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. Because it means the average person may have to do their own homework and actually think for themselves. 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, "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 !!!

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