Managing Forests

Climate Change Environment Ideas and Issues

            Marble Falls      There’s pretty much complete consensus that forests are fundamental in confronting climate change.  It’s equally true that they aren’t enough to make everything alright with the world again, but they do add up on the positive side of the ledger.  Besides that, it’s easy to love trees in general, for shade, for camping, and the list just gets longer since they are essential for animals, birds, and the rest of flora and fauna that make up our environment.

I’m not sure we can leave this to just the US and other nations’ park and forestry services.  I read a recently published book, Tree Thieves, about poaching and the conflict between people and communities that have depended on the timber industry and the impact on both when forests come under the “protection” of various agencies and too often become collateral damage while being forced into precarity.  Meanwhile corporations too often continue to be allowed to log and  create monocultural forests which might be better than nothing, but don’t do any of the jobs we care about for our families and future.  Who thinks of our friendly forest rangers as essential environmental police forces, but it turns out that that is how much of their work and responsibility has evolved.  That’s really kind of messed up on every level.

Having lived and spent a lot of time in the West, I know fire is important in the renewal of forests, but “control” and chaos seem to be part of that package as well.  Having seen two fires in recent years along the bayou where we have a camp, I’ve visited with Mississippi extension agents and forestry officials in Arkansas about what it takes to keep forests protected.  It’s an education.

In the pine and oak forests along the Gulf Coasts, they recommend controlled fires every ten years, so are pretty sanguine about fire, believing it clears away the understory and is good for animals without damaging either the big pines or oaks.  In terms of invasive species, they say if you can see through your forest to the marsh, you’re OK, and if not, get your loopers out and get after it, until you can.

They recommend burns as well in the Arkansas woods in the Ozarks, but it’s a bit more difficult if you’re doing them, because red cedar has gone wild and is hard to burn.  Some have to cut it back in order for the fire not to go out and to get the job done near the white oaks and other trees.  Mimosas can be a problem and an invasive tree from China with an unpronounceable name can take over any empty areas. Abandoned log piles are a problem. To protect structures from fire, a 100-foot border is best.  Fires aren’t as much as a problem now in the Ozarks as they used to be, I was told, but the reasons were less clear.  The drought some months ago had been one of the worst in years and had come close to the danger zone before it broke.  The forest service will come out, once your name comes up on the list, and build fire breaks around your property, which seems to be a euphemism for roads, but that was important to know as well.  If you don’t join and pay the minimal dues to the local fire district, and a fire gets on your property, these fellows warn they will charge you by the hour and the truck and it can add up in the thousands.

While talking to the Arkansas forestry guides, I also got some quick and valuable lectures about snakes, although that paled compared to the problems with ticks, which seem to be a threat in all seasons, worth precautions.  Black bears weren’t as numerous last year as usual, but they can be a nuisance.  There are regular reports of panthers, but few have seen them.  Deer are everywhere, and if you are of a mind, you can create feed plots to bring even more around.  The wasting disease that has plummeted the deer population in many areas of the country is not as bad in the Ozarks as it was.

Constant camping and the scouts taught me a lot about getting by in the woods, but actually managing forests and wood lots, whether for climate or general health of the environment and species from two-legged on down, adds a whole different dimension to the what we all need to know and appreciate.