Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dog-hairs in the woods (3/16/2017)

Walking in the woods behind our house this past Friday, I realized that I wasn't exactly "forest bathing."  Daily life and politics came rushing back to me while I was still looking and trying to enjoy nature (truthfully I will always enjoy nature, even when distracted), but this time I did not gently push these thoughts back as I am supposed to do; I did not tell it “some other time please.” 
I found this word on and it really describes who I am, the essence of me (at least when I am not on the water on my kayak or my sailboat) 
Why didn’t I?  I was walking my regular trail with the dogs; on one side was a “dog-hair” stand of pines on the other side a more mature forest.  What does that mean, a "dog-hair" stand?  

When we moved into our neighborhood, now 17 years ago, and we walked that area, the trees were freshly planted.  At that time we could literally look over the tree canopy to the other side.  They were very dense, so dense that you could barely move through them.  That became increasingly clear when the trees got bigger.  The trunks were so close together that you had to move sideways between the trees to get through the stand of trees.  They were as close together as the hair on the back of a dog, hence the words "dog-hair" stand!

Slowly some of the trees started to die off; they died from the lack of light and room for their roots and branches to grow.  Now the trees are relatively large; I would think at least 30 feet.  They are still dense and the trunks are thin and spindly.  A forester would say that the stand is ready for a thinning cut.  They thin the forest out to reduce the competition, reduce the number of trunks per acre (or hectare) and this allows the remaining trunks to thicken and the trees to thrive.  It is called forest management.

The "dog hair" stand of trees in the woods behind our home.  This stand is maybe 20 years old and ready to get thinned.
If foresters do not thin the forest, forests and all types of vegetation in general, does this on its own.  We ecologists know this as the self-thinning rule, and we even have a fancy mathematical formula for it that I will not bother you with.  But what happens is we get a lot of mediocre plans first a lot of trees dying, spreading of diseases in the woods, maybe even a higher likelihood of forest fires, all together a potentially unhealthy situation.

Actually we ecologists may find it more natural, but for foresters it is a terrible situation.  Foresters want to produce board-feet, poles and wood that can be used to make lumber, paper, and other useful things.  Herein lays the rub and this brought me back to daily life and politics: this whole conflict between two philosophies in the management of these woods.  The trees are marked up by a forester and ready to get their first thinning cut.  Walking by there made me think about these foresters imposing rules on the forests and only by imposing their forestry rules can they make them grow quickly, create a more prosperous forest and probably a more diverse forest.  While if we ecologists stand back and let things go without human-imposed (management) rules, nature may eventually get there too, but who knows with how many casualties in the meantime, and probably less useful lumber for the foresters.

The trees in this "dog-hair" stand are all fighting to capture the light and not really investing in infrastructure (or the trunk) to support them (and us).  If left unchecked there will be many casualties and those remaining will produce mediocre wood.
So what is good and what is bad?  In the old days I would have said that any human intervention in nature was necessarily a bad idea.  However, things have changed.  We humans have impacted nature so tremendously, that most philosophers, scientists, biologists and ecologists now tell us that we have entered the Anthropocene or the geological period during which we humans impact the earth’s geology and ecosystem more than they impact the humans.  The Wikipedia article I reference here is fascinating to read, it tells me how future geologists will be able to read the rocks and tell what went on in our time.  In other words, we have impacted nature so much by bringing in exotic plant species, encroaching the area and living right next to them, having removed all the predators that would hunt the deer, suppressed the wildfires, that we probably need to manage these woods, otherwise we really do not know what the results will be.

But back to my walk; I was really upset about what is going on at the EPA, the Department of the Interior, NOAA, the Department of Education and so many other government agencies at the moment.  I like to compare it with the "dog-hair" stand that I was walking by (and really, that's what I was thinking about).  Without management (read regulations) that "dog-hair" stand will develop into a forest, I am not worried about that.  First very poorly, without any understory, it will be very susceptible to fire, a lot of small trees will die and only a very few big ones will survive, and the quality of the wood of those trees maybe very poor.  Kind of like a society without regulations, the rich and the powerful will get richer and damn the poor and the weak.  With management (regulations) we thin the forest sensibly and it will thrive (oh my god, birth control), the remaining trees will grow good and create good wood that we humans can use to build our homes, furniture and make our paper products from (now he is preaching socialism). 

I strongly feel that like that forest that need management our country needs sensible regulations, health care and education.  The cutting of programs and deregulation is not going to work for everyone, just like that "dog-hair" stand,  In 1798 Malthus wrote about an eventual over-population that would result in famine and disease that would cause the end of human civilization.  Many conservatives have always counter-argued that human inventiveness would keep up with the population explosion (I am oversimplifying here).  I don't know, but why even argue?  Some scientists say we are close to reaching the carrying capacity of the earth or the number of people that the earth can support.  Why turn our future generations into that human "dog-hair" stand on earth and put them all at risk?  I believe we can avoid this, but not in the spirit of less regulations and everybody for themselves, but instead with more education, better healthcare for everyone, science, a cleaner environment and empathy.

And that is what I sometimes do when I walk in the woods, I think and brood, and then I ramble.

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