When Our Forests Disappear

This is the first part of a four part series in the Floyd Press, first installment in this week’s edition. — FBF

When the oak leaves fell from November trees along the crest above the house, we were shocked to discover that the rounded ridge beyond and above us was now as smooth as a baby’s bottom against the northern sky.

The south-facing flank of Lick Ridge had been clearcut. The sight alarmed and upset me–and not just because the aftermath of a clearcut is unspeakably ugly.

The intended future for that cleared ridge long after we’re gone from here is not that it be a diverse woodlands like the one so recently eliminated by the thrumming machinery of industrial logging. The pure-as-possible stand of pines that will grow behind us on Goose Creek a generation from now will be a wood products plot, and much will be missing there.

The soils and the plant and animal diversity in that a future pine plantation will be utterly changed. The stand of mostly pines will exist as what some have referred to as a “green desert.”

Its impoverished variety of species of plants and animals will stand in extreme contrast to the native ecosystem it will replace. Biologists refer to this as lost biodiversity, which is happening at an unprecedented rate today.

Clearcutting is driven by efficiency and somebody’s bottom line. A mixed hardwood-and-conifer forest in our part of the world, under natural process after selective timber harvest, will grow slowly back to become a mature forest of hardwoods and scattered white pines.

But shade-intolerant pines only grow close and straight where hardwoods do not shade out these higher-dollar faster-growing evergreens. And so with those dollars and the returns cycle in mind, natural hardwood stump regrowth is typically suppressed by the application of herbicides like Roundup. This thought made me wonder.

Was this clearcut so close to us sprayed? We learned from a local forester that the clearcut was indeed doused with herbicide mixture by helicopter (about 11 gallons per acre) last summer.
We had not known about this at the time. The logging company is apparently under no requirements to inform adjacent landowners in advance. That doesn’t seem right.

Asked his opinion about the use of clearcutting as a forestry practice in the Blue Ridge, a forester I spoke to stated that “there is not enough of it to suit me.” As long as metric tons of fiber is the prevailing measure of worth of an acre of fast-growing planted or slower-growing natural forest, this form of forestry practice is likely to increase across Floyd County, the southern states and beyond. There are visible and invisible costs to be paid.

The intact biology and chemistry of forests work for the good of our air and our drinking water, our soil and our senses. We are both consumers and caretakers of this living community and natural benefits provider we know as forests. They are a feature so common in our part of the world that we tend to take them for granted. You might say that we often lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Sixty-four percent of Floyd County is forested (that’s some 156,000 acres of trees), and all of it (save for the strip along the Blue Ridge Parkway) is owned and its fate determined by people like you and me.

The second part of this four-part series will consider some of the costs and benefits of our use of today’s and tomorrow’s forests, even as we live pleasantly surrounded by them for the time being.

We live among trees and most of us care about the health of future forests. This is a complex issue—the stewardship of this vast wooded expanse of southwestern Virginia. The boundaries of these private plots you can see on a map, but the real benefits of forests (environmental services) are public and contribute to the well-being of all of us.

The most conspicuous of these common goods is the beauty of our wooded ridges and valleys and coves that give this place its character and form in every season, for residents and visitors alike.

This is part ONE of a four part series. Go to https://goo.gl/tx00q7 for related links.

Health Reads 30 Mar 2017

I find it much easier to browse lately than to get in touch with the poor battered Muse from yesteryear. Alas, she is requesting a DNR order and who can blame her in such times?

And so I have broad-brush Google News alerts for topics impossibly broad like HEALTH. Perusing keeps me off the streets and gives me the illusion I’m “doing something.” Just my previous ordinary writing is NOT doing something, the wife claims. So

It’s pretty interesting the variety of things that turn up in said search that I would not otherwise have run across. And from this morning’s ramble, a few of interest–at least to me. YMMV

PANDAS – Wikiwand   | No, not the cuddly black and white creatures. It is a rare disorder of children, onset following the common strep infection, that can result in OCD, tics, and other sudden-onset brain-disordered behaviors. Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections

What’s to blame for the surge in Lyme disease? | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  | Blame acorns and coyotes, this article says. Not so sure about the coyote part. (Rationale: They eat foxes and foxes eat white-footed mice. But so do coyotes present in greater numbers than the foxes they displace.)

Deadly bacterial disease spreading among dogs in Northern New Jersey | abc7ny.com   | Leptospirosis is the name, and it rang a bell because the vet says Gandy is due her vaccine for this pathogen I’d never heard of.

Didn’t we cure “Mad Cow Disease?!?” – The William & Mary Blogs   | This offers the alarming fact that 1 in 2000 Brits has evidence in their bodies of the prions that cause Mad Cow. Latent, sleeping, potential time bombs. Would you want to know such a thing, really?

Flights of Fancy

We will, overriding our former determination to never again leave the ground, fly off in the not too distant future, to a somewhat far-off landscape that is not the mountains.

I will have  window -seat neck pain, of course, and this time, Walter Mitty, famous world explorer, will have something like the tool of his dreams in his sweaty little hands: the iphone app called Flyover Country.

This Mapping App Makes Flying Way More Fun | Outside Online   https://www.outsideonline.com/2094356/mapping-app-makes-flying-way-more-fun

I’m lead to believe that it is not all it might someday become. I had thought, and I was wrong, that you could plug in your flight number and departure and arrival destinations and it would have that route ready to explore with some precision.

While the path between traveled points is less precise than that, I still look forward to using this app in trips locally by car, since it gathers points of geographical or geological or paleontological interest. And that scratches where I itch.

For giggles, I tapped our home location and then Roanoke. And it gave me points of interest that, while they were not located with any precision along that straight line, nevertheless offered to show me a number of worthwhile places I’d like to know about. Here are two:

Maggoty Gap: about five mile south of Roanoke. Wikipedia has this to say: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Maggoty_Gap

“Maggoty Gap” describes a natural gateway of the Great Wagon Road (locally known as The Carolina Road) that made it possible for wagons and livestock traffic to pass through the Blue Ridge Mountains at Roanoke, Virginia near Maggoty Creek (now called Maggodee Creek).[2] It carried enormous amounts of traffic in the late 18th century and much of the 19th century until a railroad was extended over the ridge in 1892. During the years from 1760 to 1776 it was said to be the heaviest traveled road in all of America.

The other point I’ve found in my first five minutes exploring via Flyover Country this morning is Chestnut Creek Wetlands Natural Area Preserve.

This is a 244-acre (99 ha) Natural Area Preserve located in Floyd CountyVirginia over near Willis. It is accessible to visitors only with prior arrangements with a state-employed land steward. I just might want to do this someday.

And from the Chestnut Ridge site, I clicked the coordinates in the map sidebar image and was taken to GeoHack. OMG. The day is spoken for. Maps heaven.

GeoHack – Chestnut Creek Wetlands Natural Area Preserve   https://tools.wmflabs.org/geohack/geohack.php?pagename=Chestnut_Creek_Wetlands_Natural_Area_Preserve&params=36.8427_N_-80.4483_E_region:US-VA_type:landmark

Forest Is…

forest ridge in morning sun
Click the image to enlarge and read some details about the photograph and the photographer

Forest: a bunch of trees. A product. A profit source for shareholders. A place where something useful might be built.

Forest: a living community of interconnected lifeforms, above and below ground, that breathes oxygen, captures and stores CO2, communicates across distance and shares nutrients within a community of tethered trees and shrubs; an evolving habitat and nutrient-rich shelter for birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians; a generator of topsoil and sponge for holding and slowly giving back water or holding it in place until it can percolate into the soil and rock groundwater below.

Our generation is in the midst of deciding which of these definitions will turn the engines of our economy with relationship to wooded places, public and private.

Civilizations past have disappeared after abusing their forests. Our generation is on the verge of making the same mistake in a matter of a few decades and around the globe. This could be The Big Oops.


Why Did the Mayan Civilization Collapse? A New Study Points to Deforestation and Climate Change | Science | Smithsonian

Amazon Deforestation, Once Tamed, Comes Roaring Back – The New York Times

The Rise and Fall of Civilizations  | UCSD.edu
“Just as has been documented for many past civilizations, the inevitable consequences of our current lifestyles will be societal collapse accompanied by tremendous human suffering. The difference between past civilizations and ours is only quantitative: this time, resource depletion is occurring on a global scale.”

Forests Precede Us, Deserts Follow | Collapse of Industrial Civilization

When forests aren’t really forests: the high cost of Chile’s tree plantations

Deforestation and Its Effect on the Planet   | NatGeo

New Deforestation Hot Spots in the World’s Largest Tropical Forests – Medium

False Forests | Mother Jones

When Trees Die, People Die

Did that phrase get your attention? It should.

This was the title of an article in the Atlantic in 2013. And it is not poetic and abstract but factual and worthy of note. You will hear it referenced on Thursday night at the Floyd Country Store at the showing of “In Search of Balance.”

The inter-relationship between natural health and human health is part of the imbalance being addressed by this film and the panel discussion (Jane Cundiff and Barbara Pleasant) afterward.

The film is seen as an appropriate introduction to the first Floyd County Health Faire to be held at the high school on April 1.

My take-away from the movie that Jane and I reviewed a few weeks ago is this: the three realms consisting of human health, environmental health and the economy are circles that do not overlap. They should.

We should change our thinking to consider One Health: for people, planet and for profit–the so-called Triple Bottom Line.

By the way, the emerald ash borer has recently been found in the Roanoke Valley. So what?

Invasive species pose serious danger to humans | Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies 

“This study was based on a careful analysis of death records in counties with and without ash borers, before and after the borer invasion. The study found that invaded counties had more than 20,000 extra deaths after the borers invaded (but not before), even after accounting for factors such as income, age and ethnicity. The authors are quick to caution that this association does not prove ash borers caused people to die. It is just the obvious explanation.

How can this be possible? The borers don’t attack people, and the dead people weren’t killed by falling branches. Instead, the authors of the study suggest that extensive losses of ash trees caused beauty and environmental quality to decline in affected areas, which led to 20,000 extra human deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory problems.”

Because I know you are all planning to join us for the pot luck and movie and want to be informed at the git-go, you can look over my shoulder at the notes I took while previewing the film, and the links I’ve added to explore topics in greater depth.

Fred’s NOTES AND LINKS for Search for Balance

Monsanto and Bayer to Consummate Unholy Union

Big Pharma and Big Ag have a baby. Not done quite yet but the contractions are closer and closer, and the Agent Orange – tinged water is about to break.

Now, if these 5 billion pound gorillas could concoct a way to own all the the world’s topsoil and oxygen and sell it back to us, they’d be in high RoundUp-ready cotton.

Bayer, Monsanto to merge in mega-deal that could reshape world’s food supply – The Boston Globe

Bayer and Monsanto: A Merger of Two Evils: TruthOut

Bayer to Buy Monsanto Creating World’s Largest Seed and Pesticide Company: EcoWatch

Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Merger of the Year – Bloomberg

Why Bayer’s purchase of Monsanto is so controversial. | New Republic

Bayer’s Takeover of Monsanto Would Create the World’s Largest Agricultural Supplier | VICE News

“These are companies that are hell bent towards developing a highly chemical dependent, pesticide and herbicide-dependent agriculture.”

We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know

I’ve made this claim often here and elsewhere, having observed the evolution of a half-century of new electronic eyes and ears to better grasp the state of the planet. We can’t say we did not know the extent of change our one species has brought to every single place on Earth, on land and sea and in the very air.

It is the change we bring to forests that holds my attention lately, “forest” being the word we use to describe the wooded areas between cities and crop fields and around interstates.

But we suffer from baseline creep. Today’s global forest–it’s age mix, its amalgam of animals and plants, its microorganisms and microhabitats–is a faint shadow of the forest of five hundred years ago. And many. of course, are entirely gone.

And that’s important because the planet grew up over the past millions of years with yesterday’s definition of forest being an intact regulator of biodiversity, carbon dioxide, oxygen and moisture. To the extent that a forest of today has lost that capacity we stand at risk of lost planetary regulation–homeostasis–that keeps things more or less “normal” and predictable.

Tomorrow’s “forest”: those who live among them may have gone another few notches down on the scale of expectation for what constitutes a “normal, healthy, intact forest.” We are losing even what we have had in very many places across the states and the globe.

FORwarn forestry threats map, discovered fortuitously by guided serendipity among saved links going back to 2014, provides maps that can chart the changes in vegetation from mild to extreme across the continent.

ForWarn provides near-real-time tracking of vegetation changes across landscapes in the United States. Useful for both monitoring disturbance events as well as year-to-year variability, derived products can also be used to develop insights into seasonal and inter-annual dynamics.

Dark blue is essentially undisturbed vegetation. Carvin’s Cove north of Roanoke is one such place you can see on the map. Elsewhere, note the spots and clumps of red. We have only to walk out our back door or down our road less than a mile to see dark red.

How about you? Find your homeplace. What is the nearest extreme alteration to the forest there? Were you aware of it? Can you see it from your roads or is it hidden from view? What streams are drained by that logging and do those streams remain clear?

You shouldn’t claim you couldn’t have known.