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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 28, 2006
Last night I watched Tom Brokaws two hour report on global warming- Global Warming: What You Need To Know on the Science Channel. It gave a good account of the observations that are currently occurring or being recovered out of the ice cores. It was in laymans terms and he didn't bother with too many graphss but it seems clear there is a problem. When we have looked at glomalin destruction with the advent of Western Civilization and add emissions from carbon sources long buried it seems obvious we need aggressively address this issue. Reducing energy use is the number one priority. The only other way to address the problem is to pump some of it back into the earth with drilling rigs.
Much was made of disappearing glaciers but no mention was ever made of revegetation in currently in low-0 or no vegetation will surely thrive in many places. The natural communities with strong survival qualities will gradually develop in lessened competition and adjustments for new realities. We can be sure the natural world will be adjusting many ways to this warming and CO2 rich atmosphere. Conditioning the environment for life is a living process basic to even the simplest creatures. Plant communities will form with the mycorhizzal associations and will thrive where conditions are good. Water is an essential for all life, and life will find it and try to ensure its supply, and it has a ready made method for much of the world. The destruction of the temperate forests and their ability to moderate the problem was never addressed.
The program sadly made little mention of the need to grow more forest, or increase glomalin production or protection, or maintaining large multispecies ecosystems-in-a-single-tree but did mention forest decline due to cutting in the Amazon. The ciritical difference is in how management can have an impact on global issues, and big problems need big solutions or we will be living in a chaotic world. Wildfire due to summer drought was well covered. Again, no mention was really made aboout the resilience of the forest depleted in its develpoment of water storage means, nor release of naturally stored carbon in disturbed or cutover lands. Less conditioned soil is holding less precipitation, there are fewer springs. As we have said earlier, this will be an opportunity for some people and that he who gathers the most CO2 will win- kidding, of course.
For the political and agricultural worlds it is pretty much either a matter of size or a crapshoot about your location and the effect on precipitation. Plants are naturally resilient but even so the world changes over time. The tools are in the soil to turn most any landscape into home for some form of life all the while absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.
I also watched a fasinating Animal Planet program-Leave It To The Real Beavers. This has been a great trip to observe them repeatedly and see some of the things they do, so the program was timely in my life. We see this is another ancient battle for land use between the tree communities which are cut and then drowned. Eventually the wetlands fill and go dry, ameadow comes in and the forest comes back. Nothing is said of the difference these ponds can have on locally available moisture moderation or carrying capacity of a mountain range in the summer. All in all, the beaver hurts us on trees but can provide water. This is more evidence that life moderates the environment for its own purposes.
As I drive down the country lane looking at pasture now I wonder how much CO2 could be processed a year if it was put back in trees. I wonder if flooding was a regular problem for Indians. I wonder how deep the native trees roots ran. I wonder if the mycorhizzal production is being impeded or aided by hotter summers and longer growing seasons.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Meanwhile, I continue my road trip looking at the effects of diminished glomalin at the root of an inconvienient truth. IN this area, hundreds of years of land use has resulted in lots of farm and pastureland and young forest. It seems generally obvious that the land is underperforming in carbon storage, since this was all forest and large trees abounded. One result of this is higher runoff rates that, together with paving and buildings, leads to flooding of streams and creeks and eventualloy the rivers. The rise and fall of these after a downpour is amazing and we have to wonder how many days of no precipitation it woould take to cause low flows and drought conditions.
We have viewed forest land visited by a tornado six years ago and find the damage flabbergasting, a huge swath ten miles long flattened. This was an extremely rare event here and we wonder about the power of trees to prevent or diminish these wind storms. We also note that where cleanup ncrews used heavy equipment the land is just starting to grow back while other areas are already covered with young trees and complete brushy cover.
The place we visited is a park. Several ponds provided water power and ice for 19th century industries which were left by the wayside with the advent of electrical power early in the twentieth century. After the industry left the remaining forest was clearcut. The state bought the land in the tweneties. CCC came in in the thirties and did some great building nad tree planting. Today there are many acres of even aged white pines, all similar in height and diameter. They exhibit all the characterisics of side pressure or maybe root zone limitations, and the largest are several more feet away from their neighbors than average, while the smaller ones are closer. I would say the average tree is sixty feet tall and ten to twelve inches in diameter, just about pole size. There appears to be less split trunks from insects killing the terminal shoot than just a little further East, where virtually every white pine has been damaged by this.
Hardwoods were allowed to grow naturally and some of them are pretty large although the majority appear younger than the pines. I cannot tell if the mix of mostly maple and ash with some cherry is anything like what was before but I tend to seriously doubt it. This leads to wondering about forest historians and if there is such a thing, since many other trees live or were present here a hundred years ago.
Earlier this month we reported on the extensive caterpillar damage we were seeing with whole hillsides denuded. I am glad to say that the caterpillars metamorphosized, stopped eating the leaves, and the trees have refoliated themselves so you wouldn't be able to tell anything was wrong at a glance. We suspect general forest health decline and a slower growth rate above and belowground as well as lowered resistance to future pest attacks.
Riding over hill and vale one can see how much more carbon could be stored in the landscape. No human activity in this area creates more glomalin than previously existed, virtually all development diminishes the amount and ability of the landscape to store carbon and it is clear huge amounts have left the ecosystem, a truly inconvienient truth.
The July 13 issue of the Northcoast Journal had a real good article on Sudden Oak Death called Tree By Tree. www.northcoastjournal.com While we disagree about ancient Douglas firs giving way to skinny tanoaks (we think Indians managed for tanoak acorns, tanbarkers took all the big tanoaks and Douglas fir benefitted from 80 years of conifer release as reported in early issues of this blog), the troubling spread of the disease and its consequences are well reported, including the difficulty in characterizing phytophthoras as a fungus or something else. The article ends with probable changes in forest makeup. Here again we will say that loss of glomalin production will have dire consequences in large rain events in devastated areas made up primarily of trees that die. Mixed areas of less affected trees will have less vigor but will fill in the holes in the woods with survivor species so there will be a window of real worry in tanoak rich regions as well as increased fiuel loading coupled with diminished ground water storage adding to the fire danger.
Finally we may be witnessing global warming in the form of less upwelling (www.sfgate.com) causing failure in the breeding season for seabirds, and possibly other marine animals too. record temperatures seem to be more evidence that the carbon that should be in the ground is heating up the atmosphere- truly inconvinient.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Climate change link seen in surge of Western blazes
Study correlates warming trend with wildfires
Dennis O'Brien, Baltimore Sun
Friday, July 7, 2006
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/07/MNG7JJR8521.DTL A new study indicates the correlation of warmer temperatures and increasing forest fires in the West. Scripp Institute of Oceanography and the University of Arizone foound fires increasing in number and size since temperatures began rising in 1987 in 11 Western states after going over 34 years of fire records.
"The researchers examined U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service records of every forest fire that burned at least 1,000 acres from 1970 to 2003. They found that of 1,166 fires in that period, four-fifths of them, or about 900, occurred after 1987.
They also found that air temperatures from 1987 to 2003 were 1.6 degrees higher than during the previous 17 years; that 6.5 times more acreage burned during that warmer period; and that the firefighting season increased by 78 days, the study says. "
While they do not claim human caused global warming is the cause, it gives an indication of what can be expected if these trends continue. Warmer springs and legnthier dry seasons are increasing the fuel load. We'd also point out it adds to the number of days of high fire risk. Examing fires that burn over a thousand acres, the largest increase has been in the northern Rockies between six and eight thousand feet elevation where earlier melting of the snowpack is the predominate cause of fire risk.
The study clearly shows rising temperatures are putting more lands at risk for longer times and that the period 1987 to present was the warmest since record keeping began in 1895. Forestry officials have debated whether warming or managem,ent preactices were responsible for the increase, but some areas in the northern Rockies are little influenced by management practices such as clearing brush, while the drying from warmer temperatures is a general trend over all eleven states covered in the study.
EXTINCTION CRISIS FOR AMPHIBIANS
Frogs, toads and other species dying off -- new fungus magnifies environmental problems
David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor
Friday, July 7, 2006
A virulent new fungal disease of amphibians is preading rapidly around the globe and adding an additional risk factor to already threatened amphibian populations around the world. First discovered in Panama and Australia only eight years ago it has been linked to to 122 extinctions in the last twenty-five years. Scientists from UC BErkely are now studying the disease in the Sierras, where the problem is killing yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads. 427 species are at critical risk around the worrld. The scientists say development and habitat loss are still the largest critical factors but the fungus is pushing the issue to extreme threats.
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, causes skin infections called chytrid disease in every amphibian species it attacks with absolute mortality rates of 100 percent. The disease is connected to warmer temperatures and is rampant throughout the Sierra Nevada Parks as well as around the world.
""The high virulence and large number of potential hosts of this emerging infectious disease threaten global amphibian diversity," Lipps reported this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." The team found nearly one-third of all 5743 amphibian species are now threatened, 40 percent have had major population declines and 122 species have gone extinct in the last twenty-five years.
Locally, the Scoots Bar and Siskyou salamanders are at risk as the fungus ahs been found in their habitat, also threatened by logging in old growth forests. Environmental groups are pushing for protected status in U.S. Court, but the combined issues of rising temperatures and shrinking habitat pose a serious threat and the disease is rapid once it strikes.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
The dam removal would open more than three hundred miles of spawning habitat the fish currently can not reach. I don't have access to my previous articles here now, but I recall this was about the same amount as the culvert project, although that covered many watersheds.
I have some problems with this type of reporting, however. For instance, the article states about 30.000 fish remain in the system, the same number reported as the absolute minimum for the fish to recover. But this is the low count after two massive fish kills effectively ruined this years run . Previous articles pointed out the ups and downs of salmon populations in the river well after the dams were built, ranging from twelve thousand to nearly 150,000. I believe the fishery will rebound to some number in detween on its own, and see some benefits in the lower region from the culvert and other projects as well as improved forestry and land use management. It would seem opening that many more miles of habitat should vastly improve the numbers over anything seen in decades. A perfect storm of restoration concern could make the runs better than anyone has seen in a lifetime.
State and Federal authorities are working out disaster mitigations for the affected fishermen. The Federal government only approved two million dollars so the state has stepped in to make life a little better for the fishermen. Studies are under way to determine the toxicity levels of sediment trapped behind the ams. There is little historical mining or industry in the areas and the main source may be relatively benign agricultural runoff. Then there is the sheer volume of sediment that would have to be removed and put somewhere. If it is clean it may even be an asset to someone.
Several years of improving runs in the Mattole indicate that better land use practices can slowly improve the runs without massive gains in spawning grounds as the existing habitat grows back into shape. Numbers in the mattole have gone from in the dozens to approximately one third of the historic average of ten thousand chinook (king) and five thousand coho (silver) salmon, about 3500 and 1500 respectively.
It is to be hoped we will see a difference in the Eel as well, but there we have the introduced predator in the Sacramento squawfish, or pike minnow. While there is a fishing derby for the fish in the lower Eel, there is a bounty on it in Oregon. Mendocino County also has some kind of program I will look into further for benefit of my readers. A good suggestion would be free fishing, a bounty, and shifting habitat away from thiiiiiie squawfishesd preferences and nack to salmonid- basically colder water via higher volumes and more shade. It aslso is interesting that the namesake river of the fish has had an outstanding year as has the Colombia where there are enough of them to warrant a bounty.
In the grand scheme of things, improved water quaslity is directly tied to the amount of carbon the landscape is taking in. Humboldt County demonstrates this because the Douglas fir regions have been in flux since the advent of tractor logging. Steepness and extreme weather combined with seasonal precipitation demands water storage in the biologically reachable parts of the watershed to maintain the kind of healthy fisheries found here. Regular precipitation and humdreds of years of land use in the East have altered the perception of native habitats with the most serious consequence being regular flooding, which few tie to lack of sufficient vegetation. Rising summer temperatures and coastal flooding herald global warming as well. Nevertheless the widespread damage this week indicates all is not well in many watersheds with runoff wreaking havoc along every creek and river. The need for big trees is clear as is mitigations for slowing runoff. Another idea is to sell it to Vegas. They pipe everything else around. Similar to the water bag project, it should be on a contingency basis rather than a contract basis, that is. sell it when you have enough to sell without making promises that can't be kept in dry times.
This blog is pointing to the future and we are happy people are at least beginning to think inthese terms. Our initial premise stated in article four, Our Shrinking Watersheds has been greatly clarified by two years of reading and writing on these possibilities, and we are seeing great progress on some fronts and complete failure to understand on others. The direct connection between carbon dioxide storage and fisheries still seems beyond the reach of many, yet it is an issue whose time has come.