Hiking in BC with my daughter and son, dwarfed and awed by sitka spruce, Douglas fir and red cedar, it was hard not to contemplate the devastation to forests, property and lives from recent wildfires in California. To add insult to injury, President Trump, a non-believer in climate change, tweeted – more than once! – that the cause was “gross mismanagement of the forests”.
This caused me to wonder, how do countries, and in turn provinces in Canada and states in the US, manage their forests?
Well, first let’s look at the current catastrophe in California and any positive effect that “managing” the forests may have had. University of Utah fire scientist Philip Dennison, responding to questions by Seth Borenstein for an ABC news article, says that some areas burning in the Camp Fire (in which Paradise was decimated and 81 have been confirmed dead so far) had fires in 2005 and 2008, so they aren’t what he would call “fuel-choked closed-canopy forests.” As for the Woolsley Fire in southern California, in which three people died? Dennison says it was shrub land, not forest that burned.
In that same ABC news piece, Jonathan Overpeck, dean of University of Michigan’s environmental school, warned that western fires are getting bigger and more severe. “It is much less due to bad management and is instead the result of our baking of our forests, woodlands and grasslands with an ever-worsening climate change.”
There you have it, from the experts: “climate change”. In a recent podcast, Rich Roll interviewed Jedidiah Jenkins on his book, To Shake the Sleeping Self. Jenkins made a comment on climate change that resonated with me, saying he tends to go with the experts on matters like this, because they have the knowledge, right? They make mistakes, sure. Like a week ago, in TheWashington Post: “Scientists acknowledge key errors in the study of how fast the oceans are warming”. But there are some pretty highly educated people, looking at various data from various sources, all coming to this conclusion about climate change.
Personally, I look historically at how my consumeristic European ancestors handled things – dumping waste in rivers, clear-cutting forests, choking the air with coal fumes – and not only do I cringe, I can’t help but acknowledge how destructive this must be to the planet.
Then there’s the stats. The average number of US acres (8.5 million in 2017) burned by wildfires has doubled from 30 years ago. The same is true in Canada. In BC, for instance, we’ve already surpassed acreage burned (3.3 million as of November 9) over last year’s total, which was historic at 3 million.
Another fact related to forest management in California? This from “Fire on the Mountain: Rethinking Forest Management in the Sierra Nevada”. “Complicating the management problem is the fact that the State of California owns very few of the forests within its borders – most are owned by the federal government or private landowners.” Hmmm. What say you to that, President Trump?
North of the border in Canada? Here’s a horrifying fact about forest management in BC: “Provincial rules require spraying of fire-resistant aspen trees to make way for valuable conifers. Last year, 12,812 hectares (31,659 acres) of BC forest was sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate,” says a new CBC article by Bethany Lindsay.
James Steidle, of the anti-glyphosate group Stop the Spray BC, told Lindsay, “It blows my mind that nobody is talking about this.” What is glyphosate? Ever heard of Roundup, a controversial product released by Monsanto in 1974? Glyphosate is the active ingredient and its health effects, to humans and the environment, are unclear.
In August of this year, a jury at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco awarded an astronomical $289 million in damages to a groundskeeper who successfully argued that his terminal cancer was caused by Roundup. Monsanto, of course, will appeal, but Susan Scutti notes in that same article for CNN, “the human health effects of glyphosate remain uncertain, because the product has additional chemical ingredients that, individually or combined, might be carcinogenic, among other reasons.” The World Health Organization says its “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Of possible note? Both of my parents-in-law, who lived for several decades on a farm surrounded by agricultural fields regularly sprayed with Roundup, died of cancer.
Aside from the cantankerous issue of glyphosate’s possible carcinogenic nature, the province of BC mandates the extermination of a certain percentage of its broadleaf trees that are . . . did you note the word? “Fire-resistant”! “When aspen and other broadleaves are allowed to flourish, they form ‘natural fire breaks’ if their leaves are out,” writes Lindsay in that CBC news piece, from her interview with Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at UBC.
“Aspen naturally thrives after a forest has been cleared by logging or wildfire,” Lindsay continues. “Their root systems can survive for thousands of years underground, and they’re capable of sprouting new clone trees as soon as there is enough sunshine and moisture.
“Glyphosate doesn’t just kill aspen trees – it can also destroy the root system.”
Yikes! Doesn’t seem we’ve got this forest management thing figured out. Maybe we should grab a bunch of rakes and take to the forest, like Trump misunderstood the Finnish President as saying they do in Finland, prompting the new slogan, “Make America Rake Again”. Might not do much for the forest, but it seems harmless and would provide great exercise!
Here’s a quote on climate change from an educated man I have the utmost respect for. President Obama tweeted a few years ago, “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.”
People recognize borders, pollution doesn’t. Shouting “America First!” or “Canada First!” is not going to work. Climate change is a global issue, the solution to which lies in the unification of the vast majority of humans on the planet, working toward the legacy of a greener future.
Website photo: My son, Jay, and daughter, Randelle, hiking with me recently on Bowen Island, BC.