Thursday, July 10, 2014

Forest Ecology & Management: Will Researchers ever get on the same page ?

This post will be mostly short and sweet. Competition among Scientists for celebrity and notoriety in specific fields of research they are involved with is a huge motivator in their slant, personal flavour or opposing stance they take on any subject related to ecology. Some are stubborn and ideologically driven when it comes to forest land management practices, while others may simply be out of touch with all the differing studies on the subject as a result of being so narrowly focused as opposed to utilizing important peripheral views on the matter which would give far deeper insight. In any event, it's no wonder the public is so confused on which side to believe. You'll often see this in the numerous ignorant comments from the public under almost any media frenzy inspired article where the subject is controversial with regards any type of land management subject. [especially with prescribed or controlled burns]  All too often the average Joe/Jane Commenter will usually parrot the bad research expert which he views as having the least personal impact on his or her well being. Recently there was an article dealing with the ongoing problem of Deer destroying forests for no other reason than their higher than normal population numbers. Makes sense, since lack of predators makes for a great catastrophic imbalance. As we've learn from Yellowstone, the Wolves change Elk Feeding behavior which allowed for a balance to return in vegetation biodiversity. 
              
Cornell University
This July 9th 2014 Purdue University forest ecology study came out agreeing with yet another study which supported those that came out in March 2014, which shed light on the problem of overpopulation by White-Tailed Deer gobbling up eastern forests. Here is a sample quote from that article:
"A research team led by Michael Jenkins, associate professor of forest ecology, found that a 17-year-long Indiana Department of Natural Resources policy of organizing hunts in state parks has successfully spurred the regrowth of native tree seedlings, herbs and wildflowers rendered scarce by browsing deer."
(source)
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Earthworm Damage ???
This piece above also agreed with another one published earlier this year back in March 2014 about White-Tailed Deer populations ruining forests through mere over abundance. The article there also spoke of the dangers to biodiversity. Excessive deer populations hurt native plant biodiversity . This also follows on the heels of the warning concerning invasive non-native earthworms for which I wrote this piece where not only were the worms being blamed for ruining forest floors, but also causing global warming. Apparently Earthworms are said to give off CO2 emissions. With science research articles like this, climate change remains a tough sell to many of those who still are bent on questioning the problem exists at all:
Global Weirding (climate change) & stories that make it a tough sell
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But now oddly enough, both of these issues involving Deer and Earthworms denuding forest floors of precious plant biodiversity are in direct conflict with the western forest ecologists who insist that a healthy forest must look like a clean manicured Park-like setting with nothing but a sterile understory. 


fireecology.org

Wildfire is a creator of Parks
Fire scientists fight over what Western forests should look like
"Conventional wildfire wisdom is generally the opposite. Many scientists say that dry Western forests were once open and park-like, with large, widely spaced trees and little undergrowth."
Often times the above mindset will justify the use of prescribed or controlled burns for providing grassland meadows for deer and other foraging wildlife or domestic livestock, but almost always leave out the part about deer often preferring saplings, young shrubs and other herbaceous plants in the forest understory. They also will cite the often repeated romanticized Native American usage of fire to grow greener pastures and increasing wild herds of game animals. What is also often left out is the countless other reasons these folks set fires which had zero to do with ecology. But why is it that when the  Native Americans used fire to obliterate forest understory that equates to something natural by Fire Ecologists and Forestry officials ? How is it that when Deer, Elk or Bison obliterate understories, this is considered unnatural ? 

Of course forest deer, elk & bison will graze meadows, but they also love plants in forest understory growth. But making sweeping generalizations are common when attempting to justify something under the guise of ecology, when alternatively, such studies are bought and paid for by the usual big commercial Timber and Livestock interests. Again, if you want to truly understand and interpret any scientific research work, first you must follow the money from those who backed and funded the study in the first place. In a sense what happened to the Deer without fear of predators, is that they became sort of domesticated much like Yellowstone's Elk. In other words that stayed in one place, mowed vegetation to the soil and only then moved onward. Lack of predators does that to wild herbivores.


image: Paul White
Last night I watch a European documentary about Wild Europe versus modern European agriculture. East European Farmers are hands on in their livestock management practices and more in tune with working with nature. Compare that to Western Europe Agriculture which prefers to kill off all predators, dump livestock in fields, check up occasionally and harvest when ready. Much of this mentality is what moved over into the North American's New World pioneers, and was especially disastrous out in the western states. East Europeans like those in Romania live with their animals, protect and move them along. This was the case where the film documentary showed them herding the  sheep alongside wolves with no problems. The key is to mob up the herds or flocks and keep them moving, all the while, sheep graze and browse forest understories but with little damage to the actual forest floor. They also urinate and defecate as the move which further enhances the biological life within the forest. In this way they biomimic wild grazers who are always on the move. The Sheep in the above photo are on route through forest to grazing meadow near Cernat - Transylvania - Romania. There is a great page link here on just how the Romanians accomplish this coexistence with predators on the Wild Transylvania website:
Wild Transylvania: Coexisting with Predators
Unfortunately many of these North American Researchers are not always on the same page as far as acting  as colleagues working for the greater good and sharing information discovered. Many are so narrowly focused that they cannot see beyond their own little self-appointed niche of expertise on a subject. For example, there is far more to the deer culling then by means of hunting. There is also that  "Fear of Predators", which influences deer behavour, habitat choice and distribution. In other words, lack of predators almost domesticates wild Deer and Elk which will also graze vegetation to the ground, but Wolves and Lynx give them their wild roaming instincts a kick start again. These things were never mentioned in the Purdue University hunting study [again follow the money], but again one wonders despite that funding was provided by the John S. Wright Endowment, if there were not others in the shadows with a vested interest in the research. Here is Constantine Alexander's blog article on east European Deer management:
http://www.constantinealexander.net/2012/03/deer-culls-are-not-effective-for-forest-protection.html 
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Keep,watch, I have more news on fire ecology and seed germination coming up from my trip to the United States this past Spring and early Summer

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