The problem is so big, affects so many people, requires such drastic cultural shift, that it is hard to wrap words around it.
Almost no one understands how climate change and blanked summer smoke is being caused by what has happened to our natural forests. “This prolonged smoke is bad for my family’s health.” or “My tourist season is down” vs. “I must cut as many board feet as last year”. Let me take the gloves off to tell you what is happening and how its all connected:
Why is it so Smokey Now?
The perfect storm has arrived. First the entire forested landscape is no longer fire proof. 100 years of repeated clear cutting has created dense stands of mono-aged young trees that burn hot. A fire in an old growth forest dances around the trees on the forest floor. A fire in industrial dense stands is catastrophically hot and burns everything.
What does the growing season in the southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley have to do with growing forest fire smoke? Climate change is accelerating. The Rogue Valley’s growing season expanded by two months in just 10 years. When I founded Restoration Seeds in the valley in 2008, the frost-free growing season was June 1 to October 1. Now we have a month more on either end.
Industrial forestry and agriculture is the main cause of global warming, not greenhouse gases as society is told. Clear cut logging and farming create giant radiating hot spots +10˚F warmer that are raising global temperatures and causing drought. The removal of natural forests and prairies that once generated rain-creating pollen are another driver of global drought and increased fires.
The west coast landscape looks forested from a distance, but to a trained eye it’s not a forest at all. Cities through their timber industry surrogates have replaced natural ecosystems with tree farms. Forests are now highly-flammable, mono-aged and over-planted. As long as cities get their wood and toilet paper, they don’t care. They don’t live here.
What Can we do Now to Stop The Fires?
We can’t. Our greed and overpopulation has cooked our own goose. The only solution to reduce the fires to normal levels is to end clear cutting and wait 80 to 100 years. We have to allow the forest to become fireproof again with trees of a minimum of 150 to 200 year old trees. We continue to do things we should not and tamper with systems we do not understand.
To get started, cut no more than a third of only the youngest trees. The oldest trees must be left for perpetuity, as in forever, to shade the ground to reduce heat radiation, retain moisture to rebuild soil life, create pollen to bring back normal rains, be the permanent self-seeding seed bank, maintain forest layer diversity to bring back native plant and animal species, and to be fireproof.
Almost no amount of equipment or labor can stop the fires because the entire landscape is now a tinderbox. It is prohibitively expensive to thin stands except around high-value urban interfaces. Never salvage log after fire. There is more life in a standing dead tree than a living one.
Bring the beavers back. Beavers have been removed from natural landscapes by the millions. Beaver dams retain moisture, create biodiversity and create new springs to regenerate the forest and cool the climate.
Deforestation is beginning in stressed arid climate areas such as between the Rogue Valley and Eugene, Oregon. Some hillsides are starting to not reforest after being hit by clear cuts too many times.
Ultimately, one child families is the only long-term solution to reduce the demand for forest and farm products. This reduces human population to 1 billion in 100 years. No matter your cause, it’s a lost cause until you reduce human population. I am afraid civilization has made us too short-sighted and selfish to enable the only real solution we have as a species. Almost no one in politics has a clue what is happening and what we need to do about it beyond stroking their own ego in the media.
Having large families was probably okay when I was born, but the population has doubled since then. I want people to understand that climate change and extreme forest fires is a societal or cultural problem and no solution short of changing society will make a difference. As long as we continue to have large families, every problem you can imagine will continue to happen. If there were only 1 billion of us, there would be plenty to go around for us and our fellow species.
When a Forest is a Forest
Photo: This is what earth really looks like. Can you find my 6’1″ tall son in the photo. Stout Grove, Crescent City, CA.
One of the few places on earth that still looks like earth is the old growth redwoods. If you have not been, go on a pilgrimage to see one of the last remaining sacred sites not yet destroyed by civilization.
A real forest has at least four vegetation layers or more. Look for ground cover, shrubs, understory trees, canopy of old-growth fire-proof trees and unique sounds of wildlife. The topsoil is a spongy, loamy, moist mycelium network up to 10′ thick, yes, feet. When you walk into an old-growth forest, the temperature drops 10˚F, the oxygen and humidity rise 10 percent. The moment you enter, you immediately understand what is causing climate change and warming: true forests are gone.
We should never have to “enter” a natural eco system; they should be ubiquitous. We have environmental amnesia. Humans live too short a time to see the destruction civilization causes and know what the earth really looks like.
Fire is natural, but current tree-plantation forests burn catastrophically hot. Cool fires dancing around old growth trees should be in the landscape every 4 or 6 years.
Create Change: Include All Stake Holders
The solution is to replace 100 years of forest-use practices. The first step towards making that change is bringing all of the stakeholders together. Ideally, those consuming the forests: timber companies, building suppliers, federal department of agriculture and mayors of cities sit in the center of a circle. Surrounding them are all of the stakeholders affected by their behavior: local real estate, chamber of commerce, tourism, hospitality, school district, parents, children let alone all of the other species.
If it comes down to just money, in my city of Ashland, Oregon, the local theater company alone loses as much money in one or two days as the entire timber industry profits locally in a year. The loss in the real estate industry is significant as buyers leave the region. Every business on main street suffers as tourists and residence walk around for months with masks on. Some of the worst air quality in the world is in the American west during the summer. Climate change is radically accelerating. And it is all caused by one thing: careless forest exploitation. This is not management, it is extraction, forest mining and rapid life-support ecosystem destruction.
There are many more jobs and those affected by health than there are jobs in the timber industry. At the most extreme timber towns even in BC Canada, not more than 25 percent jobs are directly or indirectly dependent on the timber industry. Work can continue in a conscious manner, probably more work, because the board feet have to come out of a much wider area vs. the focused clear cuts of today.
The Last Word
Don’t just become an activist, become an activist politician that can make real change. You have a 1,000x more power and influence as a county commissioner or congressman vs. writing a letter to one. If you can’t serve, join a group to support a friend who can. Also, volunteer your time to a local environmental nonprofit. Lastly, register for the Green Party and start to make a difference locally.
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Image: Travel Japan Blog.