Putting the life back in science fiction

Briefly breaking silence
October 9, 2016, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just as a quick note and a few links.  The brief note is that I’ve been really busy with environmental stuff (developers, climate change, dogs and cats living together…), and we’re getting ready to move house.  I’m not even leaving the zip code, but the house search and paperwork has eaten up quite a surprisingly large chunk of time.   Getting a yard and a roof that can support solar panels is definitely an upgrade.

In the meantime, On the Public Record has some lovely comments about water markets and the (un)suitability thereof.  Here she is speaking on behalf of all the power hungry and ignorant regulators  (it’s a  plea to stop posturing and make some proposals).  Or you might like this post about how regulation of groundwater in California is meeting with growers servicing their short-term self interests  (I’m shocked, shocked).  Equally shocking is a regulator’s take on how “coequal” environmental and economic uses of water are, at least if you believe in coded language.  And last and best, here and here are her reasoned explanations for her opposition to water markets (tl;dr, she doesn’t think they’ll work).   Fun stuff.  I’d say the last two are the most interesting.

Yesterday, I heard a symposium presentation from an urban ecologist working on the “urban forest” of LA, and trying to make the case about how cool it is.  Well, it literally is cool, in the sense of all that potable water keeping the trees alive.  I’d be surprised if it’s possible to get an old-growth urban forest, especially one that’s dependent on irrigation and surrounded by overdrafted groundwater.  One thing he didn’t tackle–either out of ignorance or, equally likely, out of a strong desire to stay within a particular jargon cloud consistent with his funding sources–was the idea of how urban forests might be characterized in evolutionary terms as the opening shots of symbiotic relationships between humans and the trees we cultivate.  Some are ancient commensals (like ginkgo), while many others have only been in cultivation for a few decades, and are basically clonal populations.  Personally, I think the urban forest of LA will dry up like Babylon’s Hanging Gardens, probably within 100 years, and its descendants will linger only around a few urban rivers and creeks.  But still, it was fun to hear that researchers were finding trees in LA that no one knew were even in the US.  Shows how go our agricultural inspection is, I guess.

Hope everyone’s having a good October.  Feel free to post news of your own.


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Speaking of trees, my wife and I went to Kings Canyon National Park for a week in early October. The last time we had been there was two years earlier. What we noticed this time that hadn’t been there two years earlier was a lot of recently dead trees, mostly conifers like ponderosa pine, sugar pine and cedar. They had not lost their leaves but the leaves had turned brown. In another year or two, all the brown leaves will be off these trees and what will be left is skeletal trees with trunks and branches. The thing I am curious about is what the landscape will look like in the coming years if the drought continues. Is the die-off of trees a linear process, so many percent per year of drought or is it non-linear, cumulative stress taking out a greater percentage of trees each year? We will see, In any case, given the number of trees that have died in the last two years, it is entirely possible that if the drought continues, we might have a tree-less park in another decade or so, or rather a park with dead trees predominating.
We did a hike one day which took us from 5000 feet up to 8000 feet and it did seem that there were fewer dead trees at the higher elevations. It also appeared that south facing slopes had more dead trees than north facing slopes, so the die-off could be uneven. Some pockets of trees might remain, able to re-seed the dead areas. Or perhaps the areas that now show dead trees will be entirely without trees in the future while the sheltered slopes will still maintain their tree cover.
Some of my photos of dead trees here: http://wolfgangnomadic.blogspot.com/

Comment by Wolfgang Brinck

Oh Lordy….There is a huge scientific and political fight going on over the tree dieoffs in the Sierra and elsewhere.

The more extreme positions include: some saying that it’s a dieoff of the trees that grew since early 20th Century fire suppression, that it’s producing snags that wildlife need, and that it’s a natural process. There are some who see it as OMG they’re precious forest is dying and being replaced by chaparral you’ve got to kill those evil shrubs NOW. There are some who want to log all the dead wood so that it doesn’t become a fire danger. And there are some who say that the climate’s changing, and a snow-adapted forest is giving way to a more rain-adapted ecosystem. Well, that last one’s me, which makes me unpopular with just about everybody right now.

Anyway, feel free to stick an oar in on what you think might happen. Just be prepared for it to come back a scorched and jagged stump. When logging interests see this as a way to log in national parks by trying to terrify congresscritters with threats of catastrophic megafires, nothing is entirely safe.

Comment by Heteromeles

So this isn’t due to beetle infestations killing the trees?

Comment by alexandertolley

Many of the beetles are native, so the question is why they’re such a problem now. Note that this isn’t true even for all of California, as we’ve got some fairly scary back beetles (cf Polyphagous Shothole Borer) present in southern California.

Comment by Heteromeles

My comment is based on driving through a rather small segment of the Sierra. I imagine tree die off varies north to south as well as at different elevations and at different orientations of mountain slopes. Fire and beetles also seem to make an impact on how many trees die.
National forests and national parks seem to have different management practices with the parks leaning more toward let it burn. Forest managers tend to view burns as revenue destruction and therefore tend more toward fire suppression. Forests also seem to have more pockets of private property in them which would favor fires suppression to prevent destruction of private property.
What I saw in Kings Canyon National Park and the adjacent Sequoia National Forest was that there was no cutting of dead trees in the park and extensive cutting in the forest.
As for forest ecosystems adapting to rain over snow, I guess they don’t really have a choice. And there is no way that anyone can keep trees from dying if they are subjected go prolonged drought and rising temperatures.
Giant Sequoias thousands of years old are evidence of trees surviving long droughts, but now we have elevated temperatures in addition to droughts so all bets might be off.
In any case,in a city where people can water their trees, the impact of drought is easy to miss, but going out into the Sierra where nobody is watering, the impact of drought is sobering, forcing one to contemplate the idea that forests might not be an eternal phenomenon. We may be at the edge of a radical transformation.

Comment by Wolfgang Brinck

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