Saturday, April 5, 2014

Breaking News: Fire Ecology Updates, Bird digestion aids Seed germination & Ed Morgan deserves an Acquittal

First: Ed Morgan's Acquittal
Courtesy US Forest Service
For many of us growing up in the 1960s, we remember those US Forest Service public announcements about "Because Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires". But in 1968, a man named Ed Morgan was publicly exposed as a could care less city dweller who hated Nature, even though he was just coming back from a day at the lake with his 1950s cold war wholesome looking family. You remember his wife Maryland, son Casey and daughter Kelly-Sue ? Their lives would never be the same. Ed's crime was simply throwing a cigarette outside his driver's side window. The arresting authorities called it a weapon and Ed was accused as being a killer. Sure enough that decision on Ed's part caused the death of countless trees, shrubs and other wildlife. Ed Morgan's Constitutional Rights were however violated, since he had no formal court trail as demanded by Law. He was only tried and convicted in 1968 by the Press (Rod Serling). Here's a transcript of that trial below:

Forest fires were suppressed and considered evil back there in the 1960s. But times have changed and so have attitudes. Today fire is actually considered the ultimate hero and savior in regards to land management. Why today, many fire ecologists now know that Fire is not a destructive force at all as once believed, but rather a Creator of Parks. They insist they know this because of Scientific Research which reveals to them that Indians did this practice in the old West all the time and conditions were Park-like as a result. Why, it is said you could race your friends on horseback through the woods, something you can't do today. But it wasn't just the Native Americans that used fire, white settlers did so as well. In fact you can Google many many reports of Settlers, US Cavalry, the Railroad Industry etc who directly set or inadvertently caused fires by their actions. Take for example this account of the fire history written by Jim McKee, Historian for the Lincoln Journal Star:
Settlers fought fire with fire when calming prairie flames — 11/4/2007
"Most of territorial Nebraska was covered with grasses - from the tall and mixed grassy areas of the east to the short-grass plains west of the 100th meridian. In the late summer, the grass died, dried and turned to virtual tinder just waiting for an uncontrolled campfire, arson, lightning strike, or, with the coming of the railroad, embers from an unchecked smokestack to start a prairie fire."

 Prairie fires of the West, Currier & Ives, 1872
Yes, those Human caused Prairie Fires could last for months or until the first rains or a natural barrier put a halt to their destructive march across the landscape. Those big upside down cones on those Steam Locomotive chimney stacks were spark arrestors, which as you can see from the painting didn't always do their job very well. 
"Two fires in one consisted of a headfire, which ravaged instantly, ahead of a prairie fire, which was followed by a slower but more thorough backfire. The heat generated by the fire created an updraft that caught tumbleweeds or combustible debris, sucked them upward and blew them to start other fires. Once started, a prairie fire simply kept spreading until rain quenched it or it reached a natural wall such as a stream, although fires were even known to jump the Missouri River and burn for a month or more."
"An October 1871 prairie fire jumped the Blue River, and in 1893 a 25 mph fire burned thousands of square miles. 1910 saw several hundred acres of the Nebraska National Forest consumed, and in 1925 more than a million acres burned, burning nearly 50 percent of the Bessey Division of the forest. In 1972, a 385-square-mile fire narrowly missed the National Forest."
Incredible as all that burned acreage is, it's also interesting to note that the U.S. Government was already involved with purposed &/or accidental prescribed burns whether they meant to or not back in the 1800s. One account I read last year was of a Cavalry Officer in New Mexico who complained to his Superiors that he was having a tough time getting his troops to be responsible and not through down their cigarette butts along the trail where they kept lighting grass fires. In fact control burns were first used prior to this westward expansion during the Civil War against the Confederates. But also interesting, is that the first control burns in the wild wild west were used to control Indians, but not vegetation. That came later.
"In October 1864 the U.S. Cavalry purposely set a fire "to control Indians" and managed to start a blaze that ultimately spread westward into Colorado and Wyoming and as far south as Texas before it burned itself out."
Incidentally, Arizona Old West Historian, Marshall Trimble agrees with many of the catastrophic fire events which happened during this period which he says were into the millions of acres. Now given the historical evidence that Cowboys, Indians, Railroad Barons, and even the U.S. Cavalry were involved in purposed or not wildfires, especially with cigarettes carelessly thrown about which oddly enough according to the science, resulted in pristine paradisaic park-like Forests conditions back there in the 1800s, is it any wonder Ed Morgan deserves an acquittal for doing what we now understand was the right thing ? Of course this was back in the 1960s when attitudes weren't as enlightened as they are today, and since Ed being a smoker as a result of buying into the other science-based research of cigarette health at the time, Ed probably isn't around with us anymore. But his children may still may be among us. Wouldn't you agree that Casey & Kelly-Sue would have the legal right to sue the US Government for their Father's false arrest, false imprisonment and defamation of character in the Press ? 
Note of admission to Readers: Yes yes, okay, I know Ed Morgan and his family are nothing more than made up fictional characters of a myth for some official government advertisement promoting the Science Doctrine of the day, but so is much of the fire ecology research which is funded by powerful special agricultural interests when it comes to the Science of Prescribed Burning programs today. Such research  actually champions obliterating whole tracts of land under the guise of helping Nature in a less than viable eco-green sustainability policy - "Burn Baby Burn"
Update: Fire Ecology Breaking News
Previously back on December 19, 2012, I wrote an article on the subject of An Icon of the Old West, Sagebrush (Atermisia tridentata) . There was a study done in June 2003 correcting the myths about Big Silver Sagebrush which has been demonized by government land managers and Ranchers alike for almost a century. There were several Axioms or bullet points that were dealt with, but first, here is the abstract that all of them in the light of recent Ecology News which came out April 2, 2014. Here are a couple of quotes from that article about long held religious beliefs about Big Silver Sagebrush:

USDA: "Countering Misinformation Concerning Big Sagebrush"
"This paper examines the scientific merits of eight axioms of range or vegetative management pertaining to big sagebrush. These axioms are: (1) Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) does not naturally exceed 10 percent canopy cover and mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana) does not naturally exceed 20 percent canopy cover; (2) As big sagebrush canopy cover increases over 12 to15 percent, bare ground increases and perennial grass cover decreases; (3) Removing, controlling, or killing big sagebrush will results in a two or three or more fold increase in perennial grass production; (4) Nothing eats it; (5) Biodiversity increases with removing, controlling, thinning, or killing of big sagebrush; (6) Mountain big sagebrush evolved in an environment with a mean fire interval of 20 to 30 years; (7) Big sagebrush is an agent of allelopathy; and (8) Big sagebrush is a highly competitive, dominating, suppressive plant species"
I'll only deal with a couple of these Axioms (For the purpose of quick definition: "A self-evident principle or one that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument; a postulate") The first Axiom is a beauty and it has been bulldozed and smothered by new evidence as far as fire ecology goes. 
Axion #6
"Mountain big sagebrush evolved in an environment with a mean fire interval of 20 to 30 years (Winward 1984), or as expressed by Winward (1991, p.4): “These ecosystems, which have developed with an historical 10-40 year fire interval, were dependent on this periodic removal or thinning of sagebrush crowns to maintain their balanced understories.”
This is what was published in the US Geological Survey website on March 24, 2014. The title of the report is titled: "Post-Fire Stabilization Seedings Have Not Developed Into Sage-grouse Habitat"
"Burned areas, whether treated or not, generally lacked shrubs even after 20 years, and in low elevation areas especially, non-native plants like cheatgrass were often too prevalent for burned sites to be used as sage-grouse habitat. This is important because it means that for at least 20 years following wildfire, burned areas of the Great Basin are not likely to be used by sage-grouse, regardless of emergency stabilization treatment. With this kind of time lag, a substantial amount of sage-grouse habitat is lost each year to wildfire, while gaining relatively little through natural plant succession or emergency stabilization treatments."
""This is part of a growing body of science demonstrating how difficult it is to rehabilitate sagebrush landscapes once native vegetation is lost through wildfire," said USGS ecologist David Pilliod, who co-authored the publication. "Restoration in the Great Basin is a huge challenge for land managers not only because of difficulties associated with reducing non-native plants and establishing natives, but also because of the rate at which landscapes with sagebrush and other native vegetation are lost. These habitat losses can have negative consequences for sage-grouse and other wildlife that depend on sagebrush."

 Credit, Robert Arkle, June 2011
"A sea of non-native crested wheatgrass (left) fills the path of the Poison Creek fire, which burned on the remote Owyhee High Plateau, tucked into the southwest corner of Idaho, in 1996. Nearly two decades later, an abrupt transition to healthy sagebrush marks the edge of the fire. The Jarbidge Mountains sit on the horizon."  You can clearly see the demarcation line or barrier where for 20+ years the Big Sagebrush, which has NOT evolved a thing regarding fire as it is incapable of sprouting from the crown again, has not even by means of transmitted seed by wind or birds been able to make any headway back into it's former territory as insisted upon by earlier flawed biased research, no doubt funded by special agricultural interests.

Credit, Robert Arkle, June 2011
"An early summer storm passes over sagebrush country near Hollister, Idaho. The area has not burned within the 20 year time frame of the study. It features mature sagebrush, but also non-native cheatgrass, mustard, and crested wheatgrass, and barbed-wire fencing, which provides perches for predatory birds. Non-native plants and human infrastructure diminish the quality of the habitat for sage grouse."
(Source) Ecology Society of America: "Sage Grouse Losing Habitat To Fire As Endangered Species Decision Looms"
I want ever one to also take special not of the barb wire fencing and the Big Silver Sagebrush which has come back with a vengeance here. Now why is that ? Because this is a fence line and a favourite perch of almost any kind of bird which uses this as a weigh station for taking a short rest & pooping where it wishes along the fence. I pointed this out in my last post dealing with Western Juniper which is presently demonized in eastern Oregon as an invasive. But birds are spreading those hard heavy seeds about, not wind and it especially noted along fence lines which is proof of the various birds diet. I also pointed this out about the spread of Tecate & Arizona Cypress up in Ranchita California through the chaparral plant habitat up there where along the road, the chain link fence line has numerous young Arizona Cypress. These facts pull the chair out from under the fire ecology insistence that these plants need fire to propagate themselves into newer areas and that germination is impossible without it. For all you day hikers, explorers and other assorted researchers, start paying more attention to fence lines when you're out among chaparral plant species and write these incredible  observations down on note pads for future reference. 

Note Axiom #4
Nothing eats it, or as expressed by Tueller (1985, p. 29): “It is ironic that the dominant plant and highest producer on this area of 30,000 square miles is essentially unpalatable.”
In another report or study on the creatures which do depend on Big Silver Sagebrush as an import food source, this paper published by the US Forest Service by Bruce L. Welsh contradictions that unpalatable myth. 

Abstract: - "This paper challenges the notion that Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is a range plant of low value. Present data that documents the consumption of Big Sagebrush seeds by Dark Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), and white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), and shows the nutritive value of the consumed seeds to be high in energy, crude protein, and phosphorus."
USFS: "Add Three More to the List of Big Sagebrush Eaters"
Update: Bird Digestion Aids in Seed Germination
Image credit: Joshua Tewksbury

The short-billed Elaenia, here with a ripe chili pepper in its beak, is the most
common consumer of chilies at the study site in southeast Bolivia.
After birds eat a wild chili pepper, more seeds grow. 
"When a South American bird eats a certain wild chili pepper, its gut changes the seeds in ways that may improve the seeds' chances of growing into new pepper plants, a new study suggests."
Inside Science: "Bird Gut Boosts Wild Chili Seed Survival"
 Other reading references of import on the role of Birds:
What Is the Fate of a Silent Forest: "The Ecology of Bird Loss Project" 
The roles birds and other wildlife play in ecosystem maintenance and sustainability is often hidden and unknown to most of this world's Official Experts who should know better, let alone the average person on the street. It's clear however that some researchers get it and have done so for years, yet their paper work is often ignored and shelved for sometimes decades in favour of more colourful pseudo-science which plays better in the careers of those more interested in the Economic and political policy making aspects. The average person is often by nature a mere Lemming (who who doesn't do their own homework and opts for allowing others to do their educational research & thinking for them) and they have been trained and conditioned that way, especially through the 20th Century. Most of the natural world's health problems in every ecosystem have to do with mankind feeding themselves and the Industrial powers that run those profit feeding programs. That is what most of the above News was about. Prescribed burning is promoted as "because it helps nature be what it use to be" which is a lame lazy excuse for other ulterior motives for land management uses. Yet the average poor sap on Earth won't question it because it's inconvenient. The story in Oregon on the demonization of Western Juniper for it's supposed "invasiveness hurts the ecosystems" was nothing more than a smokescreen for powerful the Beef industry which needs more grasslands for cattle, which in reality are the true non-native invasive organisms on the landscape. Try and reason all of this to the average person on the street where their food comes from, the ecological cost, even the health consequences of our Food's manufacture and they slip back in to their lazy comfortable Thurston Howell III default answer, "Oh how vulgar!" Like the Howells, nobody wants to hear it. If you've ever watched that old comedy show from the 1960s, Mr & Mrs Howell would often say this after it was explained to them by the Professor where food really comes from down on the Farm, when they had previously stated they always thought it came from a can at the Grocery Store. It's the same with Meat production and availability. People don't care what the environmental consequences are, they just want to find their steak behind the glass counter when they get the craving for it. People are seriously going to have to start cutting back. Chalmers University here in Gothenburg Sweden came out with a study just on the very thing. (Read it Here) Same can be said for Vegetable & Fruit produce available from all over the world. We have things available all year long produce-wise which we use to have to wait for next season. That too cuts into the Earth's ecological health program. The costs for transport of these products across oceans it's worth that cost, especially since often times it has no real flavour about it whatsoever.

I have to admit that I was very serious when I said to those outdoor enthusiast who do love nature and love seeing & photographing all those pretty things, to do more than simply enjoy what is on the surface when you are out there hiking around. That's a great start but there is far more. Make your outing an educational one. Challenge yourself in what you think you know. I'm talking about those fence row lines. You've all seen the birds flying in and rest on the Barbed Wire or Chain link Fence. But you never give a thought as to why trees and shrubs seem to link growing next to fences, even when it's out in the middle of a field. 
United Kingdom
Think real hard about how that seedling got established way out in a field, especially when the seed is a heavy one, unlike the cottony fuzz as that of willow or cottonwood which can carry for miles, or with wings of a maple or pine seed to propel it far away from the Mother tree. Ever stumble upon barb wire fence where a tree whose trunk is growing into the the wire and wonder, why didn't they clear the land better before building that fence line ? They probably did, but critters with wings came along and pooped sometime way back and up popped a tree growing into the fence years later. Fence lines tell great stories of what birds like to eat. Not all birds are the glamorous looking ones that get noticed, but what they accomplish in a healthy ecosystem does get noticed, although you're totally oblivious to the reasons for it. So when some ecologist comes along and tells the world that some obscure piece of land is important habitat for some minor sounding bird you never heard of before, think about it. You won't be able to unless you have first put forth the effort to develop appreciation for such things in the first place. Once again, here is my post about the spread of Cypress out in Ranchita where fire isn't a requirement as the literature insists. 
What We Need Here is Wildfire to Propagate !!!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pretzel Logic & the "Denial of the science is malpractice" Mandate

Define science ?, What science ?, Who's science ? 
Have some Sciences become an ideologically inspired political & Financial agenda driven Religion ?  


"Every Dark Cloud has a Silver Iodide Lining"
Yesterday in a Reuters article on the United Nations report on Global Warming, it spoke of the dire irreversible consequences of doing nothing if mankind doesn't change things now. This subject of climate change actually isn't exactly the subject of my post here for the moment, but there was an interesting quote by a well known political figure in that post that illustrates a dilemma when any subject regarding Science attempts to appeal to authority. 
"Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. "Denial of the science is malpractice."
But the problem with most subjects on science is that everyone has a different take on exactly what that science actually is. Sadly, it's  usually based on one's personal bias, preference or what ever social group the individual may be affiliated with. The problem is that science can be used for good or bad, despite what many of the religious type of ideologues say about Science being the ever wonderful self-correcting force. And we all know this to be true. The expression, "Denial of the science is malpractice.", is interesting because two viciously opposed sides on this subject claim to have the science on their side. Often times we can observe Hiram's Law being utilized in any debate or discussion on any topic. It goes like this: "If you consult enough experts you can confirm any opinion". While I, like many other folks, do believe that there are many things (anthropological) that are presently screwing up Earth's overall climate driving mechanisms with numerous Scientists backing this up, most people who do believe in climate change will themselves often forget that half of the world's scientists are bought and paid for by many of the globe's largest and most powerful corporations who bare a direct responsibility & influence on the degradation of our Earth's weather mechanisms. So let's be totally frank and honest here, not all Scientists are on the same page on this. That brings me to my main subject here. There are other areas of industrial science using what they label as science for the purpose of economic benefit, even if sacrificing Nature is the necessary evil that accomplishes this goal.

On any scientific subject, especially when there are vested financial concerns involved, there is often a reliance on authority to the exclusion of real world logic and evidence. A motivated person can actually go phishing around the internet to find Scientists and their research studies which may agree with their own opinion, irrespective of what that idea or belief is. For example when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s, it was often heard in commercials trying to sell consumers on an over the counter medical product from a Pharmacy, "Four out of five Doctors agree . .  on whatever" To this day, nothing has changed with advertising. In recent years there has also been controversy over numerous areas of land management with all sides claiming victory because they have the science behind them. Ever heard the chant, "Just follow the Science", and of course everyone claims to have it. But now if you're completely honest with yourself, how has that really been working out for us ? Especially has this been the case in forest management whether with whether or not to use prescribed burns, whether we should allow more timber harvesting to make things like a Park or implement ways to increase the hydrological success of our streams and rivers by cutting down trees, since some recent Experts truly believe trees and forests are greedy water gulpers. And not just any trees like the usual invasives, but native trees. When looking for the truth of such stunning claims that throws up internal red flags, another expression comes to mind, "Follow the Money". If you suspect there are ulterior motives below the surface of any research paper, you need to consider the subject and it's end goal. You also need to consider who stand to gain and profit off the deal. It would also behoove you to track down the ones funding the actual specific research. That alone can go along way in exposing the bias behind the research work which exposes the outrageous claims for what they truly are.

Last week we were treated to yet another article dealing with certain specific types of  native California tree species were described as water greedy using adjective like gulping down water. Even the very descriptive adjectives (words/terms) used in that article were carefully selected for the purpose of justifying a scientific theory which the author has great hopes of becoming a land management Mandate one day. To be successful of course, it is necessary to manipulate the thinking of the reading Public on just how they should view certain specific trees up there in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Let's face it, some plants are nothing more than vicious animals or Monsters. Now if you can succeed in creating a  negative viewpoint which never before existed in the minds of the ignorant, this is the first step in accomplishing public support. But this biased view of certain specific target Trees can be found throughout the entire western United States, not just California. It's truly unfair and even if there is any unbalanced circumstance within  the landscape, it could hardly be the fault of the trees. Like all plants in Nature, trees don't think or reason, devise, plan or scheme, they simply react to environmental cues which are nothing more than changes in the environment and the response or internal reaction of their genetic mechanisms to adapt to that change. This is similar to  the way certain insect pests can become an out balanced plague of sorts to the Farmer, Landscaper, or Gardener as a result of ignorance and/or terrible mismanagement of the landscape on the part of humans. These critters then become demonized for their abnormal growth in number which disrupts some human scheme or other money making venture. First gut reaction is almost always, "How do we kill them ? Killing them is the only solution." Suddenly the call goes out for action now. But nobody seems to slow down, take a step back and allow peripheral vision to help get a responsible grip on the situation to find out what actually caused the disruption in the first place. For example, the lay public has been educated and conditioned by big business interests into utilizing what are touted as science-based innovations like chemical poisons to strike an immediate death blow which provides instant self-gratification with very little effort or energy expended. 

image: C.J. Earle, June 28, 2008
This is exactly the case being made here against native trees all over the west, with some being specifically targeted more than others. Who would have ever thought way back when, that at some time in the future, trees or shrubs native to their own historical territories & habitats would be treated like some invasive alien species brought over from another part of the world only to get loose and wreak havoc on the environment ? I have written previously about the ongoing war with Eastern Red Cedar which is not a cedar at all, but actually a Juniper. However, it has been unfairly demonized as an invasive in it's home territory for several years now because it encroaches into precious grassland which are used for the Cattle industry. Much of this has not only been the result of climate change, but also the lousy over-grazing practices of Ranchers which have created a more favourable condition for it's spread. This is similar to another demonized tree by Ranchers called Mesquite, whose spread is because of the cattle themselves. Recently, the subject came up about the Western Juniper (Juniperous occidentalis) which is said to be invading larger portions of eastern Oregon where it is native anyway. Many will recognize the beautiful miniature sequoia look of the tree in the above photo. In Southern California, I have only seen them on the north and eastern sides of the San Bernardino Mountains around Big Bear. Hard to believe such a handsome majestic tree would be so demonized. Like the articles about water gulping trees of the central Sierra Nevada Mountains recently, these trees up there in Eastern Oregon are also being blamed for less water in streams, drying up Springs and preventing forage bunch grasses from growing. While they do give token blame to drought and climate change, they still insist that the Western Juniper is the main culprit for rangeland woes. But that's a lie and for a number of reasons. 

First off there are a number of admirable mechanical qualities about most any Juniper that make them so successful in harsh conditions where nothing else will succeed. They are also extremely deep rooted, in some cases almost mesquite-like in taproot design structure. Now just a couple of days ago someone posted a link to the Juniper eradication program going on in eastern Oregon which they take personal part in. Now I'm not poking fun or making light about what he does for a living. After all he works for the Oregon State government and part of the job there is to ensure viable healthy wildland ecosystems for recreation and agriculture. We all get that. But was all the info on his website link really true about the Western Juniper ? Take a look at the photo of a Western Juniper from his site that I have posted here above left. Notice this incredible root design underground which has been exposed by erosion. Now most people who support this Juniper eradication study would use such a photo to justify the reasons water levels are so low because of the mechanical apparatus used by the Juniper for survival success. But does this tree really suck so much water that it is responsible for everything else in the ecosystem losing out ? While those folks may find the scene disturbing and justifying eradication programs, I find it beautiful from an Earth's Internet (Networking) point of view, hence the name. Anytime anyone suggest things going wrong is nature's fault, I run the other way. I know better than that. First thing that came to my mind was Hydraulic Redistribution (this term now covers both "lift", "decent" & "redistribution" in one phrase) of water. I have written several posts here on this blogsite about this incredible but rarely spoken about phenomena which exists in all ecosystems. I have looked up numerous tree and shrub subjects, but never before the Juniper. Here's what I found in the Oxford Journals of all places and the subject was the Utah Juniper, but it referenced the same phenomena in all other Junipers of the west. Article was from 2002, so it is not like this is something relatively new which kept researchers out of the loop and it was titled: "Carbon acquisition and water use in a northern Utah Juniperus osteosperma (Utah juniper) population" There is a section in this report which references quite a bit about the hydrological effects of Juniper woodland on the landscape which were fascinating. The subheading is titled & I'll follow up with a couple selected paragraphs:
Water uptake and hydraulic redistribution
"Hydraulic redistribution is an important component of soil water dynamics and plant water relations. It is thought that upward movement of water from deep soils can increase daily transpiration, promote nutrient uptake from upper, drier soils and maintain fine roots by keeping them hydrated. Redistribution downward as we observed, can enhance transpiration by moving water away from the surface where it is subject to evaporation and plays a significant role in soil water dynamics related to spring recharge."
Without quoting anymore in the interest of time and my short reader attention spans, it was noted that in this study area, most rainwater never percolated below three feet from the surface, but deeper layers of water were strictly facilitated by the deep rooting structure of the Juniper which was even observed as being responsible for spring water recharging within the ecosystem, which is the main bone of contention by the Juniper eradication people in California & Oregon who label the trees water gulping and stream flow restricting. Also mentioned were Western Juniper, Rocky Mountain, and Alligator Junipers as having identical characteristics and effects on the ecosystems.

Photo: National Park Service
Now let's be completely honest, as aggressive as they insist this Juniper is, it is going through mass die offs in other regions of the southwestern USA. So it's really not the demon dog from hell after all. And as always, the regional geographic, climate and soil geological structure play out differently from place to place, but many of the main points characteristics of the Juniper's nature and it's role in the ecosystem remains the same. Interestingly, Juniper succeeds in almost all types of soil profiles. So there are no doubt,  areas with different geological soil structure where temporary tree removal probably does enhance stream flow in the short term, but they also found water sediment erosion and water runoff were negative as almost everything was absorbed into the soil profile. They also discovered the Juniper tree ecosystem builds up a better  soil profile for water percolation. The Western Juniper Management Field Guide from the Oregon State & Oregon government showed before and after pics of Juniper woodlands. Here, take a look and you decide. While the emphasis was about land and water improvement in grasslands for wildlife, there were other behind the scenes motives for this research and eradication program. Grasslands were the main objective for the grazing interests.
Click the link above and notice scrolling half way down they reveal a rather pristine looking forested environment which is not tree density or crowding at all or even compacted with dense under growth of any kind. In fact it looks much like that typical official Mandated "Palms to Pines" park-like condition most Forestry managers preach about through their public relations. Yet this this beautiful mountainside  was cut down almost completely and the following photos show gradual change to low sage scrub and bunch grasses over a period of years and the new plant growth wasn't overly dense with those plants either. You decide. Other links show increases in water flow, but not necessarily into streams, but rather watering troughs. Other links: 
Main Home page for the Juniper-Pinon Program:
Here is the real reason for the studies and also where the funding comes from. As mentioned on one page from Oregon State University's own website dealing with the possible bad side effects of miscarriages and abortions or early than normal births by pregnant cattle eating Juniper and/or pine seedlings. Now they admit that these cattle do not seek these trees out for food. In fact they do not even mention the recent studies from Idaho and Montana which show the presence of wolf populations influencing this phenomena of herding behavior as they did with Elk in Yellowstone. As we know, they do have some wolves in Oregon, but there is one paragraph in that piece that informs us of where the funding comes from for the program which explains everything.
"OSU's juniper research has been supported through a number of grants from the Oregon Beef Council and published in a handful of academic journals, including Rangelands and the International Journal of Poisonous Plant Research."
There have been other studies also funded by special interests with the Ranching Industry which are highlighting some of the major environmental changes and shifts they are now experiencing in other areas of the west. What they won't recognize is the historical role they have played in the landscape's degradation. The Great Basin Ecology Laboratory with the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Reno Nevada did some studies on the Shoshone Mountains regarding the invasive tendency of the Pinon-Juniper woodlands (Pinyon also being demonized by association only) as it has encroached on formerly bare landscape. Take a look at the before & after photos.

Photo: Robin Tausch
The above photo is of the Shoshone Mountains which looks sparsely vegetated in 1973. Notice the riparian habitat though at the foot of that mountain ? It's hard to imagine good grazing for domestic livestock on that steep mountain face. Joel Salatin said his rule is, "If you can't drive a tractor on it, don't graze it". I agree, there are certain areas that should be untouched by ranching or housing development and left for wild land sanctuary. But were these changes within this ecosystem all that bad ?
Photo: Robin Tausch
The Shoshone Mountains cloaked in Pinon-Juniper woodland in 2007. This scene below looks to be vastly improved with mostly the mountain showing fuller tree  cover. Even the riparian area below at the foot of the mountain looks much more healthy and improved, of course that is not the take given by these experts. To be honest, I find the bottom photo to be a much richer and greener improvement, even though the ranching business interests may not feel the same way. It's amazing for all the deforestation going on globally, when nature does create newer forested situations, nobody in the science world seems interested in actually studying the mechanisms involved which make it a success in the first place. Sounds more like these Researchers here have what I call "Ascension Island" Syndrome. Here is a quick link from the Dept of Ag website on the above Juniper project which is more about satisfying the Beef Lobby than preserving and caring about what's healthy for the natural world.
 USDA: "Turning Trees Into Fuels" 

image: UC Davis
There is one study however that has created controversy for the Eradicate the Invasive Juniper Interests. In 2012 the University of California at Davis published a peer-reviewed research article on a study dealing with Juniper removal in the Klamath River Basin and how water yields made no improvement by the program. The author was Timothy Kuhn and it was published in the online journal "California Agriculture". I use to subscribe to this journal back in the late 1970s thru 1980s. I didn't even realize it was still around. Anyway it contradicts the speculation  bias of the Oregon Research Group and Ranching & Water Hydrology interests up there who were livid by it's release. (read here: Klamath Bucket Brigade) . The photo above shows the review and analysis found that even the complete removal of juniper is not likely to significantly increase water yields in the California portion of the Klamath River Basin. The picture above is the Big Juniper drainage, between Alturas and Likely California. It also contradicts the hopes and dreams of other UC Research individuals like Roger Bates and Helen Poulos who believe tree removal will provide Californians with more water in their precious reservoirs. You may read the entire report here in the online journal of California Agriculture.
Juniper removal may not increase overall Klamath River Basin water yields
One other important link which relates to the geology of the eastern Oregon region. In the photo of the Juniper Management Field Guide near the top of this post, notice the eroded gully with Juniper roots exposed. Appears to be a sandy based soil structure. Now this next article below came out a couple days ago about the bad practice of deforestation, but especially on sandy soil sites and it's eventual consequences. I appreciate most won't even click on the link, but here it is for reference anyway.
Yale News: "Deforestation of sandy soils a greater threat to climate change" 
 Also, here is a climate change report on the detrimental effects with this ongoing obsession of consumers demanding a regular diet of Beef & Dairy Products. Okay I like beef as much as anybody else and who doesn't love a good summer bar-b-que ? Again I appreciate most won't click and read the link, but such growing demand by consumers requires that more and more countryside be deforestation to satisfy this need for more meat in their diet. This story comes from right here in Gothenburg Sweden at Chalmers University.
Chalmers University: "Meeting climate targets may require reducing meat and dairy consumption" 
The illusion of Pretzel Logic
Image: Peak Oil News
Momentarily reverting back to my Climate Change subject for illustration purposes only, the same arguments used against climate change by those with a vested financial interest in doing so, are also used to justify demonizing anything in Nature that may disrupt any other type of human economic endeavour. Oddly enough, there are a number of default pretzel logic excuses used by big business & government concerns to justify to critics and/or the public that the present environmental mess isn't as bad as some experts want to speculate. #1, there is the "we will absolutely not run out of current resources" argument, #2, then there is the, "there are plenty of alternatives to use when we run out"  argument, #3, then we have the "we don't really need all that energy to maintain our present lifestyle anyway" argument, and then finally in an extreme twisted form of pretzel logic (pay close attention, this is where religion sneaks in), #4, "we now live the age of enlightenment where Scientists with all their genius will be able find newer resources and create amazing new technological innovations which will not only continue the lifestyle we are accustomed, but even improve upon it." argument.
Okay, so let's see how easy it is to use Pretzel Logic to succeed in getting one's way financially. Let's say I actually buy into the storytelling myth about the evil water gulping grassland inhibiting nature thingy-gingy of the lowly Western Juniper. I think would take a different approach in eradicating this unwanted *cough-cough* invasive pest. The goal would be to nip this pest problem in the bud by preventing seedling emergence at the beginning. I could rationalize that cutting and burn won't be a final solution as they always seem to spring back with a vengeance. After all, that is what all invasive pests do, right ? But oddly enough, as rapid as this tree spreads, one has to wonder how & why it succeeds as it does. Especially is this curious for anyone who has worked in the Nursery business knows just how tough that Juniper seed really is. It can last for years and years as it has a tough seed coat which is impermeable to water penetration which explains it's longevity. The propagation in the old days was almost impossible. In the 1970s, seed germination of Juniper and other tough native plants like Cypress was one of my major interests in school, especially with local native plants said to be almost impossible to propagate under artificial nursery conditions. So that means something out in nature facilitates this purpose in a more rapid efficient manner, but what ? Take a look at a government site which explains the reasons:
"Birds are considered to be important dispersal agents for juniper. The fruit surrounding the seed is thought to contain a germination inhibitor; when the fruit is broken down during the acid digestion in the bird’s gut, the chances of the defecated seed germinating is thought to increase (Meyer & Witmer, 1998). This is consistent with the results from this investigation and with the circumstantial evidence suggesting that more seedlings germinate close to bird perches and fence lines than in areas where berries have just fallen from bushes." 
(source: UK Forestry) 
Couple of fascinating and interesting points here. First birds have rapid digestion and one of the strongest stomach acids for breaking through almost anything. Some birds even more than others, like Vultures. But by all means please read the entire link above. Keep in mind that although they are talking about Junipers in Europe, the same basic fundamentals and principles nevertheless applies to all Junipers. Also take very special note of the reference to seedlings found along fence lines. Sure enough this is even true of Arizona & Tecate Cypress which are said to germinate ONLY after a fire blows through an area. Are we taking note here fire ecologists ? I photographed this phenomena regarding Cypress over at my brothers place in Ranchita last Spring 2013. You outdoor Hikers need to pay close attention to such clues and forget what the literature says. I'm serious! Birds like perches for which fences offer and they poop just about anywhere, fences lines no exception. Also in the link above, please take note of the major discussion of artificial means used for Juniper seed germination mentioned in that UK Forestry site. At school, we also used Caustic Sodas (Sodium hydroxide), Sulfuric acids, scarification by sand paper, etc to break through that hard shell seed barrier which prevents water from penetrating and of course as always there is that important necessary cold stratification. Still, out in nature, it's the birds that do the planting, hence Pretzel Logic would suggest killing lots of birds or at least drastically lowering their numbers so that they wouldn't defecate all over the countryside spreading those wicked Juniper seeds would be the clear on the surface answer to the problem. Volunteers could be found everywhere to help out in bird elimination, since hunting and killing things especially for contest prize money seems to be the sporting flavour of choice in our modern times. Heck, I'll bet you could find some Human animals who would probably do it for free. But seriously, take a look at the benefits to wildlife that the Western Juniper and other Juniper provides within any ecosystem. Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Catbirds, etc crave such foods & find vitally important shelter provided by Junipers, especially during wintertime.

Okay, of course I'm joking here, but sometimes this is exactly how some of the reasoning works in Pretzel Logic motivated by the usual  religious prioris and other economic presuppositions. For me personally, when I research and write about the natural world and subjects that are of interest to me, I do so out of a passion for the natural world and how it works. I'm also jealously against anything or anyone who would harm or ruin it. I try to view things in their entire context, minus the tunnel vision. I'm deeply interested in what can be learned and used in the form of practical application in the real world. Indeed, for me, without the practical application, the information is worthless to me and nothing more than some lifeless encyclopedia sitting on a lonely library shelf that no one visits anymore. I'm not paid by anyone, nor do I have any political agendas of backers to satisfy. So I am not motivated by the same things that shackle most researchers in our modern world. The bottom line here is that science is whatever any self-interest wants that science to be. Whatever money is behind the science dictates what that science is going to be. Whatever political or economic interest there is behind the scenes is going to motivate the public policy put into Law. 

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie— deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." – John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–1963)
Other References of Reading Interest:
From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service: 
How an increase or reduction in juniper cover alters rangeland hydrology
This next link below isn't about Junipers, but rather Hydraulic Redistribution phenomena within a sagebrush steppe remote area of mature sageland near Utah’s Bear Lake in 2006 and 2007 where Silver Sagebrush was studied for it's amazing ability of hydraulic redistribution.
Why the Sagebrush Grows: USU Scientists Explore Arid Plant Survival
Some relevant quotes which apply to habitat restoration and other ecosystem planning processes.
"Greater understanding of hydraulic lift could aid scientists and growers in finding ways to protect crops from the effects of prolonged drought."
“We can learn a lot from native perennial plants that could be applied to agriculture,” Stark says. “This is increasingly important as climate change affects precipitation patterns and drought becomes more common.” 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Parasites, Ecology & the Goldilocks Principle

Would you have ever in your life considered parasites as “tiny, hidden architects” of biodiversity that run a service business for a sustainable global ecology ? The biggest problem for the Earth's natural world is that ever since human beings arrived on the earthly scene, as caretakers of the natural world, they've mucked things up so horribly by introducing parasites where they can & will cause not only the most harm to other living organisms within any and all ecosystems, but where they will cause pain and suffering to other human beings. Let's be totally honest here, as environmental stewards Humans stink at it. There are a number of fascinating studies which have been published recently over the past couple of years which shed light on the positive as opposed to the usual negative aspects of various parasites and their healthy function in the natural world when that world is in a stable balance. I'll simply list a few and you can follow the articles. A parasitologist name Tommy Leung, suggests that parasites don’t just rob and steal; they usually do good as functional players in an ecosystem.
“Parasites are thought of as free-loaders, but many contribute as much as they take,” “They service the ecosystem. From an ecological perspective, they are more like tiny, hidden architects that are overlooked by most people.”  - “Some parasites do have a negative impact on an ecosystem, especially when they are introduced to a new and unfamiliar environment.” (source)  
Credit: haquintero

The parasite a cricket’s nightmares are made of
"But the very act of forcing crickets to their watery grave actually functions as a kind of fast food delivery service for the fish living in those streams. Cricket do not normally jump into streams and a drowning cricket is usually a rare treat for any fish. But thanks to the hairworm, these fish get to feast regularly on these large insects and it has been calculated that this straight-to-your-stream food delivery service accounts for more than half of the trout population’s energy intake in some watersheds."
Watch this creepy but very kool video below here of what happens when the cricket is forced by it's parasitic hitchhiker to jump into water and drown itself.

Credit: Tommy Leung

(source) When microbes cause ants to become zombies
"Usually the enemy of an enemy is a friend, but that is of no consequence for a zombified ant. To these fungi the ant is but a stage upon which they play out their lives and conflicts, as they have been doing for millions of years."
Can you imagine the possibilities in dealing a blow to the out of control Argentine Ant Super Colony over-population of California and other areas of the west ? BTW, Mycologist Paul Stamets has brought this up before.
Photo: Andrew DunnEuropean Mistletoe (Viscum album) attached to a
silver birch (
Betula pendula)
"Plant parasites can also affect ecosystem processes. While most people associate mistletoe with Christmas, it is actually a parasitic plant that has special root-like structures called haustoria that burrow into the host tree to suck out water and other nutrients. But for all that it draws from the host, this parasite returns it to the ecosystem in the form of enriched leaf litter."
"A study published in the Proceeding of the Royal Society B shows that when mistletoes are removed from a forest, more than a quarter of the birds species also disappear. The enriched leaf litter allows the forest to support a richer community of insects, which in turn bring in more birds." 
I previously wrote about Mistletoe on January 3, 2013, but so did many other people. It was the same link above, but it was worth bringing up the subject again as a great reminder.
Mistletoe: Former Demonized Plant Turns Out to be a Great Helper 


New Zealand Cockle (Austrovenus stutchburyi)

Credit: Tommy Leung
There was a story of a parasitic fluke that infects shellfish helps deposit them on seashores where birds can eat them, and barnacles and limpets and live in the shells – increasing the biodiversity of a shore that would normally have only sand. To the right here in the photo image you can see the Cysts of Curtuteria australis (tagged with fluorescent dye) in the foot of a New Zealand cockle. As more and more parasites accumulate, the presence of those cysts causes the cockle’s foot muscle to degenerate. With a mangled foot, the clam loses its ability to dig and is left stranded on the surface of the mudflat, exposed to hungry shorebirds – just what the parasite Curtuteria australis wanted. The nature of the seashore changes from one covered mostly with mud and sand, to one paved with hard shells. This actually increases the overall level of biodiversity in the area since the shells of the stranded clams provide habitats for other animals like limpets and barncles.
Parasitism as a determinant of community structure on intertidal flats

Credit: Alvesgaspar/Wikipedia

Grassopper of Acrididae family: Anacridium aegyptium
"Scientists have known for some time that P. locustae infections in individual locusts leads to less swarming in locusts around them. What was not known was how it happened."
"The researchers are still puzzled as to why P. locustae would "want" to cause less swarming, as doing so would seem to lead to more difficulty in spreading from one of the insects to another." (No Kidding, why ????)
Team uncovers how microsporidian parasites prevent locust swarm behavior
Credit: Vittorio Baglione

A carrion Crow brood parasitized by a great spotted Cuckoo
"Most everyone knows that cuckoo birds are the ultimate free-loaders. Mothers lay their eggs in the nests of birds of different species, leaving them to raise their young for them. What many may not realize however, is that different kinds of cuckoo birds behave differently when they hatch. Some famously push all the other eggs out of the nest, leaving themselves as the sole survivor and beneficiary. Other's however, don't do that, instead, they leave the other chicks alone and share in food the mother brings, acting as an adopted sibling, of sorts. At first glance it would appear that the host birds gain no benefit from this arrangement, but upon closer inspection, that assumption has been proved wrong."
"The researchers in Spain were studying the relationship between cuckoos and host carrion crows. In so doing, they were surprised to find that survival rates for crow chicks in nests shared by a cuckoo, were actually higher than for cuckoo-less nests. Looking even closer they discovered that the cuckoos had a survival mechanism that crows did not—they gave off a stink when threatened that caused predators such as feral cats to stay away. The stink, the researchers found, was caused by a chemical mix of repulsive compounds that included indoles, acids, sulfur and phenols. Taken together it proved too much for cats and birds of prey which typically find chicks in a nest easy pickings when the mother is away gathering food."
Study shows some cuckoo birds may actually help their hosts 
The major sad thing here is that in most of the television documentaries (where the majority of people get their science education) which reference the Cuckoo or Cow Bird as a parasite that robs and steals from others, we almost never see this side of the story. 
Wasp parasitizing Gypsy Moth
So once again, how does it go ? Parasitism is bad. Parasitism is evil. Parasites wage war against innocent hosts. This is normal human  mindset. But what if parasites can actually do good ? If they are only suppose to be doing harm to the host, why do some biologists find that there are “positive benefits” which seem to be maintaining their hosts ? Ignorance has caused us to create an imbalance in nature by means of our horrible science-based agricultural practices which destroys both beneficial parasitic insects along with the bad. Our mind's naturally have a tendency to classify what we consider bizarre phenomena out in nature into moral categories: good kitty, bad doggie, so forth & so on. We do that with parasites all the time because we know how often some of them annoy, harm or kill us. I certainly don't want to suggest from these above articles that there is anything good about Mosquitos, Ticks, Fleas, Leeches, Roundworms or Malaria. But who knows how even these things behave when in a balanced system ? The majority of us have no clue as to what such a system would be like. I have found over the years that many things considered by humans to be plagues, cause famines and/or Pestilences are most often times the results of human ignorance, environmental sloppiness, lack of hygiene, etc. 

"Survival of the Fittest"
What’s instructive about many of these stories is that many of these research teams start with an assumption that parasites are bad. They are at war with the host, using the host’s resources for their own good. The evidence gathered above suggests the opposite; they might really be beneficial after all. Another organism we often demonize & insert into the “bad” category are Viruses. After all,  they do invade a host cell, hijack and use its replication machinery to make copies of themselves. Why, then, do only a small fraction of viruses cause disease ? What are the others out there doing ? Interestingly, many of them kill bacteria; that could be a good thing, couldn't it ?  Maybe we should take a fresh look at what we consider the creepy icky things of our natural World. In biology there are many pushes and pulls. But these pushes and pulls are not necessarily good or bad; they are simply opposite forces that maintain any ecosystem's homeostasis. Maybe by learning how nature really operates in a complete context, we can come to some conclusions of how to better deal with what has come to be termed invasive. These so-called invasive plants, insects, animals, birds, fish, etc are only a problem of ecosystem imbalance which resulted from some historical stupid decision made by humans which  created the problem in the first place. Nature had zero to do with it. Such findings by these researchers, do lend themselves to new ways of thinking about our natural world's parasites as designed mechanisms originally intended for health of the entire global ecosystem, a few of which have subsequently gone bad. For readers who cannot accept that, the story is a lesson about not trusting metaphors as reliable guides to understanding our natural world. You know many of these metaphors, some good and instructive, but some of these are horrible like "Survival of the Fittest". Okay, everybody for the most part completely understands how the best & healthiest seeds out perform sickly seeds and so forth. But people like Prof Suzanne Simard have revealed how bad and outdated that metaphor is from her research about "Mother Trees" in a forested Ecosystem where all the biological components have been observed working together to help each other survive as opposed to selfish competing individuals. This goes a long way in explaining the inept reforestation practices where the chaparral plant community is viewed as an enemy as opposed to an ally which actually insures a forest's natural rebuilding program. The reality is, this terrible religious metaphor has actually hindered our understanding as opposed to educating mankind by instilling respect for the natural world. A little over a decade ago, there was a great article I have never forgotten which puts things into perspective. It was called, Natural Enemies: Metaphor or Misconception ? ( in other words, is that a reality, or just another  metaphor ?), by Matthew K. Chew and Manfred D. Laubichler in the July 4, 2003 issue of , an online journal which discussed the usefulness and dangers of metaphors in the language of science. You know, like, "Survival of the Fittest" ? Please click and read the link below, but here are the two concluding paragraphs which I'll post here:
"What troubles us is that biology's metaphorical abstractions all too easily become concrete objects and substitute for specific, describable processes. Maximal diversity becomes evolution's telos instead of its tendency. Biogeographical frontiers become prescriptive and enforceable, rather than descriptive and conceptual. Seasonal “disturbances” such as floods interrupt normal ecological processes, instead of exemplifying them. Biological “productivity” and “diversity” become not only measurable, but virtuous."
Matt Chew's & Manfred Laubichler's essay provides many excellent metaphor examples like; ecology speaks of predator and prey, but these suggest one is good and the other evil. Hence we have Wolf versus Elk, Mountain Lion versus Big Horn Sheep, etc. You may also remember that metaphors have been used for describing the signalling and machinery that are used in cell biology, as well as being used to explain what goes on within DNA such as “coding” and "development". But for me personally, I find that bad metaphors associated with parasites have hindered us from viewing them in a way that helps us to better understand their roles in the Natural World. In conclusion, Chew & Laubichler warned: 
"Perhaps we cannot avoid metaphors altogether in scientific language. But scientists must be aware of the potential problems inherent in invoking the familiar as a convenient way for describing their ideas. At the very least, we should be concerned about what the frequent use of “natural enemies” (and the notable absence of “natural allies,” describing an equally familiar set of ecological interactions) reveals about the ways in which we interpret nature through metaphorical lenses, especially in the current historical situation."
(source: "Natural Enemies--Metaphor or Misconception ?")
BTW, Matthew Chew has an updated version from 2011 called, The Rise and Fall of Biotic Nativeness: a Historical Perspective 
So what really is this Goldilocks Principle ?
Well, we've all heard of the classic fairytale 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' which tells us the story of a young fair golden haired Girl who wanders into a strange house in the woods. She finds one bowl of porridge too hot, another too cold and the third just right. Many Scientists sometimes apply the tale to a planet's ability to sustain life as we know it. In our own star system for example, Venus is too hot and Mars is too cold, but Earth is just right. But there's far more  here on the Earth itself which is loaded with the Goldilocks Principles. Hence even the subject of parasites. These ideas  haven't always been very popular, because it smacks of fine-tuning and the Earth being special and unique among other known planets and so forth. Broadly speaking, the Goldilocks Principle applies to any situation where only a particular range of conditions is acceptable or agreeable for a healthy ecosystem. The Earth's ability to perfectly recycle and maintain itself is now seriously being called into question. Here was an interesting read from just last week on this very subject: 
Goldilocks principle: Earth's continued habitability due to geologic cycles that act as climate control 
 So Parasites, Ecology & the Goldilocks Principle ?
File under: "Religion & other Metaphysics"