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The Benefits of Forest Restoration

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Fotoware58 Donating Member (473 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-08-09 09:35 PM
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The Benefits of Forest Restoration
By Micheal Dubrasich

Forest restoration is beneficial in numerous ways. The following outline describes these in general.

1. Heritage and history

To restore means to return to a former or original state. In the case of forests, restoration requires knowledge of and respect for forest history as a starting point. Forest restoration looks to pre-Contact forest conditions as a guideline.

Many (if not most) North American forests were at one time (prior to ~120 years ago) open and park-like, with widely spaced, large, old trees. Forests were conditioned to be that way by frequent, non-stand-replacing, anthropogenic fires. Historical human features included village sites; sacred and ceremonial sites; hunting, gathering, agricultural and proto-agricultural fields; extensive trail networks:; prairies and savannas; and other features induced and maintained by ancient human tending through the use of traditional ecological knowledge.

Forest restoration, properly researched, designed, and implemented, restores, protects, and perpetuates many of the heritage features of forested landscapes.

2. Ecological functions including old-growth development

Our old-growth trees arose under much different conditions than today. The forest development pathways of pre-Contact eras were not punctuated by catastrophic stand-replacing fires but instead were the outcomes of frequent, seasonal, light-burning fires in open, park-like forests. Those fires were largely anthropogenic (human-set by the indigenous residents). Because the fires of historic eras were frequent and seasonal, they gently removed fuels without killing all the trees. The widely-spaced trees thus survived repeated burning and grew to very old ages.

As more and more forests have been investigated for actual age distribution, it has been discovered that old-growth forests, are not even-aged. Instead, many (if not most) older forests are distinctly multi-cohort. That is, forests often have two or more widely divergent age classes of trees. This fact tends to disprove the stand replacement fire theory, at least in regards to older forests. Their development pathways must have been different than that. It is now widely concluded that many (if not most) North American forests were at one time (120 to 500 years ago) open and park-like with widely spaced, large, old trees, and that forests were conditioned to be that way by frequent, anthropogenic fires. That is, the actual historical forest development pathways for many (if not most) of our forests involved frequent, light-burning fires, not stand-replacing fire.

Restoration forestry seeks to restore, maintain, and perpetuate historical forest development pathways that engender old-growth trees.


3. Fire resiliency and the reduction of catastrophic fires

Modern fires in dense thickets, untempered by frequent, seasonal, anthropogenic fires, cause total tree mortality. No trees survive the infrequent holocausts, and so no trees attain old-growth status. In fact, modern fires routinely kill old-growth trees that withstood multiple fires in bygone eras. Modern fires, burning in dense, build-up fuel conditions, are severe and often convert heritage forests to more or less permanent brush fields.

By restoring thicket forests to their historical norm of open, park-like conditions, and in addition by restoring historical anthropogenic fire regimes, forests can be saved from catastrophic incineration and conversion to brush.

Forest restoration also seeks to restore, maintain, and perpetuate the historical patterns of prairies (meadows), and savannas (woodlands) that existed prior to Euro-American occupation. Those landscape features aid in control of wildfires and thus reduce the potential for catastrophic megafires.

4. Watershed functions

In the West, water is the most valuable and important commodity produced by our forests. Catastrophic fires can severely impact water production through direct pollution of waterways, soil degradation, and post-fire erosion and sedimentation.

Through the maintenance of continual vegetative cover, and at the same time the near elimination of catastrophic fire, forest restoration protects, maintains, and perpetuates beneficial hydrologic functions including safeguarding soils and providing water of quality and quantity (by reducing flash flooding and extreme winter runoff and increasing minimum flows in late summer).

5. Wildlife habitat

The dense forest thickets that have arisen following the elimination of traditional anthropogenic fire have minimal wildlife diversity. Further, the fuel-laden conditions invite severe fires that eliminate old-growth and impact populations old-growth associated wildlife species, such as Northern Spotted Owls.

It is now recognized by a wide spectrum of forest scientists and wildlife ecologists that uncharacteristic fuel loadings lead to catastrophic disturbance events and those severe disturbances are detrimental to the protection of listed threatened and endangered species.

Restoration forestry is an active management program that is sensitive to and protective of a diversity of wildlife, including listed species and their preferred habitats.

6. Public health and safety

Severe fires produce unhealthy amounts of smoke with particulates and gases that cause respiratory distress in communities far from the actual fires. Severe fires also are difficult to contain and control. They often escape from public forests and burn ranches, farms, homes, and commercial properties, sometimes invading cities dozens of miles away from ignition points.

Forest restoration removes uncharacteristic and a-historical fuel build-up and promotes light-burning ground fires instead of severe canopy fires. Fires in restored forests produce less smoke over shorter durations and are easier to contain and control. Thus forest restoration mitigates public health and safety hazards.

7. Biomass energy

Fuels removed through restoration forestry treatments may be transported to biomass energy facilities. There they can produce clean and renewable energy rather than going to waste (and devastation) in catastrophic wildfires.

8. Carbon sequestration

Carbon dioxide emissions from forest fires amount to more than half of all human-caused emissions in most Western states in most years. Forest restoration reduces catastrophic fire and thereby reduces CO2 emissions, potential and actual. To the extent that biomass removed from forests is converted to wood products, that carbon is sequestered long-term (for the life of the product).

9. Jobs and the economy

Forest restoration is active management that produces jobs in the woods and in various mills and facilities. Forest-dependent and compatible industries such as recreation also benefit. The reduction in cost-plus-loss from catastrophic forest fires also indemnifies local and regional economies. Economic multiplier effects expand the plethora of beneficial economic impacts, including tax revenues. Forest restoration pays for itself many times over.

********

There are more specific benefits from restoration forestry that are not mentioned above but are covered by the general categories listed. Scenery, for instance, is protected and enhanced by forest restoration. Scenery might be generally included in recreation values mentioned in Jobs and the economy or in Fire resiliency.

Comment by poster: Here is the comprehensive list that shows a bounty of good things that comes with active forest restoration. Please accept this information with an open mind towards good forest stewardship and climate change mitigation.

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tabatha Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-08-09 09:37 PM
Response to Original message
1. Thanks for that.
Restoration is VERY important.
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Fotoware58 Donating Member (473 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-10-09 09:42 AM
Response to Reply #1
6. Unfortunately...
politics trumps these scientific restoration ideas. All too many people would rather "let nature takes its course", embracing accelerated mortality from drought, insects and fires.

Yes, we CAN restore our forests, if only the politics were removed from the scientific arena.
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jody Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-08-09 09:51 PM
Response to Original message
2. Key: "return to a former or original state" and not to replace with introduced species. n/t
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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-08-09 11:35 PM
Response to Original message
3. Well said, although I'd be careful about a slippery slope in point #7.
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Fotoware58 Donating Member (473 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-09-09 09:41 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. Side Effect
Any wood products, including biomass, are just a nice bonus to restoration forestry. By definition, restoration forestry doesn't overcut forests. Plantations from clearcuts would be a good source of biomass, as they always overplanted in the past, expecting to come back at a later date to thin them. However, such projects must be financially-creative in order to work. Forest stewardship "packages" will be needed to offer an array of beneficial restoration aspects. A package could include profitable tasks like roadside hazard tree and insect salvage to offset the costs submerchantable thinning, road maintenance and brush control projects.

Under no circumstances should overcutting be allowed in this effort to restore our public forests. Unfortunately, such projects aren't even on the horizon and catastrophic fires won't wait for us to get it together. The Forest Service surely doesn't have the expertise and manpower to apply restoration forestry to all the acres that need it.

But, it's a nice thought!
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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-09-09 12:30 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. I hear you. However world wide, particularly in poor countries, deforestation is often
connected with the realities of "biomass as fuel." This is particularly true in Western Africa.
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DCKit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-10-09 04:10 PM
Response to Original message
7. 10. Because it's the right thing to do.
And on 4, forests create weather - rain, specifically. 30% of Amazon rainfall is directly attributed to plant respiration, especially during the dry season.

Even when my family farm (heavily wooded, Appalachian mountains) was going through a period of drought recently, we would awake regularly to the sound of dew falling from the trees. The leaves cooled down faster and farther than the surrounding air, caused condensation and, quite literally, watered the trees.
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Fotoware58 Donating Member (473 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-10-09 11:14 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. In truth,
forests themselves don't "create weather". Yes, I have seen nice coatings of dew on vegetation in humid areas, like the South. Here in the West, we don't get a lot of measurable rain during the summers, despite the thick, overgrown forests. Also, the air humidity is often at a minimum during the long, hot summers. Basically, when there is no water in the soil for the trees to suck up, forests go dormant. Their stomata closes up to keep water losses to a minimum. This is when the trees are most susceptible to bark beetle attacks, as their main defense against them is tree sap that pushes the eggs back out through the holes made by the beetles. When there is no water to suck up, the eggs stay inside the bark and the larvae girdle the trees.

Those restoration practices were written to apply to western forests (although portions of them are applicable in many other forests).
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DCKit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-11-09 09:40 AM
Response to Reply #8
9. I understand what you're saying, but that's the little picture.
The Amazon has a dry season, and the daily rains during the dry season are the result of tens of thousands of square miles of trees transpiring water vapor into the atmosphere. That's the single reason the Amazon may quickly reach the tipping point between tropical rain forest and savannah - if not desert. When they no longer have that degree of transpiration, the dry season rains will fall less often and those trees, animals and other plants that rely on daily rains will die as the cycle further degrades. At that point, there's no possible intervention.

I would hope that I'm wrong, but also believe my theory will be proven one way or the other, within my lifetime.

In my personal example, there is little doubt that, without the trees and their leaves to catch and create that dew, the local climate would be much drier and our droughts more severe.
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