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Report: Old-Growth Forests Dying Off

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A recent article in the news reports on a U.S. Geological Survey finding that old-growth forests in the west are dying off, due to global warming

THURSDAY, Jan. 22 (HealthDay News) — Trees in old-growth forests in the Western United States are dying at twice the rate they were a few decades ago, and experts suspect regional warming is to blame.

The report, led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), found that the increase in tree deaths has included trees in a variety of forests, elevations and sizes. Species have included pine, fir, hemlock and other coniferous trees. In addition, the rate of new tree growth has not changed, according to the report in the Jan. 23 issue of Science. [Read the full article.]

The article goes on to report that the consequences of this phenomenon include “increased wildfire activity across the Western U.S., as well as bark beetle outbreaks that are occurring at unprecedented levels across Western North America.” And we learn that “these changes in climate necessitate a reevaluation of policies on how forests are managed, including new ways of dealing with wildfires and limiting development.”

From my perspective working to restore Old-Growth Redwood forestland in northern California, here’s my take. Global warming is real. But so is a mindset in certain parts of the scientific/political/academic community to use alarmist tactics to push conservation and other agendas. Yes, higher temperatures have created problems with die-offs in many western forests that are affecting Old-Growth Forests as well. There are huge bug infestation increases and other issues. Some of it can be attributed to climate, but I assure you, the bulk of the issue is poor forest management practices that are coming home to roost. Also, the article makes it seem that ALL western forests are facing this grave issue. This is the alarmist part. The truth is the bulk of the lumber volume west of the Mississippi is on the Western Coast. The die-offs that were studied are inland from the coastal areas. Although the inland forests amount to several times the acreage of the coastal forests from Washington State down to Central California, they represent less overall timber volume than the coastal forests do. Therefore the coastal forest health is more important and it is not addressed in this article because it doesn’t fit the alarmist agenda.

I don’t disagree with the alarmist agenda. We need to scare the pants off people to fix these things, but it’s also good to keep your perspective. The major forests of the west (the coastal forests) are not being affected much if any by what is discussed in this article. On the western coast, in the Redwoods where Old-Growth Again operates, climate change is tempered by the ocean’s influence over the coastal climate.

We desperately need to make changes in the ways forests are managed. And, this is mentioned in the article. Unfortunately what is considered change is in most cases a drastic swing in the opposite direction away from over harvesting and poor soil management to almost complete preservation (no tree harvesting or almost none). Preservation is fine if the forests are in good shape. But, imposed on structurally deteriorated stands, it creates even more problems than it solves (species composition, tree quality, fire hazard, etc.).

If old trees are allowed to dominate the canopies of forests while the poor quality and overrepresented species are slowly culled, the forest will once again recreate microclimates that will insulate themselves and begin to positively influence the external climate to its advantage. But, the forests of the west are fragmented and full of problems created mostly by bad forestry. I am certain that under the present management schemes, the forests in general will continue to deteriorate including the old-growth tree patches that remain. But, if the forest is managed to recreate mature and old-growth trees, and most of the poor quality trees are systematically removed, the opposite of what this study predicts will happen. I assure you. I will prove it to you. Just check back in 30 years and you’ll see how much healthier and larger the lands your crazy uncle manages are in.

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