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Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism’

While working on the Appalachian Trail, I realized that many of the campsites used year in and year out by Thru-hikers are growing in size and degree of impact. Yet, many of the organizations tasked with monitoring campsites keep records in paper form and have no tangible concept of the way impacts are adding up.

In the video above, I used ArcMap to enter in a hypothetical centerpoint for a campsite. I then compile polygons, representing monitoring trips. Ideally, this data would be collected in such a way as to contain monitoring metrics in the attribute table, so the symbology can be classified by the severity of impact.

The video shows how one campsite grows over time. Typically, however, campsites don’t exist in isolation. This technique can be expanded to show multiple campsites bleeding into each other.

The area data can be compiled in either excel or R, and used as an input to a linear regression analysis. This can be used to project, that if impacts continue at the current rate, they would result in campsites over ever increasing size, until you wind up with giant camping areas.

By finding trouble spots on the trail and analyzing them over a five year period, enough data can be compiled to extrapolate useful modelling, which can help inform better management decisions.

Currently management decisions are being made without data to show whether they are working or not. Anecdotally, the impacts appear to get worse every year. Management and monitoring need to go hand in hand. When a decision is made, the impacts of that decision need to be monitored and that data needs to inform future decisions. Otherwise, we cannot be said to be making rational decisions.

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For the past six months I have been working on a “sustainable,” organic sugar bush. In that time I have seen a number of impacts, which seem like a necessary consequence of our activities, that certainly appear to impact the landscape. However, the industry maintains that when tapping is done right, the impact to the trees should be negligible and the woods should be preserved. In fact, one of the aspects my company brags about, is that the woods have been preserved from logging and development. While clearing the woods for logging or development may be more obviously impactful, there are still aspects of the process which should be more deeply investigated before we can call the industry sustainable.

 

The first (and probably most noticeable) impact which should be examined is the use of plastic piping to convey the sap down the mountain. Best practices suggest that the 5/16″ lateral lines be replaced every five years, drop lines every three to five years and one inch branches every ten to fifteen years. The plastic can sometimes be melted down and reused, but it is uncommon to see recycling of these materials on a large scale as of yet. Considering that we’ve used tens of thousands of feet of one inch piping and possibly hundreds of thousands of feet of 5/16″ lateral line, we are certainly creating untold tons of plastic waste, every few years. The University of Vermont claims that as many as 88 tons of maple tubing are replaced in the Vermont woods, per year, as of 2009. This number is surely higher by now, given that there are many more large producers taking up residence in the state. UVM then predicted that sugarmakers would make progress in recycling in the years to follow, and they have, but to what degree is not yet clear, and there is certainly still a large amount of waste being produced.

 

Waste is not the only question raised, when we consider sustainability in this industry. There is also the question of tree health. The industry claims that when tapped properly, sugaring should have no negative impact to the health of the tree, or at least negligible impact. Producers have been using smaller tap sizes to reduce the amount of dead transport wood created in the tree, but they have also started using vacuum systems to create a pressure differential, tricking trees into thinking their is higher atmospheric pressure, and thus that it is an appropriate time for sap to run. The impacts of vacuum are still an open question, as far as how trees are impacted. On a basic level, the vacuum has allowed syrup producers to collect more sap per tap. This alone should be a red flag. Trees use the sap we wish to collect to build new structures each spring. This includes the leaves needed to photosynthesize and reproductive organs. The greater the sap we succeed in pulling from the tree, the less it has for itself. While research done by UVM would suggest that there are no known impacts, it seems obvious that there must be at least some detrimental effects, and that perhaps we just aren’t seeing them yet.

 

Furthermore, there is the open question as to whether the scarring is expanded by draining more of the tree’s transport wood. In experiments conducted by UVM, the trees subjected vacuum did not show statistically significant impacts, compared to those tapped with gravity. I would consider the results of the 2007 study to be inconclusive and requiring further investigation. I would hypothesize that trees subjected to multiple years of 25″ Hg of vacuum would show advanced scarring, compared to gravity taps of the same size, but there is no available data yet.

 

Finally, sugar bushes fragment habitat, in woodlands considered by the companies tapping maple trees to be “conserved.” The larger the sugarbush, the more infrastructure and development is necessary to get the sap out. First roads are needed to make the installation possible. Second, branches are often cleared of brush to make the installation of one inch pipe and main lines easier. The installation of tubing further fragments the woods. Many involved in the installation of sugaring infrastructure anecdotally claim the impacts on wildlife to be negligible, but this seems highly unlikely. The use of noisy machinery like chainsaws and ATVs disturb wildlife and often chase them from the immediate area. The infrastructure installation fragments the areas where animals need contiguous habitat to range.

 

Study has been done on how sugarbush management compares with biodiversity management standards. However, there seems to be an open research question in verifying whether the practices in use are, in fact, impacting habitat. Simply using observed control species-area relationships vs. experimental species area relationships on sugarbushes could help to answer this question.

 

While the industry continues to claim it is operating in an environmentally sustainable manner, I feel there are many open research questions that need to be resolved before we can use the term sustainable. My hope is that research institutions like UVM will continue to investigate these questions, and that best practices can be improved within the industry. It will take cooperation between the private industry, research institution and governmental regulatory agencies to advance the cause of sustainability.

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As I hiked Haystack Mountain in Pawlet, Vermont yesterday, I was impressed with the amount of diversity preserved in just a small tract of land. The North Pawlet Hills Natural Area preserves a little over 1,000 acres, yet from the trail it is possible to observe a strikingly large number of distinct habitats. Part of this is undoubtedly because the elevation changes so drastically, but it is also noteworthy that the Nature Conservancy intentionally focused on the preservation of land of high conservation value.

The conservation movement, over the years, has made strides in putting high value lands in the public trust, but it has also been a strategy with limits. This is why land trusts are so valuable. Land trusts can step in to conserve parcels  when there is not the political will to conserve the land in the public parks systems available.

When the government protects land, it protects lands that are valuable for recreation or for natural resources. Ecology is more often than not a secondary concern. The Forest Service manages forest resources for what it deems to be a sustainable timber harvest. In other words, a rate of timbering that does not degrade the forest in the long term. This is a useful strategy, seeing as we live in a society dependent on forest products. The Parks Service, on the other hand, manages lands for the recreational experience of National Park visitors. In the case of many of our previously wild parks, this has meant developing the kind of infrastructure that can handle the ever increasing (and under-educated in regards to leave-no-trace principles) visitorship. In both cases, governments have an anthropocentric management style, and this has resulted in a long term degradation of the resource, (barring the occasional, but rare wilderness area, where greater restrictions exist).

Even this anthropocentric management style has dried up in recent years. As budgets have become tighter, political will for conserving land has all but evaporated. This all during a time when the scientific community has raised concerns about biodiversity loss, due often to habitat fragmentation. As more land becomes developed for human interests, and the government fails to push back, land conservation has been left in a vacuum.

Fortunately, many non-profit land trusts have cropped up, in order to nickel and dime properties deemed to be of high conservation value, but often too small, or too lacking in recreational opportunities, to be of public interest. Often times, the trust will buy a tract in fee simple (meaning full ownership), but more often land trusts utilize scenic and conservation easements that spell out rights, restrictions and responsibilities of both the property owner as well as the land trust. Land trusts monitor the properties periodically to ensure the terms of the easement are met. Easements are backed by law, and there are legal ramifications for violating the agreed upon terms, however they are entered into voluntarily by private landowners interested in preserving  their property for future generations.

This is not a great strategy for large land acquisitions, but it has worked, piece-meal, to make additions to conserved lands, or fill in the gaps that the government is not willing to. For instance, in the Essex Chain of Lakes acquisition, in the Adirondacks State Park in New York State, it was uncertain whether the Department of Environmental Conservation would have the resources necessary to take over the property, which had previously been held by the timber company Finch Prine. As it became clear that the paper company wanted out, the Nature Conservancy acquired the parcel in fee and then sold it at a discount to the State of New York for admittance into the Adirondack Park. This process took years, but the Nature Conservancy was able to identify a parcel with high conservation value, and protect it.

Haystack, similarly is a property with high conservation value. As one walks up the mountain, you start in a typical example of Northern Hardwoood Forest, along rolling terrain that varies from wet to mesic, and often consists of Rich Northern Hardwood forest matrix communities. These communities are dominated by Sugar Maple, Beech and Yellow Birch. There is one point in the beginning of the trail, where a wetland is visible, though it is unclear whether it is a bog, fen or swamp (from the trail). However, with wetlands being home to immense biodiversity, being providers of essential ecosystem services, and being highly productive ecosystems, it is clear the area is of high ecological value.

Through the lower forest, one can hear an incredible diversity of bird life. From canopy birds like the blue-headed vireo to the elusive hermit thrush, it is well worth stopping to take the varied calls in.

There is also great diversity in the understory, from the common witch hopple, blue cohosh, jack-in-the-pulpit, blue-bead lily, red trillium, cranesbill and various ferns, to the poisonous nightshade.

As the elevation picks up, the change from wet northern hardwod foorest to mesic oak habitat becomes clear. The southern exposure is dominated by northern red oak and white pine, as well as a wide array of understory shrubs and plants. The herbaceous layer, once dominated by jack-in-the-pulpit and blue-bead lily, and blue nightshade, is now taken over by foam flower and witch hopple. As the elevation rises, the understory becomes thinner and there are more hemlocks, though the dry southern exposures still contain oaks.

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White oak trunk, surrounded by maple leaves.

At the summit, there is almost an alpine meadow. Here there is only a stunted canopy of Northern Red Oak. Here and there there are speckled alders, but mostly there is an abundance of alpine bilberry, three-toothed cinquefoil and pale corydalis. There area few sedges lining the rocky escarpments, but the soil is very thin and dry at the peaks.

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View from  the summit of Haystack, Mt, Pawlet, Vt.

Just in the course of an hour, the trail traverses this entire diversity.

It is clear that the Nature Conservancy considered recreational value to the community in preserving the North Pawlet Hills property. However, the biodiversity preserved on the property is extensive, and provides an oasis of habitat for species that might otherwise be threatened by fragmentation, caused by extensive farming in the region. For its size, the preserve accomplishes a lot of positive goals.

 

There can often be public confusion at the decision of a land trust to preserve properties with low recreational value, as is the case with the Natural Lands Trust’s preservation of wetlands in western New Jersey. However, when you consider that the protected worm-eating warbler utilizes this habitat for nesting, and the wetlands are home to plants that are rare and endangered in the state, it becomes clear that the land has high conservation value. However organizations like the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference have been clamoring for more access and the right to build extensive trail improvements for the Highlands Trail through these habitats. Many in the hiking community cannot see why there is resistance from the land trust. However, this lays bare the argument in favor of protecting lands through the use of land trusts. The mission of the Natural Lands Trust is to preserve biodiversity, not improve recreational opportunities or garner public interest. Thus, land trusts such as this have the ability to resist public pressure, in order to do the right thing ecologically.

 

The benefits of land trusts are many. While sometimes those benefits align with public interest, often times they are able to take a longer view, for the purpose of serving the greater good. As the will to preserve large tracts of land continues to dissipate, it will become increasingly important to ensure the resources are available to protect the smaller habitat corridors, that enable extensive ecosystems like the north woods to function.

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Dying Norway Maple

Over the last few years I have noticed that the Norway Maples in the Lehigh Valley were not looking so great. The most immediately apparent problem  was the crown die-back, and increasingly completely dead trees. This stands in stark contrast to the way things looked when I was a kid. The Maple lined streets were lush and green then… So, what happened?

After reading up on Norway Maples and Crown Die-Back, and listening to several episodes of You Bet Your Garden on NPR, I came up with a number of theories. First, I though, as Mike McGrath often suggests on the aforementioned show that over-mulching was causing root girdling. Basically, how this occurs is, when you over-mulch it concentrates the water over too small an area. The tree’s roots concentrate in that area, instead of spreading into a wider radius, and eventually strangulate themselves. Another issue that came up was decline from road salt. This relationship has long been noted in relationship with the New England Sugar Maple population, and the symptoms typically include crown die-back. Finally, I came across evidence of a fungal blight that is found throughout the northeast called Verticillium Wilt.

Verticillium Wilt is a fungus that starts in the soil, enters the trees through its roots, and causes a blight in the pith wood. Amongst the common symptoms are stunted growth in the tree’s new growth, discoloration of pith wood and, of course, crown die-back. Because the blight offers several diagnosis points, I was able to study the trees in the area, and found they exhibited all three tell-tale symptoms.

Discolored wood fibers around a rotten pith, characteristic of Verticillium Wilt.

Discolored wood fibers around a rotten pith, characteristic of Verticillium Wilt.

On the left is stunted new growth, characteristic of Verticillium Wilt. Compare to healthy growth on the right.

On the left is stunted new growth, characteristic of Verticillium Wilt. Compare to healthy growth on the right.

Various states of die-back.

Various states of die-back.

So how is Verticillium Wilt spread and why are so many trees dying. After reading that Verticillium Wilt can survive in soil or mulch for ten years without a host plant, I had an ahah! moment. I now have a hypothesis about the vector for this disease. When a tree contacts Verticillium Wilt it is typically fatal. When these trees that die are in people’s yards, they call the tree removal service, and they come by and fell and remove the tree. Typically the tree is then mulched, and the mulch is sold to contractors to then mulch people’s yards. This then spreads the disease to more suburban trees, which then die and are themselves mulched and so on.

I have started to study this with the aid of GIS. I have a suburban sample, which is mulched and an urban sample which is not mulched. In the suburban sample 54% of the trees examined show signs of Verticillium Wilt. Meanwhile, in the urban sample I found no trees that exhibit clear signs of the blight. I then ran a correlation on diameter, to see if the age of the tree could be affecting the sample. However, I found a -0.62 correlation, which is a weak correlation between an increase in diameter and decrease in occurrence of the crown die-back. This suggests that there may be a resistance in older trees, that older planting methods were more effective, or that mulching may indeed play a role. I did find a 0.41 correlation between mulching and die-back. Again this is a weak correlation and will need more data to flesh it out. I am hoping to add a  forest plot to expand the available data.

This is the sample of the suburban neighborhood, where Verticillium Wilt is present.

This is the sample of the suburban neighborhood, where Verticillium Wilt is present.

Test Plot at Kutztown Park. Verticillium Wilt is not present and there is not mulching around the trees.

Test Plot at Kutztown Park. Verticillium Wilt is not present and there is not mulching around the trees.

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Some of the first people to recreate in the Essex Chain of Lakes were sports brought in by hunting and fishing guides in the late 19th century, from the old farmhouse on Chain Lakes Road South. This later became known as the Main House at Hutchins, and was established as the first Gooley Club Camp. Up the road, on the shore of Third Lake, the club (at the time of  my writing this) still has a camp, originally founded by the Chain Lakes Sportsman’s Camp in the early 1800’s. This camp consists of several roughly hewn rustic camps, some of them more than 60 years old–the remnants of a lease granted by the Finch Pruyn paper company, which allowed hunting and fishing by club members on the Essex Chain of Lakes tract. The lease allowed recreation and industry to co-exist in a delicate balance for the better part of 100 years. The lands have since been sold to New York State, in the largest acquisition to the Adirondack Forest Preserve in more than a century. By 2018, the Gooley Club will be gone, and the lands will begin the long trek back to their wild state.

 

Most visitors to the Essex Chain, in the first few years of being open to the public, are canoe paddlers. After my first week of being a Backcountry Steward, it was not hard to tell why there were not more hikers. The previous owners, Finch and Pruyn, did not tread lightly on the land. Most of the “trails” in the area are just old logging roads, which traverse clear cuts every so often, which are, I must say, less than scenic. Still, there is some value of a clear cut, to the ecosystem of the Forest Preserve. Since natural disturbances such as fire are suppressed, and micro-burst blow-downs are fairly rare on a large scale, clear cuts are about the only disturbance that provides for early successional habitat. Early successional habitat is both regenerative to forests, as well as providing habitat for many birds that would not be present in a fully forested environment. Yet, there is a good deal of concern because logging removes nutrients and energy from the enviroment, and causes a high level of entropy in the inefficient dispersal of energy and resources from a concentrated system operating at dynamic equilibrium. Since logging cannot occur on forest preserve lands, the hope is that these clear cuts will follow the normal pattern of succession… That is provided invasive species do not take over the vulnerable early successional habitat in the interim. Ideally, these meadows will fill in with grasses and herbaceous plants, followed by scrub brambles, eventually to be invaded by early colonizers such as Aspens and Birches, before growing into a forest again.

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Early successional habitat is anti-entropic, in that it uses more energy than it releases, in order to fuel growth. This will continue until the forest reaches a sort of homeostasis known as dynamic equilibrium, in which the amount of energy taken up by all of the organisms in the ecosystem is equal to that which is released by the ecosystem as heat. (See Tom Wessels’ “The Myth of Progress”).

Still, as this process occurs, the indelible mark which human activity has left behind, will persist. Even in the section of forest, where the DEC has placed primitive campsites, one can still see stumps cut more than fifty years ago. Even as those decay, and new forest grow around it, there are certain signs of logging, such as forest age continuity and trees with multiple trunks, where the cut tree stump sprouted. These impacts will disappear with time, but it will take a long time, until we can no longer perceive them.

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Yet, to the untrained eye, these sites are primitive, and the area appears in many places to have a reasonable level of wilderness condition. From a canoe, on Third Lake, the only sign of disturbance is the stunted height of the trees, and with the backdrop of Dun Brook Mountain beyond the lake edge, it is hard to tell that man’s hand has ever touched this environment.

The campsites along the water’s edge prohibit fires, in order to maintain vegetative screening, that is otherwise lost, as campers pluck all the low lying branches from the trees, and trample the understory, in search of viable firewood. These impacts are measurable, and measuring them is my job. By using a radial transect, we can define the area of a campsite and determine if that area is increasing year after year. By collecting data on ground cover, at both the campsite and a control site, we can tell if human impacts are significantly damaging the condition of the area.

Here the Perimeter of the campsite is established using Global Information Systems and Global Positioning Systems data.

Here the Perimeter of the campsite is established using Global Information Systems and Global Positioning Systems data.

Metrics recorded at the site, systematically express the level of human impact.

Metrics recorded at the site, systematically express the level of human impact.

One of the myths that seems to perpetuate itself amongst hikers and paddlers and campers, is that if you are surrounded by trees you are in an undisturbed environment, and that human recreation is not damaging the resource in the way that industry had. While the scale of impacts, from say logging, are much less, to say the millions who visit the Adirondacks each year, or the thousands of people who complete an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, are not damaging the resource or stressing the environment, is patently false. If it were otherwise, organizations like Vermont’s Green Mountain Club of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, would not have to hire caretakers and ridgerunners, whose job is almost solely to clean up after less than considerate recreationalists, who often consider themselves beyond the scrutiny of conservationists, or even worse… part of the solution.

As the number of people recreating in the outdoors continues to rise, these resources are becoming ever stressed, and the impacts are spreading to a greater number of places. As one place is degraded, pioneering recreationalists search out more pristine areas, not realizing that such activities enable the sort of impacts that made their original haunts undesirable. We often call this “site creep,” as impacts gradually extend beyond their original extent by the effects of crowding and degradation.

Ideally, recreation is limited, in order to suppress impacts into reasonable, manageable, concentrated areas. However, with more people making the argument that public land is there to do with what individuals want, since it is their’s by way of taxes, we now run into an insidious type of impact, that negates conservation efforts, often perpetrated by individuals who are in favor of conserved land. However, many do not understand that conservation is for the perpetual preservation of the land itself, and recreation is a loosely associated benefit. Such a collective mindstate has been perpetuated by the National Park Service, which increasingly has to justify itself to congress in terms of economic growth produced. Economic growth is necessarily counter to conservation, as the idea of perpetual growth is fallaciously based on infinite resource availability, the very thing conservation recognizes to be false. Without recreation, public lands would not benefit economic activity, unless you consider industrial uses, which are perhaps the only thing more impactful than recreation.

 

As the Essex Chain tract shows, forests are resilient. When impacted by human or natural forces, the woods have a regenerative cycle of succession. However, I have heard this as an argument for why “sustainable” logging should be allowed on forest preserve lands. The counter argument is based largely on the second law of thermodynamics. When we remove trees from the woods, the energy stored in concentrated organized ways within the biomass, is inefficiently converted, where some of that energy goes to human benefit, but the majority is released into the atmosphere and then space. While early succession is anti-entropic, it is not enough so to negate the energy that is released as heat. Furthermore, carbohydrates are broken up and carbon that was stored in the tree’s biomass is released into the atmosphere contributing positive feedback to global climate change. Lastly, nutrients, which would be reabsorbed by the ecosystem, in the case of natural disturbance, are removed from the closed system, degrading the quality of the soil, and often contributing to extended denuding of the forest. If there is any doubt of this effect, take a walk on the woods roads in the Essex Chain and observe the barren places.

 

The Essex Chain now has a chance to recover from the dominion of human history, and revert back to natural history. In 300 years, there may again be old growth, in a state of dynamic equilibrium. We will only know if we take care of the land and avoid contributing to negative impacts. It is vitally important that those who choose to recreate on conserved land follow Leave No Trace principles, as we allow natural processes to dominate the landscape again.

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I have been reading a book by professor Tom Wessels of Antioch University, entitled Forest Forensics: A Field Guide To Reading The Forested Landscape. Within the book, Professor Wessels goes into 3 common types of disturbance, and how to detect evidence of them in the northeastern landscape. The book is a field guide written as a dichotomous key, to help users pick between agricultural impacts, old growth impacts such as wind, ice and fire, and human impacts such as logging. He argues that every action that takes place in a forest is written into the landscape, and if we learn to read that language, we can come to readily see that history. “The new language has nouns, verbs and adjectives just as a written language does,” he writes. “But its words are things such as small stones in a wall, a hollowed-out stump, or a basal scar on a tree trunk.”  These things, in their place, are all telling of the significant activity the forest has experienced.

 

Using his guide, I decided to survey the woodlot behind my house. The wood lot abuts a field that, in my lifetime, has been used to grow corn… Given the history of the Lehigh Valley, it is likely that it has always (since the time of white settlement), been in production for either corn or wheat, or some other grain. The wood lot, however, does not show signs of agriculture, such as stones brought to the surface by the freezing and thawing cycles, and the lack of perennial root systems. Furthermore, it shows the signs of what Wessels calls pillows… “When live trees are toppled by wind or by snow-or ice- loading, their roots rip out of the ground, excavating a pit or cradle. As the tipped-up roots decay they drop the earth they excavated, creating a mound or pillow adjacent to the cradle.” Wessels suggests this is the first piece of evidence we should look for, as it is telling of  an agricultural past. In my wood lot, the pillows are gently rolling and not overly defined. This, Wessels suggests is a sign of trampling by animals (if it had once been a pasture), but it could also be from human activity. Nevertheless, I cannot find significant evidence of agricultural (there are no stone walls, though I remember there used to be a wire fence) or commercial logging impacts (none of the trees have opposing basal scarring, evident of machinery and there are only a few, recent, small diameter stumps with flat, cut tops), and the trees which I aged using his approximation method, are of mixed ages, with the oldest ranging about 150 years old. This evidence taken together, would suggest a mature, but not old growth forest. Likely it was disturbed by light personal use timbering of dead and down wood, maybe an occasional standing tree dropped, but never clear cut. Of the tress oaks and ashes of 2 feet in diameter dominate.

 

There is one tree, however, which I found broke with the rest… A triple Chestnut Oak, with all three trunks about two and a half feet in diameter. Taken together, and taking into account that trees with multiple trunks take longer to grow, I would estimate the tree to be 300-400 years old. The tree shows none of the signs of being a pasture tree, as it has no outward growth on the lower section of the tree. It grew up straight and tall, right to the canopy. It is now standing dead.

 

Using the method Wessels details, I was able to estimate that there was a disturbance  that caused the tree to grow in three sections, when the tree was about 125 years old. There were no signs of basal scarring (neither on that tree or any near by), which would suggest timbering in the area, or a fire. There was no clear evidence of timbering in the rest of the stand, besides what has been done recently for campfires, by local teenagers. The tree presents somewhat of a mystery. Something, it seems, caused the tree to  break off, and to separated into three trunks. It is certainly possible that the tree was timbered, as part of the small scale timbering that likely occurred in the wood lot. If a tree is cut at the stump, there is a possibility for it grow new trunks. Multitrunk trees “are trees and shrubs that have more than one stem growing from a single root mass. These trees have a fused base area that consist of multiple piths at ground level. These generally form when the original stem of the tree was damaged, broken, or browsed by animals, damaged  from falling (natural or man-caused).  This results in a new stem sprouting from the root mass.  In general these stems are all of similar age and size, but will often reduce to developing one, or a few dominant stems” (http://www.nativetreesociety.org/multi/index_multi.htm). It is possible, as it is at the edge of the forest, that severe weather took the initial trunk out, causing the tree to separate into three… But there is no evidence in the rest of the stand to confirm this. What seems more likely is that the tree was timbered at one point, but has recovered threefold, only to die at the upward limit of that species.

 

In any case, the mystery is part of the enjoyment, and I feel Wessels guide has given me a greater perspective on the land in my area. I am hoping to further use the book in my boundary work at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, when attempting to age timbering and other tree cutting and resource disturbing encroachments. I feel Wessels guide is a must have for all those who wish to mix ecology and history, and especially those wishing to forge a better understanding of land use. He promotes and understanding of how truly intertwined we are with the lives of our forests. We can do nothing that does not show itself in the land, and how can the forest but help to leave its mark on us.

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Within the last 20 years or so, the deep green movement has pushed people to recognize that wooded ecosystems have value intrinsically, that is not bestowed upon them by what humans get from them (be it wood products or recreation). However, it is still difficult to  justify to the average Joe, that a wood lot should remain a wood lot, and not be sub-divided or sold for timber… Or at the very least, opened up to trail users… Yet all of these things are impactful, in that they effect the way the ecosystem functions. Trails, when used responsibly can help to concentrate use, and ultimately are a best case scenario for many woodlands… Yet, many people have convinced themselves that trails are a net positive for a forest. They are not. They remove biomass for the benefit of human recreation. At best, they keep people from going out  into the woods and impacting a greater area.

That said, the other two typical alternatives, both subdividing and timbering, are surely more impactful to a mature forest, than trail building. Nevertheless, a deep green philosophy would generally argue in favor of wilderness areas, where man is just a visitor (if that), and some would go further into the realms of primitivism.

In this day and age, it hurts the cause of conservation to be anything but pragmatic. We can have our ideals, but we must recognize other interest, and negotiate for the best possible outcome in a given circumstance. Thus we must understand, the least common denominator positives of preserving our neighborhood wood lot…

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Recently, it was announced by the South Whitehall Township Board of Supervisors that the cornfield behind my house was to be sub-divided, but the wood lot that I grew up playing in, and came of age as an ecologist by studying, was to be spared. While part of me is sad to loose the farmland, I am at least relieved to be keeping the wood lot. I have always appreciated it aesthetically, and I have always appreciated what it gives us, but more than that, I see it as a home to a Red-tailed Hawk and a Great Horned Owl. A fox and a family of deer. I visit it from time to time. Each year, I measure the diameter of the two greatest Chestnut Oaks. But, I fear that the neighbors view it as a nuisance. They see wildlife as pests, and overgrowth as a tangled mess. Yet, there is a least common denominator, that rests on the tip of everyone’s tongue in this age of super-storms… Climate Change… Carbon Emissions especially.

Last year, the world emitted 35 million tons of carbon. The United States contributed 5.2 million tons of carbon. Or 16.4 tons per capita.

Why is this important? The vast majority of climatologists believe that climate change is happening, and that it is anthropogenic. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found there to be a 90% chance that humans are contributing to climate change. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6321351.stm). Even Fox News reported on the panel’s claim that an estimated sea level rise of 7-23 inches would be likely. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/02/02/un-report-global-warming-man-made-basically-unstoppable/). In 2013, Environmental Research Letters found that amongst abstracts discussing Anthropogenic Climate Change, 97.1 expressed agreement with the consensus that human activity is a contributing factor.

Still, I can understand skepticism. I have never been the sort of person to take a consensus at face value. After all, one only need look back through history, and the ridiculous beliefs that have been considered a consensus are immediately apparent. So, lets go into the basic logic that goes into conclusions favoring climate change.

Scientific Fact: Carbon is an unstable element. When exposed to radiation (i.e. light from the sun) it releases heat to stabilize. This is undisputed.

Scientific Fact: Temperature data indicates a net increase in average yearly temperatures, and suggests that individual climate zones are changing as a result.

Logical Reasoning: If Carbon releases heat when exposed to radiation, it will inevitably release some into space, and some back down to earth. Thus, the higher the concentration of Carbon in the atmosphere, the more heat will be released down to earth. Since burning fossil fuels, and wood, releases carbon that had been trapped and stored in organic material, and humans burn fossil fuels on a constantly increasing basis, humans can be said to be a contributing factor to high carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. This, not climate change in and of itself (which is almost universally recognized to be occuring, since that is what 100 years of data plainly spells out), is what is debated.

If we accept this hypothesis, that the world is warming on the whole, and that is causing climates to change, and that is resultant of greenhouse gas concentrations, and the concentrations are largely a result of releasing CO2 and hydrocarbons, we come back to the main point, the importance of the neighborhood wood lot.

*  *  *

As discussed in the previous entry, the wood lot behind my house contains a biomass of 582.4 (tons per hectare). Since the lot is approximately 1 hectare, we can say the biomass is 582.4 tons. Approximately 50% of biomass in a forest ecosystem is made up of Carbon, much of it stored in the plant as Carbohydrates, formed during photosynthesis. Given that fact, the wood lot contains 291.2  tons of Carbon. Considering that there are about 75 homes in the neighborhood, with an estimated 4 people per household, there are about 300 people living in my neighborhood. Since the per capita production of tons of Carbon in a year in the United States is about 16 tons, that means that the people in my neighborhood produce roughly 50 tons of Carbon in a year.

Thus our wood lot is important in its role of mitigating the amount of carbon we produce in a year.

Admittedly I did not calculate the forest’s respiration levels, and that would likely bring us pretty close to being a net zero effect… Which, at the end of the day, is pretty good.

If we could have a hectare of forest for every 80 people in this country, we could go a long way to bringing our carbon footprint down.

If for no other reason, that is why our wood lots are important.

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