high CO2 and temperature. Annals of Botany 79: 111-120.
Runion, G.B., Mitchell, R.J., Rogers, H.H., Prior, S.A. and Counts, T.K. 1997. Effects of nitrogen and water limitation and elevated atmospheric CO2 on ectomycorrhiza of longleaf pine. New Phytologist 137: 681-689.Reviewed 13 April 2005