Saturday, September 28, 2013

Media & Science News Reporting about the Yosemite Rim Fire

When you ask people if they trust the News Media as recent polls have shown, most people distrust them. But even still, people will follow the News these entities spew out. Of course most journalists and the giant organizations they work for will insist that they have a commitment towards integrity in producing accurate and informative News Reporting. Well, of course, what else would they say ? In the what to believe department, there are a few things that everyone should consider when watching the News and the actual truth in News Reporting. 

Wall Street Journal
First, most of the main stream Media outlets are owned and run by giant Media Moguls who are very powerful. Those Media outlets exert a strong influence on which stories get covered, how they are covered, and how prominently they are covered. And of course, like most corporations, these entities are designed for profit. They don't necessarily do what they do out of the humanity goodness of their hearts. Let's be honest here, some stories or the way they are reported may hamper or facilitate those incoming profits. You should know that any published story will reflect profit considerations one way or another. 
image: Alphaila
Second, there is the government (Politics) factor. Some country media outlets are actually owned and run by government and often called State Media. Does anyone really believe such media would be a guarantee in honest reporting ? And even if they are not state run, they nevertheless have a cozy relationship with each other as far as source contacts, etc. This is where government has a vested interest in cultivating a healthy relationships with various Media venues. Third of course is Advertising. This is a given, as obviously the Media outlets are a business doing business with hundreds or even thousands of other businesses. So it's understandable that advertisers would not want to sponsor programs that cast an unfavorable light on their products. If they do not like what a news outlet is producing, they will take their business elsewhere. Having a keen knowledge of this, news editors may suppress certain news content of a subject matter or stories themselves that cast a negative light on their own sponsors. 
With all of this in mind, it brings me to the point of this post. There recently came up in the Media Reports a subject about the Rim fire in the L.A. Times and it was reviewed by Director of the California Chaparral Institute, Richard Halsey. The story cast a negative dire vision of the area of the Rim fire being so intensely destroyed, that it would be almost a century or more before the area could recover completely to what it once was. Again, keeping in mind the Media bias and the various entities that they may be beholding to like Government policy making, big business interests, etc, the reporting about the Rim Fire recovery was ignorant on much of the scientific understanding on how nature actually works in recovering from a disaster like a wildfire. Though I understand that somewhere in the deep dark back ground of all of this are companies waiting to offer their bids for participation in the human intervention and recovery programs, what ever these may be. Incredibly, they quoted a few so-called Forestry Experts who didn't have their information right either. Unfortunately, the average person is also ignorant on many things ecological and will not even attempt to question such authority when it is referenced, even if they only do so in their mind. In my book however, the experts in positions of charge are without excuse. As Rick Halsey alluded to on the effect of the bad reporting,
" . . . to the average reader will be that this fire "killed everything," the soil was "cooked," the charred trees have "no value," and if we don't do something soon, the landscape will "permanently convert to chaparral."  
These quoted forest management experts in positions of authority should known better. Rick Halsey summed things up this way. 
"Such statements are based on outdated perspectives, mainly that a forest has no value unless it can be logged. For example, charred trees have tremendous value as habitat-rich building blocks for a recovering forest. Despite the heat, the soil will be fine and the sediment that reaches the streams will introduce a rich variety of nutrients to the aquatic environment. To warn that "if we don't intervene, it will convert to brush," indicates that there is a clear misunderstanding about natural, post-fire processes."
Rick Halsey then asks the question, "How did the forest ever survive without us?", then he continues below:
"Photo below: the remarkable recovery since the 1988 Yellowstone Fires. The careers of a number of land managers were ruined because of the political pressure and hype about how the Yellowstone Fires were the fault of the fire service, past fire suppression, and that the park had been "destroyed." Nothing could have been further from the truth. Unfortunately, we haven't learned. The misconceptions continue with the Rim Fire."
(source - Chaparral Blog)

image: California Chaparral Institute
There is one thing of interesting note I want to point out. It has been common for many of the experts to speak of the ground being cooked so badly, that nothing survives. So in a sense they are saying it is sterile, everything, including all the underground mycorrhizal networking were cooked by the fire and it will be decades before trees can be supported, therefore we need human intervention assisted by our genius to accelerate a slow imperfect process of nature left to it's own devices. It is said that if we don't intervene, worthless chaparral scrub will take over. Absolutely and positively untrue. The scientific research, findings and literature actually do not support this outdated ideologically motivated doctrine and religiously defended dogmatic viewpoint. But I sometimes wonder, why the malpractice on the part those who were put in positions of responsibility and oversight in this Federal Forest Land Management assignment isn't exposed on those who should know better ? I'm  using the word/term "malpractice" here because in the real world, if a medical doctor abuses his trust as a result of incompetence on his part for not keeping up with the latest technique and education, he can be held accountable, be sued and loose his license. In the case of bad land management, no one is held accountable. But the land still suffers with no compensation. 

One of the things I have always found fascinating is how many of those scientific innovations we all benefit from and our present understanding of how Nature really works have come not from accredited scientists, but from people who are often called citizen scientists. Why is that ? Mostly I believe because such people have an intense love for the natural world. They are not shackled to career advancement. They are not under the strict authority and biased agenda of the political forces under which they serve as no doubt many forest land managers are under. Such managers are held to account if natural resources are not made available for the needs of their masters. Scientists and/or other researchers can (and do) sometimes manipulate data in order to achieve the results they want, whether it’s publication, tenure, or what ever furthers there personal ambitions. They are not bought and paid for to make come true the wishes and desires of a corporate master. The citizen scientist however is for the most part motivated by none of this, though there no doubt could be an odd exception. This brings me to one citizen scientist who is the daughter of a very well known amateur citizen scientist, Forest Mims.
photo: Popular Mechanics
His daughter is Sarah Mims who won a 2005 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough award on the subject on the practice of the burning of crops kills disease. She overturned the conventional wisdom from an incredibly simple experiment. I stumbled upon this in my own research sometime back, because the conventional wisdom I had been taught at school on pruning out branches of plants with what is called "Fire Blight", in order to control the disease. It was insisted upon that you could not put these branches in a compost pile as it would spread the disease. You had to burn them and sterilize your pruning shears with alcohol. I was always suspicious on the value of this. Here is what Sarah Mims discovered. 
"Sarah Mims isn't the first amateur scientist to fly a kite to test a hypothesis. Taking a cue from Ben Franklin--but skipping the lightning--Mims (pictured above) used a nylon kite to send a homemade air sampler aloft and capture smoke blowing onto the Gulf Coast from Central American agricultural fires. The Seguin, Texas, high-school student used NASA satellite imagery and NOAA atmospheric models to time the sampling. Later, her microscope revealed a surprise: live fungal spores. Mims's discovery, published last year in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Environment, challenged the common practice of burning diseased crops. Her work has earned Mims scholarships and awards, including First Grand Prize at the Texas Junior Academy of Science's annual competition. Now a 19-year-old college sophomore, Mims plans to continue her fungal-spore research. "I want to do more research on which spores are transported and what crops are affected," she says. Mims sees a possible health angle to her discovery. "It's well known that smoke causes respiratory complications, but we don't know exactly why. Part of the answer could be spores." Deployment date: Mims hopes to create an awareness campaign for farmers. "I'd like to develop a Web site that would include a brochure with alternatives to burning diseased crops." 
(source - Popular Mechanic)
So what does any of this have to do with Fire Ecology, Rick Halsey and the L.A. Times article on forest recovery ? Actually it hit me some years ago long before this article came out, that fire could not totally destroy mycorrhizal spores or anything else completely which would be beneficial to forest recovery. But I have often wondered sometimes if anyone else higher up than whoever the heck I am has had the brains for putting this young woman's experiment to task with regards North American wildfires. Do they even know about the experiment to verify or even remember what she found out in the first place ? You know, this isn't exactly rocket science here. Is there no one within the U.S. Forest Service which could put two and two together and come up with enlightened solutions ? Certainly the Harvard School of Forestry understands the importance of leaving well enough alone by their research put out last year.
Rebuilding Ecosystems After a Man Made or Natural Disaster
This whole Rim Fire LA Times mess reminds me of the News Media reporting on the Mountain Fire farce. And what did the Press do this year during and after every single fire in Southern California ? They ran to favourite darling who apparently has a problem admitting that his many years of failed fire policy pimping have been proven horribly wrong. I won't say his name. But I would think it would be so very very important for the Press to learn to distinguish between the actual facts from the personal biased interpretations of an ideologically driven man and his colleagues. It should make you  angry, even if they oppose and resent the Chaparral Institute's shedding light on the subject and exposing a lack of competence, they should at least respect Rick Halsey's scientific integrity for presenting empirical evidence based on actual real world data and studies done by respected scientists. The media I get, the inability of this so-called self-correcting science by those in charge I don't get.

print: Drew Friedman
There have been many other examples this year (2013) of either deliberate misrepresentation or outright incompetence on the part of official comments to News Media, like those ridiculous answers given to the reporters in that infamous San Diego Union Tribune article (Forest Passes Trial by Fire) about the wonderful benefits of the Mountain Fire, which BTW destroyed several people's homes. The ignorant yet smug authoritative claim that the area hadn't burned in 130 years was a flat out lie. The flying Squirrel fable where the chaparral growth was so terribly dense that the Squirrel had no room to soar which was causing it's decline was untrue. The continued and ongoing demonizing of chaparral which in actuality was admitted to have been directly responsible for the increased bird diversity up in the high country are of Mount Jacinto Park, as compared to the first historical late 19th century survey when the area was first cataloged. The labeling of the old growth ecosystem as decadent by the resident forest biologist was even surprising. You have to wonder if they were all scripted on the same page by their agenda driven supervising authorities above them. Are you satisfied by the lack of science behind such answers ?  Anyone giving answers like that to justify a major failure in their land management policy should be fired on the spot. If it weren't for the fact that they have joined hands in unflinching allegiance to the News Media with their usual lapdog reporters and the intimidating strong arm of the U.S. & State Law behind them, they'd be laughed out of town otherwise. I don't believe Richard Halsey and his staff are criticizing their knowledge of real, observable biology in the field, which is often exceptional, otherwise they wouldn't have been hired for their assignment positions, but they're revealing their gross lack of management skills and exposing their purposeful ability to obfuscate when the real world factual evidence and scientific data goes against their cherished and treasured outdated land mismanagement belief system. 

Once again, I get the media, just not the officials in charge of the State's Land Management Trust. In recent decades, as the number of television stations multiplied, but the amount of time viewers spent watching just one station fell drastically. People are further distracted by all the technological innovations provided to them by other branches of Science. Interestingly, to keep those short attention spanned viewers interested, news stations are compelled to offer something unique or entertaining. I remember the reporting on the 2003 Cedar Fire. I remember the reporter standing in the strong wind at Inspiration Overlook south of Julian and putting on an act for nothing more than it's entertainment value. There's a great reference on this later day development of Media entertainment in the book Media Bias. Here is a great quote from that source:
 “The [television] news became a running picture show, with images selected to shock or titillate, and stories shortened to match an [ever-shorter] attention span on the part of viewers.”
Seriously, the average person is disinterested and/or disconnected when it comes to intelligent subject content like this one. They have extremely short attention spans. Wonder how many people reading this post have even gotten this far with my own little lengthy diatribe here ? There's no doubt that the media leaves out deliberately pertinent facts, exaggerates and embellishes upon others for the sensationalism factor. Having been interviewed myself in the past by reporters, I can attest to the angle and slant of the story they are looking for. For example, when interviewed and my answer being less than desired, the reporter would "Yeah but" me. "Yeah but don't you think . . ", Yeah but isn't it true that  . . ". If they don't like your response and prod you for another answer, then it is clear they already have a biased slant to the story line well before it was ever told. To give the benefit of the doubt, maybe in many of these folks interviewed were prodded like I was in the past. Some but not all. Of course, the Media darling, our own UC Riverside boy is one of those individuals who needs no help or prodding to say the most grossly inaccurate and out of touch with reality things. 

photo: Joeff Davis
To sum things up, people who actually care are going to have to work harder at filtering out the useless unreliable material fed to them not only by the Media, but also those in positions of Trust no matter what that leadership position or Authority may be. For many of the average people out there, this will be a tough challenge as they have been so thoroughly shaped and molded into the disconnected from real life human being this world's Leadership[religious, political, big business, Media, whatever] likes and wants to manipulate. Sadly no matter what happens, it's Nature that will always takes the big hit in the end. And yet on a positive note:
Agency ignored best science on sonar, marine mammals, judge rules
Well, once in a while, I guess the L.A. Times can get some things  right. But then never count out newer and newer dumb incompetent ideas coming to the fore when it comes under the cloak of "We just want to save Nature". Replication of how Nature really works is never an option in many of the modern day conservation schemes. After all, nature is often viewed by many of the philosophers of science as imperfect and flawed, therefore the collective intelligent genius of scientists and other researchers know better how to push things alone at a quicker  Not only do most of these insane schemes, as the one referenced below fail miserably, but you can be sure some Corporate elites along with their bought and paid for Scientists *cough-cough* I mean employees are going to make a lot of money on the deal if they can con, I mean sell their idea to the right out of touch leadership.
"It is time to weigh up the pros and cons of using genetic engineering to rescue species from extinction," says Michael A. Thomas and colleagues.
Nature: Ecology: Gene tweaking for conservation

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