Weekend Postcards of Deforestation

I know the Weekend Postcards are normally devoid of argument and point making. But, I thought it would be fun to look at deforestation differently. To see that deforestation is not necessarily the result of logging (illegal or otherwise). Deforestation comes about from people using the land. Agriculture heads up the list of deforestation causes followed by wood gathering for heating and cooking [Source: Global Forest Resource Assessment 2010Key Findings]. Fires, slash and burn agriculture, mining, and hydro-electric projects also contribute to deforestation.

Agriculture and heating/cooking head the list of causes of deforestation.

Once the primary causes of deforestation are obvious, it becomes equally obvious that lowering the demand for wood (by using less wood or substitutes) will not make a difference in lessening world deforestation. It’s not the demand for lumber or paper that drives deforestation, it’s the demand for food and heating/cooking supplies.

Deforestation results from people trying to survive by eking livings from the land. “Some 350 million people in tropical countries are forest dwellers who derive half or more of their income from the forest. Forests provide directly 10 percent of the employment in developing countries,” says Jeffrey Sayer, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Bogor, Indonesia, which researches better ways to manage and preserve existing forests. CIFOR is one of two CGIAR research institutes that specialize in tropical forestry. A 1996 report by the Consultative Group on International Research (CGIAR) states that:

[T]he main threat to tropical forests comes from poor farmers who have no other option to feeding their families other than slashing and burning a patch of forest and growing food crops until the soil is exhausted after a few harvests, which then forces them to move on to a new patch of forest land. Slash-and-burn agriculture results in the loss or degradation of some 25 million acres of land per year (10 million hectares).

This means that nearly 80% of tropical deforestation in 1995 came from subsistence farmers. (Source: FAO, Annex 6
Earlier global assessments, page 320
)

Vineyard. Alexander Valley area

Siskiyou county area

Wine grape Vineyard after snowstorm. Lake County, California

Corn field near Cooperstown, New York

Farms may appear idyllic, but they are not ideal from an environmental perspective

Vineyard, Napa County, CA. Agriculture is a primary cause of deforestation.

Post to Twitter

Ugly Duckling In The Woods By William Keye

This is an op-ed piece that William Wade Keye* submitted to the Sacramento Bee at the beginning of July, in response to two articles (“State to assess Battle Creek logging activity and effect on salmon” and “Troubled waters of Battle Creek“) and an editorial (“Governor needs to keep pledge at Battle Creek”) they published highlighting purported environmental damage in the Battle Creek watershed. It is published here with his permission.

Recent Sacramento Bee articles pitting clearcut logging against salmon recovery efforts in the Battle Creek watershed whittle complex resource management issues down to a false, if convenient, dichotomy. Such eco-populism is understandable, but its assumptions need to be challenged.

To foresters, clearcutting is the dreaded “C word”. If there ever was a candidate to lose a sylvan popularity contest, that would be clearcutting. It’s ugly and widely viewed as environmentally destructive.

Even most loggers don’t like the look of a fresh clearcut, which typically appears as if a bomb just went off.

Clearcuts are disturbing. Hence, the “C word”.

Clearcuts disturb our landscape. (Image from Wikipedia)

Why would any landowner in their right mind choose this apparently abominable practice? Yes, I know the stock answer: greed, short-term profits and all that. Rape the land and leave nothing for the future.

I’m not going to argue that people who own working forests aren’t in it for the money, although I think there’s much more to it than that. But sure, they want to make the land pay.

Farmers don’t farm just for their health, or for somebody else’s aesthetic pleasure. They do it to live, to make the land pay.

Forest landowners are the same. Wood, like corn, soybeans or pork bellies, is a valuable commodity. We use forest products in almost countless ways, everyday. Our wood has to come from somewhere, which leads us to forest management and the pros and cons of various silvicultural practices.

The Bee articles critical of clearcutting contain implicit assumptions driven by aesthetics. Dominant is the view that more aesthetically pleasing practices, such as selection timber harvest, are preferable for fish habitat because they produce less sedimentation.

Evidence-based science does not uniformly back this intuitive belief. The reason is that even-age management (including clearcutting) impacts a given piece of forestland much less frequently than uneven-age systems (such as selection). Impacts are greater (KABOOM!) but less recurrent.

Forestry is a uniquely long term enterprise. If a clearcut is prescribed, the “bomb” goes off, seedlings are planted and the site may not be disturbed again for decades. Access roads and skid trails can be put to bed and remain so until the stand is ready to harvest again – typically in 50-80 years.

It is said that “nature abhors a vacuum”. Tree growth that follows successful (and legally required) reforestation after a clearcut illustrates this principle perfectly. Young trees reach for the sky, drinking up abundant sunlight and soil nutrients.

In contrast, the classic selection harvest requires the forest to be managed on a fairly continual basis. Periodic light harvests are generally spaced 10-15 years apart. During each entry, access roads and trails must be reopened – triggering new potential bursts of sediment delivery to aquatic systems.

Although counter-intuitive, it is possible that if even-age management were prohibited in the Battle Creek watershed, the cumulative effects as far as soil transport and sediment delivery would actually be greater. Uneven-age management would be considered more pleasing to the eye, but could mask impacts potentially more damaging to salmon recovery.

Finally, the Battle Creek articles did a disservice by pitting timber harvest against fish, a zero sum duality that ignores the many factors contributing to our difficulty in restoring anadromous salmonids. Those threats include dams and water diversions, in-stream habitat loss and degradation, polluted runoff, oceanic factors including predation, fishing, poaching – the list goes on.

I believe forestry belongs on that list, along with urbanization, agriculture, industry – all of us. It’s just too easy to single out clearcutting, ugly as it is.

Because nature really does abhor a vacuum, one really should visit a forest plantation a few years, or a few decades, after a clearcut “bomb” has gone off. It’s impossible to deny how impressive a vigorously growing young forest can be, how amazingly regenerative nature really is especially after a clearcut – which in some ways mimics the effect of a wildfire.

These kinds of images don’t seem to show up in the media when the “C Word” comes up.

And remember, regardless of the aesthetics of any given silvicultural system, we get to use the wood fiber that flows off a managed forest, creating homegrown wealth, jobs, tax receipts, energy and valuable products.

*William Wade Keye is a California Registered Professional Forester and former Chair of the Northern California Society of American Foresters

Post to Twitter

Deforestation: causes and cures

Cute, clever, incorrect.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations’s Forest Resource Assessment for 2005 uses the word “alarming” 20 times to describe the trend lines for deforestation. And, a commonplace inference is that forests are rapidly disappearing due to logging.

Yet deforestation is not necessarily the result of logging (illegal or otherwise). About half of the wood consumed in the world is for heating or cooking [Global Forest Resource Assessment 2010 – Key Findings] with much greater fire and fuelwood consumption rates in Africa and Asia. The culprit is primarily conversion to agriculture followed by wood for heating and cooking. Fires, slash and burn agriculture, mining, and hydro-electric projects also cause deforestation

 

It’s often done by people trying to eke livings from the land. A 1996 report by the Consultative Group on International Research (CGIAR) report states that:

[T]he main threat to tropical forests comes from poor farmers who have no other option to feeding their families other than slashing and burning a patch of forest and growing food crops until the soil is exhausted after a few harvests, which then forces them to move on to a new patch of forest land. Slash-and-burn agriculture results in the loss or degradation of some 25 million acres of land per year (10 million hectares).

“Some 350 million people in tropical countries are forest dwellers who derive half or more of their income from the forest. Forests provide directly 10 percent of the employment in developing countries,” says Jeffrey Sayer, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Bogor, Indonesia, which researches better ways to manage and preserve existing forests. CIFOR is one of two CGIAR research institutes that specialize in tropical forestry.

Once the primary causes of deforestation are obvious, it becomes equally obvious that lowering the demand for wood (by using less wood or substitutes) will not make a difference in lessening world deforestation. It’s not the demand for lumber or paper that drives the cutting. It’s the demand for farm or pasture land, or the demand for heat from burning.

What’s the answer? More efficient stoves will help those using wood for heating and cooking to lower demand. As I’ve noted before, fuel-efficient Patsari stoves use 70% less firewood than open fireplaces, according to the Ecolife Foundation. (In Mexico, Ecolife installs $120 stoves and works with locals to help maintain the forest for the winter grounds of the monarch butterflies). Stopping slash and burn farming means finding better opportunities for employment. This may mean microloans to these subsistence farmers.

 


Post to Twitter