27 July 2010

The Forest for the Trees

The blog post below by Sharon Friedman, a scientist who deals with land management issues every day, is reposted from A New Century of Forest Planning.

Creekside Ruminations on Climate Change from Bark Beetle Country

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a field trip on part of the old Routt National Forest, when I had to take a climate change conference call. Since cell phone coverage was spotty, we targeted a good spot and I was dropped off for a couple of hours and sat at creekside while on the calls.

Looking at the dead trees on the hills, it became clearer to me some of the disconnects between climate change as talked about or written about in scientific journals, and as currently lived.

1. People are already dealing with climate change every day as part of their work.
People are felling hazard trees, doing WUI fuels treatments, looking for biomass opportunities, etc. Climate change is just another change agent that affects our work.

2. We may never know how much of what we observe is due to climate change (take bark beetles; 100% climate change? 75% climate change plus the age of trees 25% ?). But we still have to deal with the changes, regardless of their source. So it probably doesn’t make sense to have a separate pot of funds for climate change adaptation or resilience- otherwise we might spend out time in tedious disagreements about whose problem is more climate-induced.

3. We will be dealing with these issues collaboratively, locally (for the most part) using an all lands approach, and involving regulators and communities early and often.

We can’t or shouldn’t get to the point where the community and the FS is in one place, but the regulators have a different worldview.

4. Climate change will include opportunities as well as hazards and difficulties.

For example, at the Steamboat Ski Area, we visited a site where dead trees provided an opportunity for a children’s outdoor ski opportunity..

5. It could be argued that the complex structure of direction in the Forest Service does not make us as flexible and adaptive as we need to be. Changes due to climate change and other factors can occur more quickly, and in different spatial/temporal configurations, than the current structure can respond to.

For example, the ranger district or forest is the right scale for many decisions. But not for bark beetles. Should it be dealt with by the current three forests? An interior west scale group? What would be the governance of such a group?
We have the incident command model for fires.. but if something is large, but not a month by month kind of emergency, do we have an organizational structure to deal with it?

6. Safety of our employees and the public need to come first.
I don’t know at the end of the day how many climate change issues will have real safety hazards such as bark beetle and other sources of dead trees. The urgency requires new ways of working together in a timely way. Environmental groups, industry groups, local communities, regulators- we all need to be able to speed up from our bureaucratic and legal natural rate of speed to an emergency rate of speed.

7. If ecosystems are too complex to predict (“more complex than we think, more complex than we can think”), let’s use scenarios and not specific predictions, and pick “no-regrets” strategies. I wonder sometimes if we are overthinking and overanalyzing climate changes and I think we should consider the opportunity costs of what we could to to “protect reconnect and restore” in the Trout Unlimited strategy versus “assess, predict and model.” Note that while common sense and decision theory under uncertainty have always argued for “no regrets” strategies, now at least some water scientists agree.

I would ask us to think about that climate change may be a stressor to our organizational and social systems as well as the environment. It requires us to work together faster, and better than we have in the past. I often wonder if climate science funding were divided half to social scientists, what would the “best available science” look like?

I’d be curious about others’ ruminations on these topics…

15 comments:

  1. I mostly agree with the reproduced ruminations.

    Regarding another crucially important forest, I have recently posted a paper about "Facts and debates on the future of the Amazon forest" dealing with questions of deforestation, climate change impact, and adaptation. It is not yet published but is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1509603.

    It has been predicted that increasing deforestation and the impact of climate change would rapidly and dramatically reduce the extent of the Amazon forest area and density. Some authors have suggested the possibility of a catastrophic savannisation or 'die-back' of the forest in a relatively short time due to global warming and deforestation combined. This 'die-back' in turn would itself contribute to an acceleration of global warming.

    Even if this paper essentially follows the climate predictions of the latest (2007) report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as well as other available data and scientific results on the prospects of global and regional climate, its conclusions are far from catastrophic. It examines the evidence about deforestation trends and about the expected impact of climate change over the Amazon. It concludes that deforestation rates are much lower than previously thought and rapidly decreasing; that deforestation is largely concentrated along the basin's borders outside the vast rainforest core; and that, even in the absence of the observed declining trends in deforestation, catastrophic forecasts of rapid Amazon 'die-back' also lack scientific basis, especially when predicted to occur in a few decades or within this century.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "I would ask us to think about that climate change may be a stressor to our organizational and social systems as well as the environment. It requires us to work together faster, and better than we have in the past."

    For some reason, I'm reminded of this scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLlUgilKqms

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hector M.- your comment reminds me of the quote from Roger's post above on the PNAS article "Philip Martin, an expert in agricultural economics at UC Davis, said that he hadn't read the study but that making estimates based solely on climate change was virtually impossible.

    "It is just awfully hard to separate climate change from the many, many other factors that affect people's decisions whether to stay in agriculture or move, he said>".

    There seems to be a tendency to make projections about the future based on climate change without discussions by the people studying or living in that particular area, or that particular discipline (what other tree species are likely to grow if it becomes too hot for current trees? how long does it take an adult tree to die from a change in temperature? would there be enough genetic variation in the offspring that they could survive the new climate?).

    That's one of the reasons I think scientific papers would be better if they had an open comments section for others to respond.

    ReplyDelete
  4. From Creeekside Ruminations
    ===========
    I would ask us to think about that climate change may be a stressor to our organizational and social systems as well as the environment. It requires us to work together faster, and better than we have in the past
    ================

    Climate change as a greater stressor than the total war of World War 2? Consider the sight of London on fire and besieged by an enemy which intended to kill all of the males and retain the females as breeding stock. Now contrast that to the challenges of climate change with solutions touted to be cap and trade carbon prices.

    Consider also the 1918 flu with people healthy in the morning and dead in the afternoon. Examples must abound

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm sorry, Sharon, but you will NEVER find this problem on private forests. The facts point to a terrible mismanagement of our national forests. Due to lack of money, due to no timber sales, due to very uninformed environmentalists (including Teddy and Gifford!), who have some stupid idea that you can preserve a dynamic ecosystem. I do not ever expect some kind of acknowledgement of this basic truth, but I am compelled to state it, anyway. Environmentalists have turned out to be the scourge of the Planet. How ironic!

    ReplyDelete
  6. "I would ask us to think about that climate change may be a stressor to our organizational and social systems as well as the environment. It requires us to work together faster, and better than we have in the past. I often wonder if climate science funding were divided half to social scientists, what would the “best available science” look like?

    I’d be curious about others’ ruminations on these topics…"

    What in the hell does this jibberish mean?
    Climate is always changing. Is the author referring to global warming or "climate change?" This is basicly a very dishonest bunch of crap. Full stop.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "5. It could be argued that the complex structure of direction in the Forest Service does not make us as flexible and adaptive as we need to be. Changes due to climate change and other factors can occur more quickly, and in different spatial/temporal configurations, than the current structure can respond to.

    For example, the ranger district or forest is the right scale for many decisions. But not for bark beetles. Should it be dealt with by the current three forests? An interior west scale group? What would be the governance of such a group?
    We have the incident command model for fires.. but if something is large, but not a month by month kind of emergency, do we have an organizational structure to deal with it? "

    LOL, LOL, LOL, LOL. I worked for the Forest Service 50 years ago in the Black Hills, and it was even then the most lazy, ineffectual, wasteful, illogical bunch of government that I have ever witnessed. This post presents another PERFECT example of the absolute incompetemnce of a government agency. Yeah, they are not "flexible." Hell, they could not make a cision, unless THE ONE allowed it. If they really wanted to know what to do, the sterile "supervisors" in the Forest Service could simply call Weyerhaeuser for advice, after all!! (Last I knew there are no severe beetle attacks on the millions of acres of Weyerhauser or other private forest lands). Oh, but, no, we in the Forest Service have RATIONLAIZED that we will let the forests die according to our excuse of global warming, terrible mankind, etc. SICK GOVERNMENT IN ACTION !!! I say that the "environmentalists" and their friends in the Forest Service are way off base and are destroying our environment.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Jae- maybe we have talked about this before in this blog on a past post, but there is a difference between mountain pine beetle in lodgepole pine and in ponderosa. In ponderosa country thinning can keep trees healthy enough to keep beetles to a minimal level (for evidence to that effect, run Google Earth on the Black Hills). However, when lodgepole is at the right age and size, and the bugs are at a certain level, conditions like Granby or Dillon Colorado (also do Google Earth) will happen, regardless of ownership.

    That's why real world climate adaptation has to be based on local environmental and social conditions. It occurs at a scale far below the radar screen of PNAS or IPCC.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Roger,

    Please pardon the crudity.

    "These people don't know their ass from a hole in the ground."

    The argument seems to be as follows:

    1. We don't know squat.
    2. Something seems to be happening and humans may have something to do with it.
    3. The thing that is happening may be good or bad. We don't know.
    4. If it keeps happening, we don't have any idea how to stop it.
    5. Some people have dreamed up scenarios where bad things might happen.
    6. Since bad things are bad, and very bad things are very bad, we must try to stop this thing from happening (even though we don't know how and don't know if it is good or bad).
    7. Our ignorant efforts in this regard are the defining challenge for the survival of mankind on the planet (because after all, very bad things are very bad).

    Roger, these folks are desperately in need of some instruction in logic.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sharon F., in fact many predictions on the impact of climate change on agriculture and land use are based on the assumption that agriculture is a natural process, like the growth of wild vegetation. Agriculture is a joint Human/Nature process involving decisions by farmers (to clear land, to plant a specific crop and a specific cultivar of that crop, grown under certain farming techniques, at a particular location, etc.). In general, these activities tend to be optimized for the climate of a particular location, and thus if one imagines the climate at that location is different probably those crops and activities would not be convenient or feasible. Those analyses usually do not consider that farmers, if the local climate is different, would farm somewhere else, or would plant a different crop, nor they consider that in 100 years time the available cultivars and farming techniques would be different.
    This regards agriculture in general, a matter I have discussed in "Climate change, agriculture and food security in Latin America and the Caribbean", now on its way to publication as a book and available also at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1619395.
    Regarding forests one should consider human interventions such as establishment of protected areas, as well as economic pressures. In the case of the Amazon which I have looked at more closely, the prospect of widespread destruction is extremely unlikely: deforestation is very small and declining, and takes place only at the borders of the basin (not at the vast rainforest core). On the other hand the IPCC and most climate simulations foresee increased precipitation and fertility over the Amazon rainforest, putting away fears of 'savannisation' due to increased dryness.

    ReplyDelete
  11. We are dealing with climate change throughout our history.
    We do just fine.
    There is no reason to conclude that the cuurrent state of climate and climate change is going to be any more difficult to deal with than in the past.
    The obsession on climate and CO2 has been a huge waste of time and resources and will apparently only get worse until people gettheir fill of this fad.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hector M. I couldn't agree with you more. I look forward to reading your book.

    Stan- you seem to be confusing the people who are trying to adjust to a variety of changes including climate (us) with people who are arguing about mitigation policy. With all due respect, that's not what my post was about.

    Frontiers- there are a myriad of people, disciplines and institutions involved with "Doing as fine as we can" for today's and tomorrow's climate change. We seem to be mostly invisible in the larger climate science discourse.

    I was simply trying to describe what our world looks like from the front lines of dealing with change.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Sharon F. said...
    "Hector M. I couldn't agree with you more. I look forward to reading your book."

    Just download the preliminary version from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1619395. Though centered on agriculture and food security, it also contains a chapter on the Amazon, based on my paper on the Amazon forest (downloadable from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1509603).

    ReplyDelete
  14. Sharon F,
    I appreciate your view and your work.
    Your comment, as well as Hector M's makes me consider this:
    We are now in a climate-centric age. Everything is seen through the lens of climate. Climate is interpreted VERY broadly. So it is fair to say that nearly everything we do can be seen as an attempt to deal with climate. Your forestry experience underscores that. Hector M's comments do as well. Consider the changes that early agriculture did in the southern US, for example. Part of the change could be seen as climate driven, for example. The Middle East offers rich opportunities to consider the impacts of man on climate by way of vegetation/agriculture. The ancient irrigation systems of Iran and Afghanistan come to mind.
    At least you see that there are pluses and minuses in the climate equation. That is far more dimensional than, say, the gang at RC.

    ReplyDelete