East Meets West

When I sent my “Convinced, but not Concerned” post to Don Fowler—the British Columbia forester at its center–he wrote right back, kicking off a remarkable dialogue.

Says he’s heartened to get my response.  Glad to hear from others who are concerned.  Claims he’s not an eloquent writer…and then—POW—writes this:

I am not an entomologist, climate scientist or even a forester, just an average guy who has made his living and recreated a lifetime in BC forests.  I come at the climate change/MPB infestation from a different point of view than most.

In my “defense” I do hang with the bark beetle (bb) crowd and have known just about every good bb entomologist in the west.  All very caring folks with their hands tightly bound by the bureaucracy they work for.  Mostly I talk to landowners and teach Integrated Pest Management.  I travel extensively and speak often on the topic(s).

I was there at the start of the previous BC bark beetle infestation the 80s (the warning) and there for the start of the mother of all bb infestations in 1999.

By 2002 what had happened to BC was unbelievable–I still have trouble finding words for it.  Absurd amounts of beetles.

This is the biggest environmental event of my generation.

I am not a denier, but there is a LOT of spin in what is going on.  Truth matters.

"That old pine got blown over (possibly going back to another MPB event in the 30s?) and still it survived and prospered until the current beetle outbreak. It’s one tough species." (Photo: Don Fowler)

A few days later we talk on the phone—Don in Victoria BC, me in Connecticut.  I ask:  with the forest damage so visible, what do people say?  Comments surface.  “It’s not warmer, but it’s less cold.”  (a head-scratcher worthy of Yogi Berra)  And the grocery-aisle standard:  “Nothing we can do about it anyway.”

Don asks me:  How much do people out East know about what’s happening  here?  My very informal survey says:  not much.  David Letterman talked about it once on Late Night.

The disconnect between climate change and individuals…it must be someone else’s problem?  Right ?

The level of activism out West is astounding.  Don sends me links loaded with science and great photography.

http://www.fortheforest.org/ (Aspen CO)  http://www.treefight.org/ (Jackson WY)  http://mountain-pine-beetle.blogspot.com (British Columbia/Alberta)

I come across an article about an entomologist named Nancy Gillette with the U.S. Forest Service.  I ask Don if he knows her.  Sure he does.  “She is a very thorough researcher, one of the best we have.  She knows our management decisions have “enabled” the bark beetle’s populations to explode as much as climate change.”

The Canadian company Don works for, Contech (“Innovative green technology for gardens, pets and pests”), is intensely research-based.  He sends me a story about my assertion that the pheromone product they make merely sends the beetles into your neighbor’s trees.

There is no science to suggest that the beetles will forage in your neighbor’s yard after being repelled (confused) by Verbenone.  MPB have a finite amount of energy— the longer they “mill around” looking for a suitable host tree, they run out of energy and die or some other critter perhaps eats them. This phenomenon was witnessed by me in central BC, where stressed beetles emerged from stressed trees and attempted to fly across a lake.  They crashed into the lake and the wind blew them down to one end. There were 2-3 feet of beetles along the lake end, and it was a big lake!  An amazing thing to see.  Happy trout it made.

My intuition about Don Fowler turned out to be more correct than I imagined.  He does indeed know the stakes of climate change.  He’s also teaching me about the complex range of variables involved—land management, fire management, a shrinking U.S. Forest Service.

He holds out hope for efforts that combine the 3 Ps (private & public, local & state), and he’s pushing hard for a “carbon sequestration strategy”—planting trees in large numbers.  Living trees collect and store carbon.

My correspondence with Don continues, and I’ll have more in future posts.  But I’ll end   with the quote he uses to close his emails:

“To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel.” –Aldo Leopold

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About John Wackman

A writer since I learned to hold a pencil (no, not like that...hold it like this!). Writer/producer for television, now all media--plus a student in massage therapy. We're all re-inventing ourselves. It's a sci-fi world, isn't it?
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One Response to East Meets West

  1. scohen says:

    Federal land ownership and federal policies may account in part for West Coast activism and the ethos of stewardship.

    The bulk of federal public lands (over 90%) are located between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. http://www.nationalatlas.gov (Federal Lands and Indian Reservations link under Printable Maps) The percentages of federal land ownership in West Coast states are: Washington 30%/Oregon 53%/California 45% (compare East Coast States: Maine 1.1%, New York 0.8%)

    The Pacific Northwest has the largest reserves of tall trees in the world. And the 10 leading federally-owned carbon-storing forests in the US are located in the Pacific Northwest according to a Wilderness Society study. http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/07/towering_northwest_forests_sta.html (check out Michael Lefsky’s cool LIDAR map)

    Environmental groups and tree-sitters have been fighting to stop the logging of old growth forests and stands on the West Coast for decades to protect trees, wildlife habitats and water quality of streams and rivers. Carbon storage now adds a more crucial reason for preservation of old growth forests. http://www.theolympian.com/2010/08/30/1351756/nw-forests-offer-carbon-dilemma.html

    Thanks for calling attention to the role of forest management in climate change.

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