|Nature vs. politicsMany activists believe we should leave our forests alone — this is a very dangerous policy that sets our forests up to be destroyed
By Patrick Moore
March 31, 2006
Greenpeace recently issued a report claiming that it is better to let our forests burn to the ground than to adopt programs that will reduce catastrophic wildfire. As an ecologist, I can tell you that this approach ultimately leads to soil destruction, air and water pollution, and wildfires that can kill every living thing in our forests — all in the name of “saving the forests.”
Having dedicated my life to the environment, I am always concerned when the forces of nature meet face-to-face with the forces of politics. This is especially true when the forces of nature are coming in loud and clear: Approximately 90 million acres of our nation’s public forests are at risk of catastrophic wildfire right now. Every year we see millions of acres of forest burn when this could be prevented.
We live in an era when many activists believe we should leave our forests alone — an ecologically dangerous policy that sets our forests up to be destroyed not just by fire, but by insects and disease. It is especially bewildering when you consider how simple it is, through the application of time-tested forest management practices, to maintain forests in a state that reduces the chance of such outcomes.
The root of the problem is that when we protect our forests from wildfires, over time they become susceptible to disease and to catastrophic wildfires as fuel loads build up. The only way to prevent this is to actively remove dead trees and to thin the forest. The active management of these forests is necessary to protect human life and property, along with air, water and wildlife. This does not prevent us from also maintaining a world-class system of parks and wilderness areas where industrial activity is restricted or banned.
Many activists have a mindset that is simply opposed to forestry. These groups favor policies that involve reducing the use of wood instead of encouraging its use as a renewable resource. We have been led to believe that when we use wood we are causing a bit of forest to be lost.
This is not the case.
When we buy wood we send a signal into the marketplace to plant more trees, and produce more wood. One of the main reasons there is still about the same area of forested land in the U.S. today as there was 100 years ago is because we use so much wood. Agriculture and urbanization cause forest loss, not forestry.
The inferno that began in the Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos, N.M. in May 2000 is a classic case in point. The park officials who started this fire did so with good intentions. But they failed to take into account that more than 50 years of fire prevention had resulted in a fuel load build-up that nearly guaranteed what ensued: hundreds of homes destroyed and thousands of acres of forest lost.
The only solution in these circumstances is removal of wood to reduce the fuel load. In some types of forests, it may be possible to manage fuel loads with prescribed fire. In other forest types, especially where there are homes and other property at risk, mechanical thinning and harvesting are the best options.
It is unfortunate that some organizations characterize the need to implement active management of national forests as damaging to the environment. It is actually the only way to break the present environmentally destructive pattern of fuel build-up that often results in catastrophic outcomes.
At the Western Governors’ Association summit in mid-June in Missoula, Montana, the topic was forest health. Earlier in the month, the House passed a bill that would hopefully improve forest officials’ ability to properly manage the forests. The Senate began hearings on this bill June 26.
I hope that those responsible for our forests will bring about the very necessary changes in law and practice — and return the forces of nature to a more desirable state.
Reprinted with Permission of the Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2003. Dow Jones and Company. All Rights Reserved.
|An environmentalist makes a stand
Getting it right: Forestry & environmentalism for the 21st centuryBy Patrick Moore
May 31, 2006Editor’s note: Patrick Moore grew up in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest — and holds a doctorate in ecology from the University of British Columbia. A self-described “radical environmental activist,” he was one of the founders of Greenpeace, and one of the most radical eco-extremists.
In recent years, however, former Greenpeace friends have branded Dr. Moore as an “eco-Judas.” Why? Because he came to realize that the positions taken by Greenpeace and other groups in regard to forests and forestry were actually “anti-environmental.”Since breaking with Greenpeace in 1986, Moore has spoken out tirelessly in defense of a more sensible appreciation of the environmental benefits of sustainable forestry. Here, reprinted and edited with Dr. Moore’s permission, are excerpts from a recent speech.
The international community remains in complete confusion regarding global policy on forests and forestry. I believe this is because the environmental movement’s position is misleading, illogical, and most important, inconsistent with their more reasonable policies on climate change and biodiversity. In fact, their forestry policy is an anti-environmental policy.
The environmental movement’s opposition to forestry is squarely based on their contentions that it is the main cause of forest loss (deforestation) and loss of biodiversity (species extinction). They are wrong on the facts on both these charges.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, which is responsible for both agriculture and forests, defines deforestation as “the permanent removal of forest cover and conversion of the land to another use such as agriculture or human settlement.” They estimate that 95 percent of deforestation is caused by clearing for farms and towns, not forestry. This only makes sense as the whole purpose of forestry is to grow trees, i.e. to keep the land forested. Forestry causes reforestation, the opposite of deforestation.
Both the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace have stated that logging is the main cause of species extinction. Yet they are unable to provide the Latin name for a single species that has gone extinct due to forestry. The truth is, species extinctions are generally caused by deforestation, hunting, and introduced species of predators and disease, not by forestry.
Less wood? Not good
Based on these two false assumptions, the movement has adopted a policy that would see a major reduction in the use of forests as a supply of wood. They argue, unfortunately with apparent logic, that by drastically reducing the use of wood, the forest will be saved along with all the creatures that live there.
The environmental agenda for wood-reduction is two-pronged. First, they want to stop making paper from trees and to use “non-wood fibers” to make “tree-free paper.” Some of the candidate crops are hemp, kenaf, cotton and wheat straw.
This may sound good at first, but there is a serious problem. Where will we grow all these exotic, annual, monocultural farm crops, enough to provide 300 million tons of paper per year? Unfortunately, we would have to grow them where we could be growing trees. The second prong of their agenda is to reduce wood use as a building material and substitute it with so-called “environmentally appropriate alternatives.”
Just what are these alternatives? The only viable substitutes for wood as a building material are materials like steel, cement, plastic and bricks. All of these require a great deal more energy to make than wood. Why? Because wood is renewable and is made mainly with solar energy in a factory called the forest. All these substitutes are non-renewable and have severe negative environmental impacts of their own. Most significantly, because they require more energy, they inevitably result in more carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use and are therefore contributors to climate change.
All resource use has environmental impacts, but wood is the most renewable material we use – and forestry is the most sustainable of all the primary industries that supply us with our materials. It is time the environmental movement recognized the basic contradictions in their policies on forests and forestry.
There is no doubt that, from the point of view of preserving biodiversity, trees are the best of all crops — because forests provide more habitat than any other environment. There is also no doubt that when it comes to making a positive contribution to climate change, trees are the best, both because trees are the greatest absorbers of carbon dioxide and because using wood results in lower carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.
The simple solution
There is a simple way to bring the environmental movement’s policy on forests in line with their policies on biodiversity and climate change& take the focus off reducing wood use and put it on increasing forest cover and wood production.
What thinking people will eventually come to realize is that the present policy of most of the environmental movement on forests is, in fact, an anti-environmental policy. Movement leaders are entrenched in its position, partly because they are very shallow in forest science, and partly because it has proven so effective as a fund-raiser.
A major effort is needed to give the public and our political leaders a more logical, internally consistent, science-based perspective on the issue of forests. I intend to be part of that effort, and I know I’ve got my work cut out.
|Protecting old-growth forests
The subject of old-growth forests is a complex one, particularly because there is no universal definition that is used by all partiesBy Patrick Moore
May 31, 2006Dear Dr. Moore: How do I know if my deck comes from an old growth forest?Wood products aren’t tracked in terms of each tree’s age, so you can’t be certain. But there are other ways to ensure the protection of old growth forests if this is your concern.
The important thing is to set aside enough old growth across the forest landscape. This is something Americans have taken to heart. The amount of protected forest in the U.S. has increased steadily over the last fifty years and now includes more than 270 million acres, much of which is old growth.
The debate over old growth has been presented as good versus evil: beautiful old forests or barren clearcuts. But forests are in a constant state of change. North American forests face large natural disturbances such as fire or disease on a regular basis — which is simply to say that a forest set aside as old growth usually won’t be old growth forever. The process is cyclical, not a one-way street that leads either to the perfect forest or permanent forest loss.
Old growth is a complex subject, partly because there is no universal definition:
. Age — As a popular term, “old growth” describes trees that are big and old, usually older than 200 years. Scientifically, it means trees that have reached the age of maturity, which may be 50 years for alder or 500 years for redwood.
· Characteristics — To many people, this is more important than age. Old growth characteristics include standing dead trees big enough for cavity nesting birds, fallen dead trees as habitat for insects, fungi and small animals, and a fully developed diversity of plants, shrubs and trees. In some types of forest (like coastal Douglas fir), these features may appear after just 70 years.
Old growth forests provide important habitat, are beautiful and (where fires are infrequent) may live to be centuries old. However, it is equally true that young forests provide important habitat, are beautiful and contribute to our material needs.
I believe that a sensible environmentalist would support a balance of both these types across the forest landscape.
|Good news for North American forests
An environmentalist provides answers to some common questionsBy Patrick Moore
May 31, 2006Dear Dr. Moore:
We hear a lot about tropical forests, but what can you tell me about the state of our own forests here in North America?The news is good. North American forests cover about the same area of land as they did 100 years ago. Over the past decade our forests have expanded by nearly 10 million acres, according to satellite tracking data and two successive reports from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (State of the World’s Forests, 1997 and 2001).
There are two main reasons for this. One is that advances in agriculture have enabled us to grow about five times as much food on each acre of farmland. As a result, we’ve been able to feed a growing population without converting any more forests into farms.
Another reason, surprisingly enough, is that North Americans use a lot of wood. We’ve been led to believe that this is bad, that each time we buy a piece of wood we cause a little more forest to be lost. On the contrary, every purchase of wood sends a signal into the marketplace to plant more trees and grow more valuable product. If we don’t continue to use wood for building houses, making paper or crafting furniture, there will be little incentive to keep land forested. It could just as easily be cleared for development or to grow something else.
This is a win for both the economy and the environment. Timber creates jobs, fuels economies and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. The land stays forested, thus providing habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife. So long as we plant enough trees to satisfy the demand for wood, North American forests will be sustainable.
Between them, Canada and the United States have about 1.75 billion acres of forest. About one billion acres are used to grow timber while the other 750 million acres are composed of parks, wilderness and non-commercial forest land.
Trees are the most abundant of the world’s renewable resources and will continue to grow over much of the earth’s surface indefinitely. I believe that a sensible environmentalist would weigh the facts and choose both to grow more trees and use more wood.
Dr. Patrick Moore has been a leader of the environmental movement for more than 30 years.
|How active management reduces wildfires
By actively managing forests we can help to maintain forests that are more open and resistant to natural catastropheBy Patrick Moore
May 31, 2006Dear Dr. Moore:
I’ve heard that forestry can help reduce the threat of wildfires. How does that work?What you’re talking about is referred to as active management. It means taking active steps in the forest to reduce natural catastrophes such as fire, disease or insect infestation. The alternative is to leave the forest alone and let nature take its course.
It’s a controversial subject. Some people believe that humans shouldn’t interfere — that leaving the forest alone is always better. Throughout history, frequent low-intensity fires have played an important role in the health of forests and ecosystems, burning smaller trees and undergrowth and leaving large trees mostly intact.
Today, these fires are often suppressed — and for good reason. Our forests are in and around cities and towns where people live. Letting nature take its course puts human life and property at risk.
By suppressing these fires, we have created an unnatural build-up of what can best be described as fuel for much more devastating, catastrophic wildfires. North American forests are as abundant now as they were 100 years ago. But many, particularly in the U.S., are now overly dense and highly prone to fire. Some are also diseased and pose a very real danger to the healthy forests that surround them.
Catastrophic fires often burn at much higher temperatures than normal fires and cause incredible devastation. As we saw during last year’s fire season, homes and even entire communities are lost or threatened. These fires also kill countless animals; pollute rivers, streams and lakes, resulting in the loss of entire fish populations; and leave the earth effectively sterilized for many years.
By actively managing these forests — removing dead wood and thinning the undergrowth, removing some trees, or intentionally burning areas that are distant from homes — we can help to maintain forests that are more open and resistant to natural catastrophe.
We have a responsibility to use our knowledge and experience to help keep North American forests healthy. With the current wildfire season underway, I believe that a sensible environmentalist would support active forest management to reduce risks to the forest and its inhabitants, human life, and property.
Dr. Patrick Moore has been a leader of the environmental movement for more than 30 years. A co-founder and former president of Greenpeace, he holds a PhD in ecology and a BSc in forest biology.
|Real or artificial Christmas trees?
With the holiday season upon us, the question of environmentally friendly Christmas trees takes center stage in our living roomsBy Patrick Moore
May 31, 2006Is it environmentally friendlier to have a real or artificial Christmas tree?I often say that one way to protect the environment is to choose renewable materials and energy wherever possible. Artificial trees are made from non-renewable plastics and petroleum-based products. Although some people claim that these trees last a lifetime, most are thrown away within nine years-and remain in landfill sites for centuries. For me the choice isn’t real or artificial, but whether to buy a cut tree or one that’s growing in a pot, which I can plant outside after the holidays.
Some of the environmental benefits of real Christmas trees:
· They’re recyclable. Most communities offer recycling programs through parks departments or as part of existing curbside pickup. After the holidays, trees are chipped into biodegradable mulch, which can be used for playgrounds, gardens, hiking trails and animal stalls. Whole trees are also used on beaches to prevent shore erosion, and in lakes, streams and ponds to provide hiding spots and feeding areas for fish.
· They grow back. North American forests cover about the same area of land as they did 100 years ago and, in the last decade, have actually expanded by nearly 10 million acres. For every tree harvested, up to three more are planted to ensure a steady supply year after year.
· Growing forests are an important part of the fight against global warming. Put simply, trees grow by taking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and releasing clean oxygen. This helps to offset the CO2 released into the environment when we burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. (That said, trees can only do so much. To reverse the effects of global warming, it is vital that we also reduce fossil fuel consumption).
As for potted trees, they need quite a lot of care to ensure survival. Talk to your local greenhouse about species that are native to your area and specific care instructions.
Whether you choose a cut or growing tree to enjoy this holiday season, I believe that a sensible environmentalist would opt for renewable over non-renewable every time.
Dr. Patrick Moore has been a leader of the environmental movement for more than 30 years. A co-founder and former president of Greenpeace, he holds a PhD in ecology and a BSc in forest biology.
|Building a ‘green’ home
An environmentalist provides answers to some common questionsBy Patrick Moore
March 31,2006Dear Dr. Moore:
I’m designing a new home. Do you have any advice on building “green”?Building green can be interpreted in different ways. Green as a measure of environmental friendliness is what I’ll focus on here.
Everything we do has an impact on the environment. Designing your own home, you have an opportunity to minimize your impact through energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources.
Wood, for example, is the only major building material that is renewable. Wood products also require less energy — from extraction through manufacturing — than concrete or steel, use less fossil fuels to make, produce less water and air pollution, and result in far lower emissions of greenhouse gases. A recent study comparing buildings designed using primarily wood, steel or concrete, found that the concrete design required 70 percent more energy to build and the steel design 140 percent more energy to build than the wood option.
Once your home is built, there is an even greater opportunity to save energy through efficiency and the sources of energy used to heat and cool the home, provide hot water, power lights and run appliances.
For example, wood is a better insulator than other construction materials — 8.5 times better than concrete and 400 times better than steel. A wood-framed home that is well insulated and sealed stays naturally warmer in winter and cooler in summer, which translates into reduced energy consumption.
Install a high-efficiency furnace and Energy Star air conditioners and appliances, and use compact fluorescent light bulbs which consume less energy and last much longer. In some parts of the country, consumers can also choose to buy “green” energy produced by wind, hydro, and biomass (usually wood waste). The most environmentally friendly technology is the ground source heat pump that uses renewable earth energy from beneath your home to provide heat, air conditioning and hot water.
The more consumers seek out environmentally friendly designs, the more available and cost-effective they’ll become. I believe that a sensible environmentalist would, in building a new home, focus wherever possible on the use of wood, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.
Dr. Patrick Moore has been a leader of the environmental movement for more than 30 years.
|The state of North America’s wildlife
An environmentalist provides answers to some common questionsBy Patrick Moore
May 31, 2006Dear Dr. Moore:In your early days as an activist, you were very concerned about wildlife. Are we doing enough now to protect wildlife habitat in North American forests?
I’m still concerned about wildlife, but I’m also encouraged by the progress North America has made in maintaining forest habitat and the wildlife that depends on it.
First of all, our system of wildlife reserves is better than that of most other countries.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (2001), North America has set aside a higher percentage of parks and other protected areas than any other region in the world. This land is legally set aside for current and future generations and provides habitat for thousands of species of wildlife.
Equally important, forest companies in North America account for wildlife as part of their forest management planning. Sustainable forestry isn’t just about sustaining trees, it is also very much about sustaining habitat for other plants and animals.
People are understandably concerned when environmental groups claim that species are going extinct. Several years ago, one prominent group made the incredible statement that 50,000 species go extinct every year, largely due to commercial forestry and massive deforestation in industrialized countries.
The claim made headlines around the world, but turned out to be completely unsupportable. As a scientist working in the field, I couldn’t find evidence of a single species going extinct because of forestry. Apparently the group that made the statement couldn’t either. Despite repeated requests, it was unable to name even one.
In addition to this lack of evidence, United Nations data indicated that commercially grown forests were actually expanding by 0.2% each year. Thanks to reforestation, today’s forests are similar to the ones they replaced (providing similar types of wildlife habitat), and North American forests cover roughly the same area of land as they did 100 years ago.
It’s true that humans have caused the extinction of many other species, and there are lists of real species that have disappeared because of human activity. But these tend to fall into three main categories: over-hunting, the introduction of predators and disease (which happened extensively during the Colonial period), and the permanent clearing of forested land for agriculture. The good news is that we humans have become increasingly concerned about our effect on other species, and today the global rate of extinction is at a 500 year low.
|Spotted owls, logging & environmentalists
This little night hunter has become the symbol of forest preservationBy Patrick Moore
March 31, 2006Species diversity cannot be discussed today without mention of the spotted owl. This little night hunter has become the symbol of forest preservation in the US Pacific Northwest.It has provided the legal basis for a major reduction in logging in the National Forests, large tracts of public land controlled from Washington, DC. The spotted owl is listed as a “threatened” species under US legislation, one step away from “endangered.”
As a result the species qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This has led to a virtual shutting down of logging in many National Forests, despite the fact that they were originally established as areas where forestry would be one of the main activities. In the early 1990’s, about 30,000 forest workers lost their jobs due to the concern that the spotted owl would become extinct if logging continued.
This is a classic case of a species that has been deemed to be absolutely dependent on old growth forest. The theory is that each pair of owls requires about 3,500 acres (1,500 hectares) of old growth forest to survive and that logging any old growth will result in a reduction in the population. As this contravenes the Endangered Species Act it has been successfully argued in court that logging should be curtailed.
The restrictions on logging and the debate about the owl have resulted in a tremendous increase in research on the species. Contrary to environmentalists’ claims, it has been found that spotted owls are quite capable of surviving in second-growth forests as well as old growth1. This finding was initially greeted with disbelief. When it was irrefutably demonstrated that owls were not only living, but also breeding, in second growth, they were deemed to be “surplus owls” on the assumption that they were not viable in the long term. It now appears that these owls are as viable as those that live in old growth and that in some cases logging may actually be beneficial to the owl.
In coastal forests from southern Oregon to northern California the main prey species for spotted owls is the dusky-footed woodrat. The rat reaches its highest population density in 10 to 15 year-old forest after which its numbers decline as the forest ages. So long as there are surrounding forests over 40 years old, the owl does best when there is a mixture of forest ages.
On Simpson Timber’s 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares) of private forest near Eureka, California there are more than 370 territorial spotted owls with a stable breeding population even though there is virtually no old growth forest remaining in the area. There have been over 1000 pairs of owls counted on private forest land alone in northern California, and not all the land has been surveyed2.
In more northern forest in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, the spotted owl’s main prey is flying squirrels. Here the owls are more dependent on old growth as the flying squirrel does best in mature forests. But even in these regions researchers have found that owl numbers are far higher than originally predicted.
In 1990 a team of scientists published the Thomas Report3, which estimated there were 136 pairs of spotted owls on 750,000 acres (300,000 hectares) of public forest land on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. This included Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest, and state lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources.
The scientists also predicted that the maximum number of owls that could be supported in the area under ideal conditions in the future was 143 pairs or one pair for every 5,200 acres (2,100 hectares). In 1994, scientists working for the same federal agencies reported documented existence of 234 pairs in the same area and estimated there are between 282 and 321 pairs in the region4.
In other words, it is now acknowledged that there are more than twice as many owls as was considered the theoretical maximum only four years earlier. Now it is believed that a pair of owls requires only 2,300 acres (935 hectares) rather than the previous estimate of 5,200 acres (of 2,100 hectares). In all likelihood, even these more recent estimates are conservative. It seems the more we look for them, the more owls we discover.
Despite these findings, which prove there are far more owls than were thought to exist when logging was curtailed, environmentalists continue to demand that logging be outlawed. The “Zero Cut” campaign led by the Sierra Club, and supported by many other groups, takes the position that there should be no commercial forestry on any public land in the US.5 Much of the reasoning behind this policy is based on the false assertion that species are threatened with extinction from logging.
The news media aren’t helping much with the public’s understanding of the relationship between spotted owls and forestry. In an article about redwood forests in March 1999, the New York Times reported that the spotted owl was a “nearly extinct species.”6 No evidence was provided for this statement; it was made as if it was an obvious fact. No wonder people believe that forestry must be stopped to protect species from extinction!
The issue of species protection offers an interesting contrast between approaches taken in the US Pacific Northwest compared to British Columbia. The 49th parallel that divides the two regions is entirely artificial geographically but it is the starting point in defining radically different political and legal systems on either side of the border. Whereas the ecosystems are virtually identical, especially near the boundary, the similarity ends at the level of forest ecology.
The ownership of forest lands in the US Pacific Northwest is a complex checkerboard of federal, state, and private interests. Lands in the National Parks, the National Forests and Bureau of Land Management are under federal jurisdiction. There are also large tracts of state-owned forests that are managed for timber and other resources. Much of the most productive, low-elevation forest land is owned privately by individuals and companies. Each of these jurisdictions comes under a different set of regulations.
In British Columbia, by contrast, over 95 percent of the forest land is owned and controlled directly by the provincial government. The provincial Forest Practices Code (1995) brings the small percentage of managed, privately held forest land under similar regulations as public land.
There is little federal ownership in forest land other than national parks so the federal government of Canada has minimal involvement in the management of forest for timber. The main role of the federal government is the protection of salmon streams, a role that has had considerable influence on forest practice near rivers.
The result is that commercially managed forest land in British Columbia is essentially under one set of regulations whereas there are three distinct types of jurisdiction in the US Pacific Northwest.
The most interesting comparison is between the National Forest lands in the US Pacific Northwest and the provincial forest lands in British Columbia. They are similar in these respects: both are publicly-owned, dedicated to timber harvesting (among many other uses), contain considerable old growth and other stages of original forest, support the economies of many communities, and are subject to the growing demands and values of an increasingly urban population. In recent years these similarities have been overshadowed by entirely different approaches to resolving the conflict between preservationists and pro-forestry interests.
On the US side, a combination of the Endangered Species Act, the protection of the spotted owl as a threatened species, and the individual citizen’s right to sue the government have resulted in the cessation of most timber harvesting in National Forests.
The result has been economic disaster for local forestry communities and few effective government programs to assist in developing other forms of economic activity. In this case, the legal rights of a listed owl species have been rated higher than those of humans, making the spotted owl a symbol of both preservation and devastation. It has been a classic example of land use conflict based on confrontation and litigation where the losers get little or no compensation.
In British Columbia, land use conflicts that focus on preservation of old growth forests have been equally intense. But there has been no simple legal route to force one side’s agenda on the other. As a result, the conflict — after some dramatic logging site demonstrations — has settled down to being resolved largely through negotiation rather than legal action. All sides in the debate (environmental, forestry, tourism, labour, fish, wildlife, and communities) have engaged in round table forums and have had a surprising amount of success in reaching agreements that accommodate all interests and create win-win solutions.
1. Personal communication, Lowell Diller, biologist with Simpson Redwood Inc. Arcata, California, May 1995.
2. Personal communication, Lowell Diller, biologist with Simpson Redwood Inc. Arcata, California, November 1999.
3. Jack Ward Thomas et al, A Conservation Strategy for the Northern Spotted Owl. Interagency Scientific Committee to Address the Conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl, Portland Oregon, May 1990.
4. Richard S Holthausen, et al, The Contribution of Federal and Nonfederal Habitat to Persistence of the Northern Spotted Owl on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington, Report of the Reanalysis Team, U.S. D.A Forest Service and National Biological Survey, October, 1994.
5. See: http://www.emagazine.com/july-august_1996/0796ibsierr.html
6. New York Times, December 8, 1998.
Excerpted from Patrick Moore’s “Green Spirit: Trees are the Answer.”
|A tale of two woodpeckers
Two woodpecker species from the Southeast United States illustrate the contrasting fates of endangered species and our forestsBy Patrick Moore
May 31, 2006When it comes to endangered species and forests, there are few more interesting examples than the contrasting fates of two woodpecker species from the southeastern United States. In one case the story is a sad reminder of how species can be lost forever, in the other the story is one of hope and survival.The ivory-billed woodpecker was a large bird that lived in the forests of the southeastern United States and some Caribbean islands including Cuba. It was never abundant, possibly because both aboriginal people and European settlers hunted it for its plumage.
As the land was cleared and converted to agriculture the ivory billed woodpecker disappeared from much of its former range and by 1940 was confined to a 120-square-mile section along the Tensas River in Louisiana known as the Singer Tract.1 This area was cleared for agriculture in 1948, apparently sealing the fate of the species forever. There were isolated sightings afterwards, in the US and in Cuba, but by the 1980’s the bird was declared officially extinct. It is likely we will never see this woodpecker again.
A similar fate may have befallen the red-cockaded woodpecker, a much smaller bird but in some ways more specialized in its habitat requirements than its ivory-billed cousin.
Unique among woodpeckers, the red-cockaded makes its nest in living trees, preferably old longleaf pines that have rotten centers in their tops. Among the southern pines, the longleaf is also the longest lived, surviving over 300 years, in part due to its thick bark which makes it resistant to fire.
As the southern forests were cleared for timber and converted to cattle pastures and cotton plantations, the longleaf pine was diminished, thus reducing suitable habitat for the woodpeckers. Where forests were renewed it was more often with other species of pine such as loblolly and slash that were more easily cultivated. Populations of the red-cockaded woodpecker dwindled and it was declared an endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1970.
Fortunately for the woodpeckers, a number of stands of old growth longleaf pine survived, some on private land and others on public land in National Forests and on Military Reserves.
Over the past ten years the US Fish and Wildlife Service has developed a program that allows private landowners to adopt Habitat Conservation Plans for species listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Many forest companies, including Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, Champion International, and Temple-Inland have joined this program. They are working to enhance and increase the longleaf pine habitat on their forest lands and to relocate woodpeckers to more suitable areas of public land.
This co-operative approach is proving far more successful than the adversarial approach that characterized the spotted owl controversy in the Pacific Northwest. And as with the spotted owl, it is virtually certain that the red-cockaded woodpecker will continue to survive and thrive in southern US forests from Texas to Florida and north into the Carolinas.
1. American Bird Conservancy’s Field Guide – All The Birds Of North America, Harper Perennial Press, 1997t.
|The targeting of exotic species
Not all exotic species have negative impacts on our natural resourcesBy Patrick Moore
May 31, 2006There is a growing movement to target exotic species, those that have been introduced to new regions as a result of human activity, as a threat to the environment. They are often referred to as “alien species”, or “invasive species” in order to give a negative impression.Extreme language is used in campaigns designed to recruit public support for a war against these aliens, almost as if they were invaders from another planet. A group of environmental scientists issued a statement in February 1997 claiming that “A rapidly spreading invasion of exotic plants and animals is destroying our nation’s biological diversity.”1 The examples given to support the case against exotics are invariably species that cause harm to forests, farm crops, or compete successfully against native species that are considered desirable.
This is a classic example of our ability to take what was once a positive connotation and turn it into a negative one. The word “exotic” has normally been associated with ideas like “exotic paradise” and “exotic pleasures”. Over the centuries exotic plants have been sought after by gardeners to add beauty and diversity to both public and private landscapes.
While Californians were busy importing eucalyptus trees and other Australian plants, Australians were lining their streets with cedars from Lebanon and maples from Japan and North America. Botanical gardens pride themselves in the number of rare and exotic plants they have on display for the pleasure of an appreciative public.
Now it is fashionable to favor “native” plants and animals and to perceive exotics as undesirables that should be uprooted and otherwise driven from the land. The language employed is akin to that used by white supremacists and supporters of “ethnic cleansing” to spread dislike of other races and cultures. Could it be that the campaign against exotic species is just another form of racism, in this case against other species rather than against different races and cultures of our own species?
I was inspired to include a section about exotic species when I heard a news story from Washington DC in the spring of 1999. The citizens of the Capitol were distressed to find that a family of beavers had taken up residence there and were busy felling the Japanese cherry trees that adorned the banks of the Potomac River. It became a national emergency of sorts and a great effort was made to trap every last beaver; only then were the townspeople put at ease. There was no mention made of the fact that the beaver is a native North American species whereas the cherry trees are exotics, imported from Japan. Yet there was no question which species the public favored.
This example gets to the heart of the debate over exotic species. The reason we dislike certain species and like others has nothing to do with whether or not they are exotic. By playing on people’s natural suspicion of all things foreign, environmentalists confuse the issue and give the public a misleading picture. There are actually thousands of exotic species that are not only beneficial, they are the mainstay of our daily lives.
Food crops like wheat, rice, and cabbage are all exotics when grown in North America. Vegetables that originated in the Americas such as beans, corn and potatoes are exotics when they are grown in Europe. All around the world, agriculture is largely based on species that originated somewhere else. This is also the case for domestic animals, garden plants and street trees.
There are also hundreds of native species of plants and animals that we consider undesirable. For centuries we have referred to them as weeds, pests, vermin and disease. There are also many exotic species that fall into this category. And, of course, there are many native species that are considered extremely beneficial, especially those that provide food for a growing population.
The point is, both exotic and native species can be desirable or undesirable from a human perspective, depending on how they affect our lives. Our almost innate dislike of rats and spiders has nothing to do with whether or not they are native or exotic, it is due to the possibility of deadly disease or a fatal bite. And even though dandelions in the lawn are hardly a life-and-death issue, millions are spent each year to rid lawns of these “weeds”.
Certain exotic species have resulted in severe negative impacts. The most notorious case involved the introduction of European species of animals to Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands when Europeans colonized these regions beginning about 225 years ago.
Many native species, flightless birds and ground-dwelling marsupials in particular, were not able to survive the introduction of predators such as rats, cats and foxes. As a result, hundreds of native species were eliminated. Another well known exotic is Dutch elm disease, a fungus that actually originated in Asia, came through Europe and on to North America where it has resulted in the death of many native elms in the US and Canada.2
There can be no doubt that we should always be careful when considering the introduction of a new species, and that regulations are needed to prevent undesirable accidental introductions. At the same time we must not lose sight of the fact that introduced species play a vital, even essential, role in modern society.
Each species must be evaluated on its own merits. The introduction of some species may be desirable in one region and yet undesirable in others. Islands are particularly susceptible to introductions because they are isolated and their native species are not subjected to as wide a variety of predators and diseases. When rats are introduced to islands that support large bird rookeries there is often a precipitous decline in bird populations due to predation on eggs and nestlings.
There is really no difference when considering the use of an exotic species of tree for managed forests. As mentioned previously, one of the reasons we tend to use native species of trees for forestry in North America is because they are the best available in terms of productivity and wood quality.
In other regions this is not the case. Radiata pine from California has been very successful in New Zealand, Australia, and Chile. Eucalyptus from Australia is the forestry species of choice in many parts of Brazil, Portugal and South Africa. Douglas-fir from Oregon has become the number two species of softwood produced in France. And Chinese larch is a favorite for reforestation in Scotland where forest cover was lost centuries ago to sheep farming.
1. Environment News Service, February 19, 1997.
2. See: www.ksu.edu/plantpath/extension/facts/tree3.html
|Three diversities of biodiversity
There are many types of diversities when one speaks of the term “biodiversity,” three of them are: species, genetic and landscapeBy Patrick Moore
March 31, 2006Variety is the spice of life.
— AnonymousThroughout the ages students of nature have understood that some environments have more species and are more varied than others. Rainforests are richer in life than deserts. Coral reefs have many more species of fish than the abyss of the deep sea. While these differences were generally recognized it was not until recently that scientists began to measure and describe the diversity of ecosystems in a systematic fashion.
The term “biological diversity” or “biodiversity” is now widely used to indicate the variety of living things. In a general sense, biodiversity is used as a synonym for “nature” or “the living world”. In a technical sense, biodiversity is used to describe a large number of situations in the environment.
One of the difficulties in understanding the concept of biological diversity is the fact that there are, so to speak, a diversity of diversities. In trying to keep it simple I have chosen only the three most important measures of diversity within living systems. These are genetic diversity, species diversity and landscape diversity.
Genetic diversity is an indicator of the degree of variation in the genetic make-up of individuals within a species. The basis of genetic differences is contained in the DNA in the genes of an individual organism. The genes are responsible for passing on the traits of the parents to the offspring during reproduction.
Often, but not always, genetic differences can be seen in the features of the individual animal or plant. One of the best examples is the domestic dog.
From the Chihuahua to the Great Dane, the great variety of dog breeds are all part of the same species, all derived from the wild wolf.
Thousands of years of breeding by selecting particular traits has resulted in this amazing display of genetic diversity. In humans, we recognize the expression of genetic diversity as differences such as those among races, facial features, and the color of eyes and hair. Underlying many of these differences are specific differences in the genetic material in the DNA of each person. Genetic diversity is higher in multi-racial communities than in communities of a single race.
Genetic diversity in humans, as in all species, is reduced, maintained, or increased depending on patterns of breeding over time. Inbreeding among members of the same family tree causes a reduction in genetic diversity. Outbreeding with new families and races causes an increase in genetic diversity.
Genetic diversity is not something you can measure by walking into a forest with a ruler and clipboard in hand. While the concept is based on theoretically measurable differences in DNA, in practice it is impossible to determine the full range of these differences for every species in a particular ecosystem.
It is usually necessary to deal in generalities and comparative measures rather than actual measures of specific genetic differences. The factors affecting genetic diversity within a given species are themselves very diverse, ranging from the manner in which plant seeds are fertilized and dispersed to the social behavior of birds and mammals.
Species diversity is the type of biological diversity that most people would associate with the term. It is simply a count of the number of distinct species in a given ecosystem.
This is fairly easy for the larger species of plants and animals but becomes a more difficult and expensive task if we want to count all the smaller and microscopic forms of insects, fungi, and bacteria that live in the trees and the soil.
While the species count can give us a lot of useful information it doesn’t tell us about the relative abundance of each species. That requires a count of the population of each species, an even more difficult task than cataloguing the number of species.
Even if we knew all the species and their populations, meaningful comparisons within and among different ecosystems are not always easy to make.
Landscape diversity, also known as ecosystem diversity, refers to the variety of distinct ecosystems within a given landscape or geographic area.
Some landscapes are very uniform such as the vast stretches of lodgepole pine forest growing back after wildfire. Other landscapes are more varied with a mosaic of different plant associations in close proximity.
A more diverse landscape usually supports higher species diversity across that landscape.
Landscape diversity is generally measured in comparative terms rather than numerically. There is no logical way to give an exact measure of the number of distinct ecosystems in a given landscape, or for that matter even to define “landscape” or “ecosystem” with precision. It is important to recognize that these terms are conceptual, they are not precise units of measurement.
All three types of biological diversity are relevant to the discussion of new forests growing back after logging. Comparisons of similarities and differences can be made between the diversity of the new forest and the one it has replaced. Comparisons are possible among new forests that have resulted from different types of disturbance such as fire, insect attack, and logging.
A forest dominated by a single tree species will often be more susceptible to catastrophic insect attack than one with a variety of tree species. The same is true of a forest where all the trees are the same age compared to a forest where there are patches of trees of different ages.
Environmentalists often contend that logging an old growth forest automatically results in the loss of biological diversity. This has become a major point in their campaigns to preserve forests in their native state. We are warned “Ecologically, clearcutting causes irreparable damage to biological diversity.” Unfortunately, this is one of those “half-truths” that makes it difficult to see the issue clearly.
Every individual of every species, when produced by sexual reproduction, is genetically unique. Therefore, every time an individual of any species dies, whether by disease, fire, volcanic eruption or logging, some genetic diversity is lost. It is equally true that every time an individual of any species is born that there is an increase in genetic diversity. So, it is true in a sense, that every time an ecosystem is disturbed there is a “loss” of biodiversity. It is equally true that as the ecosystem recovers from disturbance there is new biodiversity created.
The word “disturbance” is used by ecologists to mean relatively rapid change in an ecosystem. This always involves the death of individuals of some of the species in that ecosystem. But disturbance also creates the conditions necessary for new life to flourish.
Fire sometimes kills nearly everything in its path and leaves the land barren, ready for new life to grow. Logging usually leaves many plants and animals alive but results in the death of others, particularly the trees! But so long as there is an abundant seed source either in the soil or in the surrounding forests, there will be no net loss of genetic diversity over time.
Considering this point in another way, if genetic diversity were permanently lost every time there was a major disturbance in an ecosystem, there wouldn’t be much diversity left in this world. Disturbance is so common, even in the absence of human activity, that species must be able to flourish and maintain their diversity in the face of constant change. In fact, the conditions created by disturbance provide the opportunity for the development of new diversity.
|Taking a look at genetic diversity
There are many types of diversities when one speaks of the term ‘biodiversity.’ Here’s a look at the one of them: genetic diversityBy Patrick Moore
March 31, 2006There is no bush on the face of the globe exactly like another bush; there are no two trees in the forest whose boughs bend into the same network, nor two leaves on the same tree which could not be told one from the other.
— John Ruskin, Modern PaintersFor the multitude of plants, animals and insects living in British Columbia and Pacific Northwest forests, there is no reason to believe that logging or the many forms of natural disturbance result in a net loss of genetic diversity.
The numerous species of ferns, mosses, lichen, and fungi are so prolific and widespread that it is hard to imagine inbreeding or temporary local loss of habitat as a serious threat.
For the trees and other plants there are nearly always some seeds or seedlings ready to spring back to replace the old forest. These contain the genetic material of their parents.
Most birds, mammals, and other animals either escape to surrounding forest or adapt to the new environment. Some species, such as salamanders, will survive in reduced numbers initially but there is no evidence that their genetic diversity is lost as they eventually recover in the new forest. Other species, such as field mice, will increase in numbers after logging but there is no reason to suspect significant change in the genetic make-up of the population.
There is a notion among some environmentalists that when native forests are cut and replaced by tree seedlings grown in nurseries that there is a loss of genetic diversity in the newly planted forest.1
The uniform appearance of nursery seedlings suggests to the observer that they are genetically identical. In fact, in most cases in Pacific Northwest forests there is actually an increase in the genetic diversity of the planted tree species when harvested areas are replanted with seedlings grown in nurseries.2
When an area of forest is cleared of trees by fire, windstorm, or logging, and left to regenerate on its own, the new forest will be composed mainly of trees from seed that was on the site or blown in from trees growing close by. This means that a certain amount of inbreeding will occur over time and the trees in a given area will tend to be related to one another.
When seedlings from nurseries are used they are from seeds that were collected over a far wider area than the area that is replanted. The strategy in nursery production is to increase genetic diversity by outbreeding and to use selective breeding to enhance desirable traits such as growth rate and disease resistance. As a result, there is usually a higher genetic diversity in a given species that is planted than in the same species that is naturally regenerated.
The use of the word ‘genetic’ is often confusing because there are so many ways of influencing the genetic composition of an individual or population. The impression is sometimes given that plantation seedlings have been “genetically engineered” when this is not the case.
Most genetic work with trees simply involves controlled breeding programs using normal sexual reproduction by fertilizing seeds with pollen. The only difference between this and what occurs in the wild is the conscious effort to avoid inbreeding while at the same time selecting individuals with desirable traits.
A word about cloning
Another word that is often misinterpreted is ‘clone’. The term tends to conjure up images of test-tube babies and armies of androids ruled by evil masters. As it is applied to the breeding of plants and trees, the use of clones is not quite so sensational.
Anyone who has taken a cutting from a house-plant and rooted it in a glass of water has created a clone. Much of agriculture and horticulture has always been based on the use of cloning in order to ensure uniformity of food and garden plants.
All the beautiful varieties of roses and rhododendrons are the result of first breeding and then cloning the desired offspring.
Staple foods such as potatoes are also grown using cloning techniques. With cloning there is a real potential to reduce genetic diversity as each clone is genetically identical to the other. This is easily avoided by appropriate selection of clones and planting programs.
The use of clones is not nearly as common in forestry as in food and garden plants but there are some notable examples where this technique is used.
The most advanced and widespread use of cloning in forestry is practiced with eucalyptus in tropical and sub-tropical climates. While all species of eucalyptus originally derive from Australia, some are now grown for timber production in many other parts of the world including Brazil, Chile, Portugal, and California.
The most successful programs involve highly controlled breeding and cloning through rooted cuttings. The result has been a very high quality of wood and phenomenal growth rates.
In the Pacific Northwest there are two tree species that are cloned for forest planting. The largest program involves hybrid poplar trees that are grown on river flood plains for pulpwood. At a more experimental stage there are field trials underway with yellow-cedar (Alaska-cedar) in south-coastal British Columbia.
In all tree cloning programs a great deal of attention is paid to ensuring genetic diversity both in breeding stock and in the production forest by using clones from a large number of parent plants.
1. Elizabeth May, At the Cutting Edge — The Crisis in Canada’s Forests, Key Porter Books, Toronto, 1998, p. 19.
2. Hamish Kimmins, Balancing Act — Environmental Issues in Forestry ,UBC Press, Vancouver, 1992, p. 160.
|Benefits of genetically modified foods
Genetically modified foods can benefit our health and environmentBy Patrick Moore
May 31, 2006Why are scientists putting so much emphasis on genetically modified foods — is this something we really need to pursue?Genetically modified foods have great benefits for human health and our environment — so yes, I believe it is something we need to pursue.
Genetic breakthroughs in agriculture are already enabling us to prevent certain diseases and pest infestations in food crops while reducing the use of chemical pesticides and without affecting non-harmful species.
Second, and perhaps the most important environmental benefit, is the ability to increase the productivity of our agricultural lands, which is critical as the world’s population continues to grow. The more food we’re able to grow on an acre of land, the less land we have to clear for agriculture. That means we can keep more land as forests, grasslands, savannas and other wilderness areas.
In addition to the environmental gains, genetically modified foods have already proven to have enormous potential for improving human health. One example is golden rice, which will eventually be available for commercial planting.
By splicing a gene from daffodils into rice plants, two Swiss scientists have created rice that contains carotene, which the body mainly children in India and Africa, go blind due to vitamin A deficiency, this rice has the potential to significantly reduce human suffering.
Genetic modification is an extension of the crossbreeding that’s been going on throughout agricultural history to create the foods we know and depend on today. Genetically modified foods undergo extensive testing and scientists have yet to find a negative health consequence.
I believe most criticism is founded not in the science we know, but in political agendas and the desire to raise alarm — and doesn’t account for the potential to protect and enhance human health and the environment.
It’s important to treat any scientific breakthrough with caution, but the idea that we should stop learning and applying knowledge in the real world doesn’t make sense. The benefits of genetic modification are too great.
Given their tremendous potential for good, I believe that a sensible environmentalist would support continued research and the application of those agricultural advances that are shown to have a positive impact on human health and the environment.