Recent research by the US Forest Service confirms much of what forest ecologist have been saying for over two decades. In the West, prior to fire suppression efforts in the early 20th Century, wildfires were common. However, these were "low intensity" fires, usually "cleaning out" brush and downed woody debris. Environmental historian Nancy Langston in her book Forest Dreams, Forest Nightmares: The Paradox of Old Growth in the Inland West, wrote eloquently about how early European settlers arriving in southeast Washington and the Oregon Willowas, saw park-like stands of Ponderosa pine, where you could distinctly see through the forest because tree density was not as intense as it is nowadays.
While we all love Smokey Bear (I have a lot of Smokey Bear memorabilia in my office), the science around fire suppression was, well, wrong. Adding to fire suppression, silviculturalists who understood the role of fire in regenerating stands of Douglas fir, attempted to mimic fire by clear-cutting stands hoping to enhance the natural regeneration and planting. All of these methods have led to the fuel that burns. Enhanced by even minute shifts in climate over time, and where there is fuel, there will be fire as long as there are sparks.
An even greater issue is the human dimension of this issue, which is the zoning codes that permit, or even encourage, development in wildfire prone areas. It has reached a point where, in some areas, almost all human development is in a fire prone area (who would have thought, 15 years ago, that the California wine country in Napa and Sonoma counties could be a wildfire prone area?). Human development puts our wildfire fighters at enormous risk defending homes, businesses, and whole communities, when perhaps, the best ecological thing we can do is to let the fire burn.
So what do we do? One thing is to continue supporting government led studies to understand wildfires. A second thing is if your home is in a wildfire area, make sure you have had a defensible space assessment done and follow the recommendations. Essentially insulating your structures from the fire path, limbing trees near the structure, creating a break between any grass and the structure, and even placement of the structure if you are just beginning to build. Now is the time to think about defensible space. Give us a call, we can help.
High Country News published an article about the Bundy trials in Nevada, where once again, the militias and individuals who pointed guns and refused to pay grazing fees as required by contracts with the Federal government, were released from the indictments. The analysis relies on court testimony and the Federal judge's decision that employees of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) abused their powers.
What the analysis doesn't emphasize sufficiently, is that the militias, the Bundys, and others threatened, bullied, intimidated not only government employees, but essentially have disrespected the millions of American citizens who all follow laws and own federal lands.
As we have discussed earlier, there is a movement by a small minority of people who want to re-create a land where they can run roughshod over anyone who believes public lands belong to all of us, not just a cattle grazer or a miner. It is like they see the world as 1871 not 2018.
Regardless what happened in court, it is up to all of us to make sure we are not transported back in time by this ideology of extraction worship. Their twisted interpretation of the Constitution and belief that "it's theirs," can only be won if we allow them to win.
Public lands are out lands.
Several weeks ago there was a thoughtful piece in the New York Times. The author is originally from eastern Oregon and returned to seek an understanding of rural concerns post-Bundy takeover of the US Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife refuge at Malheur in 2015.
More than anything about that article, we were struck at the polarized ways of seeing nature. We were trained as foresters and in that training, we can look at forests and determine stands, board feet, valuation, carbon offsets....or, we can see wildlife habitat, watershed protection, beauty. More than anything, we see beauty. It is rare that a forester, these days, looks at a forest and only sees dollar value or value to humans.
What struck us about the article was a quote toward the end. A mother and daughter from eastern Oregon, proponents of a hard line belief that all federal land really belongs to the archers, loggers, miners who value the land for its resource, visited Yellowstone. The crown jewel of our National Parks and federally owned public lands. In addition to complaining that the trees needed to be logged, the mother said this: "I was looking at the buffalo and just seeing steak."
And so this is the divide between us. Those of us who believe that the natural world is valuable of itself, not for extracting and selling. Then there are those who look at every tree, animal, rock, and rangeland as useless unless it is being cut, shot, mined, and grazed. Apparently they also believe that the federal government has no right to own or manage lands that it does own.
We have watched some variation of these attitudes for a long time. Sage Brush Rebellion, property rights movement, Blue Line Movement. It comes down to seeing nature differently than the majority of people. These so-called "movements" try to pitch their beliefs as rural versus urban, or liberal versus "family values." But it really is about seeing nature differently. They may think they have a utilitarian sensibility, but after you have shot all the bison, logged all the trees, destroyed watersheds, endangered fish, mined or drilled every inch of land, there is no utility left but open space. A true family value is looking at nature as a family member. Something to nurture, love, appreciate, value, sustain.
When we go to Yellowstone we see bison.
Yesterday we spent the day in our state capitol. We have been volunteering to work on reforming our state's laws and regulations having to do with suction dredge mining in streams and rivers that are critical habitat for salmon, steelhead, and Bull trout. Yesterday was a presentation in front of the department of fish and wildlife commissioners.
The mining community has been very assertive in opposing any change. All of our neighboring states have requirements for discharge permits, invasive species checks, no dredging on critical habitat, but our state lags behind and seems to be in "regulatory capture" with the mining community.
Among many of the tactics some of miners use is something they perceive to be the tough guy strategy. At the briefing they called those of us involved in this movement to reform the mining laws "ecojihadists." Then there is one miner in particular who focuses on us. Later in the day he posts slanderous comments about us. For the most part, many of the miners have addressed us with civility, but there are a few who adopt an ugliness that is indicative of their anger.
It seems to be the pattern in civil discourse these days that if you don't agree with someone you focus on their lives or label them or call them names. They hide behind ideas such as "free speech" and all the bandwidth the Internet provides to spew their hate-filled anger. The man who posted about us has a long history of posting racist, homophobic, sexist rants.
Tough guys don't do that. In reality tough guys face the issues with their opinions on the issues. They talk, debate, argue, plead their case. But name calling and bullying is a sign of weak people. Weak people.
It's the crazy season. State legislatures are in session, particularly here in Washington state. After a number of months of eventful natural resource disasters (fires, aquaculture pens breaking, few wild steelhead returns), the legislature is full steam ahead wanting to fix "what is broke." We have been in this business for a long time and know how sausage is made. One thing we ask of our policy makers, is to look at "low hanging fruit." Big fixes for wild anadromous fish crashes or wild fires or the demise of the South Puget Sound orcas usually ends up not working. But there are low hanging fruit, things that can be done to help fish, mitigate climate change, and protect our forests.
The picture above is a suction dredge. These are machines, essentially shop vacuums, that are used to suck up a stream, run the water and sediment through a sluice, and discharge the sediment. All of this is done in Washington state without a discharge permit under the clean water act and in areas of critical habitat for anadromous fish, there are no incidental take permits under the Endangered Species Act.
Everyone from ranchers to orchard owners to municipal water districts to property owners are making sacrifices to help salmon and steelhead. Reforming the non-existent regulations on suction dredge mining in Washington is not a big deal. It's low hanging fruit. But in a season of silliness, it would be a good thing to do one thing that might actually help.
A lot can be done to prevent damages to homes and other structures during wildfire season. Shelterwood Consulting can help with designing and implementing defensible spaces around your structures.
Here is a great article about defensible space...actions being implemented in Deschutes County, Oregon.
Contact us if you want a consult.
October is a wonderful month for a sportswoman. Hunting and fishing are at peak. The air is cooler, the dogs lift their heads, capturing scents, fish are eating in anticipation of winter.
Our favorite smaller river closes to fishing today, end of the month. We went out, for a last time this season, on Saturday. Casting to the foam, pondering whether to change from a soft hackle to a dry or nymph. There is a bittersweetness about the last time. An appreciation of all that the river gave to us this season. Some absolutely gorgeous fish, exciting falls while wading, cooling water during a hot day, moments where we realized no one in the world knew where we were. And the sadness that we will have to wait until the last weekend in May (in reality, much later due to run off) to return with a fly rod in hand.
The reality is we will return throughout the rest of fall and winter. Snowshoeing, back country skiing, walks with the dogs. And while we will not have a fly rod in hand, we will appreciate the fish, the beauty of the river, the sense that no one in the world knows where we are.
That is what being outside is, that sense of being awestruck at what nature gives you, realizing there is a high chance you'll fall into the river, your dogs will find some decomposing something that looks pretty gross, that the Monet painting you saw in the Metropolitan Museum of Art has nothing on the yellows, reds, greens, or stark branches of the trees in October.
This river is but one of thousands in the West. It's a small area, much of it on federal lands. People drive along the river to look at it's beauty every day. There are no oil rigs, not a lot of logging anymore, and few scattered small miners stubbornly asserting claims to minerals that don't exist anymore. It could get worse. Much worse. But I will continue to work on ensuring that the leaf peepers, the hunters, anglers, hikers, white water kayakers can find their place where no one knows where they are.
It's the end of the month. Tomorrow I will take the dogs out to walk along the river.
The dirty little secret known to everyone is that stormwater run off is horrifically bad for freshwater fish. And a recent study demonstrates the issues.
But help can be on the way. This is one of those things that simple solutions, or what we call "low hanging fruit" can help enormously. Rather than having stormwater dumped into rivers, streams, and even Puget Sound, infiltrating the stormwater run off through soils is an effective way of neutralizing the toxics in the water and helping salmon.
Washington state Department of Ecology has taken a leadership role in ensuring the new development in Washington manages stormwater more effectively while protecting freshwater and anadromous species.
While Western Washington soils are almost all bad for infiltration rates (much of the Puget Sound area is on top of glacial till) there are ways to build rain gardens, berms, and swales that can still infiltrate without creating muddy messes.
Shelterwood Consulting has extensive experience in this area. We have worked with municipalities to correct their mistakes in building rain gardens and we have worked with developers in creating effective stormwater management plans.
It's important. Our salmon are depending on us to pick the low hanging fruit and help them.
We consider ourselves avid outdoors people. We fly fish and we hunt for upland game. In during so, we spend time getting to know vegetation, riparian areas, wildlife, and ourselves.
Hunters and fishing folk can and generally are exceptionally responsible for nature. But then there are the exceptions and often they are egregious. These men committed horrific crimes. Including the poaching, the unnecessary and horrible waste in hunting is almost unspeakable.
We are proud of the hunters and anglers we know and spend time with. Aldo Leopold's vision of sustainable and ethical hunting, catch and keep them wet release advocacy by Trout Unlimited, advocating for sustainable habitat management by upland game hunting groups, that is what being an outdoors person should be about.
The University of Iowa, in a fit of being prescient, created the Aldo Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Thinking long term, this Center brought together conservationists and farmers, thinking about soil conservation, how to use crops as wildlife habitat. Great things came from this Center, including making cover crops "in" again. And now, Iowa Republican state legislators want to de-fund this Center.
Aldo Leopold is a great hero of ours. His foresight on American wildlife and habitat was measured and reasonable. He was not some "wild eyed" environmentalist, but rather a conservationist. He loved hunting, he poured his amazing energy into restoring his own "shack" and land to use it as a model of sustainability in agriculture and wildlife habitat.
In this day of rolling back every single law and regulation concerning conservation, reducing the size of our National Monuments, and encouraging mineral extraction and timber cutting on our public lands, we need to counter this back to the turn of the 19th century movement with current and forward thinking ideas and science.
Just say no Iowa. Keep this vital institution.