Friday, July 26, 2013

Revisiting Black Locust and their Root Networks

New Mexico Locust - Anza California
I've previously written a couple of posts on the subject of Locusts and I never seem to find areas where I am satisfied with knowing everything about them. This past Spring April/May when I last visited Southern California, I ran across some old plant friends of mine again. I went back to Anza and revisited my old New Mexico Locust woodland patch. Still thriving and in full bloom at the time. You could say this is a follow up to what I've written previously here about networking with New Mexico Locust which I'll post the link at the bottom of this post.

Photo: Mine
The lady who now owns it is quite a collector  of things. She runs an antique barn down in  Anza. But the New Mexico Locusts which  really don't get much higher than what you  see in the picture
Photo: Mine
This is a Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and it's location is on Hwy 79 north from Santa Ysabel CA and right directly across the street from the south entrance to Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation on School House  Rd. This medium sized tree has been here for ages and  was an early Landscape plant in many rural area gardens  and properties of San Diego County. On the opposite  side are some younger trees which may have germinated by seed or by underground root networks. Incredibly though, this small tree just seems like it's been here forever. Well, as far back as my memory will take me. Of course when we were all kids in the early 1960s and took drives into the San Diego backcountry I would see them everywhere. I assumed of course that they were native to the wild here. But that was not the case. One of the reasons I thought them to be native was/is there incredible ability to survive and thrive under hot and otherwise harsh conditions. In many way they are very similar to Engelmann Oak which is native and a tough survivor. At the very least in some areas, you could label them as naturalized. But not so much as a negative like an overwhelming invasive such as Tamarisk or Brazilian Pepper Tree.

Photo: Mine
I took the above pictures on my early visit into the backcountry, but below are some pictures of an area I always admired for a long row of Black Locust at the foot of a hill along Hwy 67 just north of Poway Road Jct. It is just south of an old Antique & Curio shop which burned down during the 2003 Cedar Fire and south of Mount Woodson. It's also across from an outdoor parking for hiking in an open space area directly across Hwy 67 called Iron Mountain Trail that you see above here. When I was a kid and we past by this area on weekend drives, I always thought these were some variety of Native tree. They were never watered that I knew of and this area is a hot dry harsh by garden standards climate spot. Yet they always thrived here But the Cedar Fire put a stop to that temporarily, like every other plant in it's pathway. What I was curious about how ever is what has caused the explosion of growth of far more trees than historically existing prior to fire ? Actually it is the fire ecology that was responsible for spread by underground sprout re-vegetation by extensive root networks, than by any seed dispersal spreading. And it makes more sense. I found a page from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources which considers it an invasive there. First a bit of history regarding this tree, it's origins, and native habitat. 
Black locust is native to the southern Appalachians and the  Ozarks, where it occurs on slopes and forest edges. It has  been planted in 48 states and was noted as spreading in  jack pine barrens in Michigan as early as 1888. It tolerates a  wide range of soil conditions, and spreads clonally as well as  by seed. Its dense thickets shade out native vegetation. As a legume, black locust fixes nitrogen and soil nitrogen  levels are higher under old trees. It produces more leaf litter  and that litter has much higher nitrogen concentrations  than most native tree species. Soils under black locust also  have elevated levels of phosphorus and calcium. 
 Black locust is a deciduous, medium-sized tree ranging in  height from 12-25 m (40-82 ft) and 30-60 cm (12-24 in) in  diameter, although trees in Michigan have reached 1.5 m (5  ft) in diameter. It has a narrow crown and an open, irregular  form with contorted branches. Black locust has an extensive  network of lateral roots and forms dense clones. 
Reproduction/Dispersal of Black Locust
Black locust reproduction is primarily vegetative, although  it can also reproduce by seed. It sprouts from the roots and  forms clones, particularly in sandy soils. It also sprouts easily  from stumps in response to damage.  Black locust grows rapidly and matures early; some trees  may produce seed at six years of age. Heavy seed crops occur at one or two year intervals.  The seeds have a hard, impermeable coat and require scarification to germinate. They are heavy and fall close to the  parent tree, although birds may move them over longer distances. Michigan Flora notes that seeds may remain viable in  the ground for up to 88 years. Seeds can accumulate in the  soil a density of 29,817 seeds/acre in second-growth mixed  forest. Densities are much lower in mature forest. Trees begin suckering at four or five years of age. A fibrous  network of roots connects a black locust grove, with the  oldest trees in the center and younger trees around the  periphery, In late-successional communities, black locust  becomes rare, as the species is shade-intolerant.
A more positive piece on Black Locust and Fire Ecology was from the University of Georgia
Soil nitrogen mineralisation and nitrification potentials, and soil solution chemistry were measured in Black Locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia L.), in pine-mixed hardwood stands on an early successional watershed (WS6), and in an older growth oak-hickory forest located on an adjacent, mixed hardwood watershed (WS14) at Coweeta Hydrologic laboratory, in the southern Appalachian mountains, U.S.A. Nitrification potentials were higher in black locust and pine-mixed hardwood early successional stands than in the oak-hickory forest of the older growth watershed. Ammonification rates were the main factor controlling nitrification in the early successional stands. There was no evidence of inhibition of nitrification in soils from the older growth oak-hickory forest site. 
Within the early successional watershed, black locust sites had net mineralisation and nitrification rates at least twice as high as those in the pine mixed-hardwood stands. Concentrations of exchangeable nitrate in the soil of black locust stands were higher than in pine-mixed hardwoods at 0–15 cm in March and they were also higher at 0–15, 16–30 and 31–45 cm depth in the black locust dominated sites in July. Soil solution nitrate concentrations were higher under black locust than under pine-mixed hardwoods. Areas dominated by the nitrogen fixing black locust had greater nitrogen mineralisation and nitrification rates, resulting in higher potential for leaching losses of nitrate from the soil column in the early successional watershed."
So there are pros and cons to this beautiful tree. So what's new, most of the cons are a result of human ignorance and even stupidity. The tree has potential just as any other living thing on this planet. Depending on it's location around the globe it could enhance or becoming an uncontrollable overwhelming invasive. Please take a look below at some pictures of the trees along Hwy 67 that most motorists never give a second glance at. It's a pity really. They've truly beautified this location along Hwy 67 since the early 1960s. Back then I remember viewing them along Hwy 67 just past Poway road heading further east towards Ramona when we took weekend family drives to Julian and seeing these 15 or so single large trees. But that all change dramatically after the 2003 Cedar Fire which seemingly destroyed everything. I say seemingly because appearances above ground were deceiving. It was what was happening underground that made the incredible difference which was never evident for decades until tragedy struck.

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine

The above photos show far far more young Black Locust trees, than were originally present before the fire. Rather than seed [which could also be a very real possibility], these trees most likely regenerated by vegetative sprouting from their extensive root system network infrastructure. The consequence of the 2003 Cedar Fire is now there are 10 times as many Black Locust trees [most likely clones] as previously present before the fire. Now mind you, you'll have to look closely as these little Locusts which are woven in among the Laurel Sumac, but they are everywhere far up the hill and grow right down to Hwy 67. What an incredible come back.

Below is an aerial photograph just after the 2003 Cedar fire which consumed this entire area. The Antique shop of course is obliterated and the hill where these masses of Black Locust trees are located is on the very far right where the Hay 67 ends at the photo to the right. You can also see the Iron Mountain Trail parking area across the street. Mount Woodson is over on the left, but out of the picture. They Hwy 67 on the left running towards Ramona at this point travels through some of the most beautiful old growth Oak Tree Chaparral mosaic you'll ever find and if Fire never hit this area EVER, it would still be healthy and perfect as it is.
image: USFS
Just some closing thoughts. While the paper from Michigan was a bit negative on them as a take over invasive, I have never noticed this problem here. Mostly because I think the drier climate keeps them in check. Only this fire option has created a spread, so maybe that could be a game changer. You should know that as a tree choice, when they flower and develop those characteristic white flower clusters which look more like white Wisteria blooms, the fragrance is powerful at night and smells of Orange blossoms. My first experience with this was at Cahuilla Market. I asked the then owner, Chuck Mckee if he had orange trees up around his place and he said no it was the Locust trees. My old New Mexico Locusts in Anza I find to be far more aggressive when it comes to underground spreading and cloning even far away from the parent tree. I planted only one and there are presently about 5 or 6 main trees left with a couple of sprouts in the Redshank. While I lived there and during wetter times, there were spreading prolifically everywhere. So clearly the drier climate keeps even them in check. Amazingly however, they never have shown signs of any drought stress as far as I could tell. Especially since they are never irrigated. Their nitrogen fixing and networking abilities are well known and their ability to help Ponderosa Pine regeneration in New Mexico is well documented. It's all about knowing your native plants and being aware of their requirements and limitations and how practical landscape design and maintenance can prevent any future problems.

Photo: Mine
Black Locust at the end of the line of the #10 Trolley line at Guldheden between two apartment buildings in
 the south of Göteborg Sweden.
 the south of Göteborg Sweden. For further info on Locust potential for rebuild the land, please see the article on New Mexico Locust.
Networking with New Mexico Locust 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Historical Observations on Fire Ecology both Past through the Present

Credit: Jim Parkin, Sioux Falls

"Controlled burns are essential to promoting healthy
 pine growth and to prevent unwanted wildfires."


Grave of California Governor
Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga
Well that's not only a Theory, it's also the prevailing conventional industrial  science-based practice which has the power over and ability to trump the Science of discovery and wonder. In these modern times with so much research and information gathered on the actual way Nature really operates  and maintains itself, you'd think that this newer understanding would replace the old outdated thinking and archaic land management practices based on the Historical past's ignorance. But it hasn't. Incredibly though, not all historical figures of the past were so ignorant. Some had the ability to observe and see first hand the fallacy of just such a practice and during a time when most of us would have called such a time in California as Nature in it's perfect pristine state. The man's name was, José Joaquín de Herrera, and he was once the Spanish Governor of California and only one to my knowledge who is buried here. He listened to complaints of many who were upset by the practice by both Spanish Settlers and the Natives who were burning the landscape for no doubt the commercial ventures of the time. No doubt with any lack of controls, or as Richard Minnich calls it, "Shepherding" of the fire, these fires most likely got out of control, though maybe not in the megafire way we experience them in our modern times. It's really hard to understand fully what this Spanish Governor saw, but clearly he saw the use of fire in both domesticated land management and out in the wild as reckless and childish as he put it.
“With attention to the widespread damage which results to the public from the burning of the fields, customary up to now among both Christian and Gentile Indians in this country, whose childishness has been unduly tolerated, and as a consequence of various complaints that I have had of such abuse, I see myself required to have the foresight to prohibit for the future …. all kinds of burning, not only in the vicinity of the towns but even at the most remote distances.
Therefore I order and command all commandantes of the presidios in my charge to do their duty and watch with the greatest earnestness to take whatever measures they may consider requisite and necessary to uproot this very harmful practice of setting fire to pasture .: I order that this decision of mine be published by proclamation in the presidios as well as the missions and towns of this province which is in my charge …. with the full understanding that whatever lack of observance may be noticed in this matter [which is] of such great interest will be worthy of the most severe punishment.”
May 31, 1793 -  Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga
( Source )
The above source has some fascinating reading and observations from those early exploring pioneers who wrote about life in the past. Though in some places, it's really hard to interpret everything they observed and their take on the actual observation. Wonder what a person in modern times would think if transported back in time to that era and unshackled by the ignorance of those times[not to mention the biased assumptions of these times], and what questions do you suppose he/she would ask the Natives ?What would be the actual TRUTH of what actually happened and why back then ? Hmmmm!

What triggered my thoughts again on this subject was a post by the Chaparral Institute on Natural Fire return interval (meaning normal effect prior to Human influence) in which it was mentioned about interval time frame of fire effects as being between 30 to 130 years. He referred to the available study data in which oldest Manzanita found have averaged 130+ years. Incredibly though, I have found Manzanitas which appeared 100+ year old growth on numerous hiking and other exploration outings which had died, but without fire. [logically it's easy to tell if fire was at fault] Actually I've found not one, but several, one of which were on my property and died for no visible reasons in what appeared to be healthy pristine surroundings in wild settings. Rick Halsey calls such long held beliefs about reasons for Fire Management in which Prescribed or Control Burns are based on "conventional wisdom". There others like Jon Keeley who have also bucked a lot of conventional wisdom when it comes to outdated understanding still found in many modern day textbooks which influence policy in land management practices.

Credit: Springer

"Obligate Seeders"
But I've spent a lifetime bucking the conventional wisdom of this world's leadership, especially where it is glaringly wrong. I admit, I do question things quite a bit, but only because many times I have observed things behaving contrary to the supposed wisdom Conventional Authority[who as a general rule, resents having such authority questioned] when I've spent hours in the field over a period of 30+ years. For example, take the image from 'Springer Images' on the right. It is an example of plants said to ONLY germinate as a result of Fire and these plants are called "Obligate Seeders". Upper image: (left) serotinous cone of Pinus halepensis; (right) Pinus halepensis seedling. Lower image: Cistus creticus seedlings massively appearing on the burned ground. Yes, and as the story goes when the justification of Prescribed Burns is promoted, many plants cannot survive and/or propagate without fire and because there has been historical fire suppression, these ecosystems are in danger of going extinct otherwise. This has also been said about Tecate Cypress in a research papers and other Cypress are also "Obligate Seeders"
[PDF] A framework for assessing adaptation strategies for plants ... 
"Tecate Cypress (Cupressus forbesii) Threatened by altered fire regime ▪ Obligate seeder – time for seed bank" 
"Longer average fire return intervals better than shorter Fire Return Intervals, with 60 – 80 year average fire return intervals being optimal"
Again with Tecate Cypress, as I've written about before [see link above] and given directions where to view Tecate Cypress seedling Germination in old growth Chaparral/Tecate Cypress settings on Guatay Mountain between Pine Valley and Descanso CA right on Old U.S. Route Hwy 80. Then there was always my easiest example where I used to collect Tecate Cypress cones at Wildcat-Spring on Boulder Creek Road below the western face of Cuyamaca Peak. Cypress seedlings were always common every year when I came to collect cones off those large trees. They were not only under the canopy of the Mother Cypress Trees, but pioneering out into the Chaparral as well. Sadly, I'm afraid the 2003 Cedar Fire put an abrupt halt to all of that. I'd be curious if any reader would go there and report back to us with any photos. You can identify the spot which has a rock build square shaped reservoir for storage. Fire just is not necessary in many cases. But the strategy of explosive seed germination are necessary 'IF' a fire does plow through an area eliminating entire woodlands, but certainly not a requirement as the conventional wisdom would have you all believe.  Another study [and there are countless others like it], which I reference at the bottom of this post because it deals with research on the age of Manzanitas, also refers to Manzanitas as one of these "Obligate Seeders", which by the definition given by this paper means this:
"These species have been well-studied in CA, and their seeds have been found to require fire for germination – this germination type is called ‘obligate seeder’.  In CA and in other Mediterranean climates, shrubs with obligate seeder germination are generally unable to successfully recruit in the absence of fire."  (uuuun-believable)
*see link below @ bottom of this post)
Here is something interesting about my experience with Big Berry Manzanita. I had many on my former Anza California property. On the south side of my house I had 5 Manzanita seedlings which all sprouted during about the same time period of the year 1986 & year after 1987. They were all down slope of two very large old growth Manzanitas which were  along side the dirt road Table Mountain Trail. These five or six seedlings didn't require any fire whatsoever. In fact they all germinated in between what are commonly viewed as worthless chaparral, Chamise or Greasewood of all plants and in some of the most impossible soil you would never want to garden in. When I visited mt old place this past year, three of the Manzanita shrubs were missing and a small mobile home in it's place, but the rest were still there. This area also always had multiple Coyote scat loaded with seeds as there was always a small narrow game trail running through this location. And that is where I am glad I took these next photos I took on the South Fork San Jacinto River Canyon trail in early May 2013.

image - Mine

Somehow I knew this would come in handy. This Coyote scat (droppings) are representative of what is part of a predators diet, though most folks won't associate them with such a diet. This is a common sight on hiking trails. At different times of year you may also find Holly Leaf Cherry. In any case, the stomach acid effects can have the similar chemical trigger that may result in fire effects. But this proves that fire isn't always necessary as advertised by concerns who may have a vested interest in such mythology with great commercial potential. 

Photo: Mine
This young Manzanita was emerging from a Chamise or Greasewood as the Prescribe Burn proponents love to call it. This plant also was along the South Fork San Jacinto River Canyon Trail and about ten yards further up the trail from the Coyote scat. Now I can't say for sure that this small shrub resulted from the Coyote scat, perhaps it could have been even microbial breakdown of the hard seed shell which allowed germination. In any event, what I do know is that it wasn't the result fire as there was no recent evidence of such anywhere.  

For those local to the Anza/Aguanga area and interested in seeing for themselves, as opposed to taking my word for it, here is an easier drive to take and you may not even have to get out of your Car. Between Bautista Road and all the way west to the very foothills of Cahuilla Mountain, there are whole acreage patches of pure Manzanita chaparral stands where this fire prescription hasn't been necessary. To make things specific and easy, take Cary Road north from Highway 371 towards the area called Tripp Flatts. In fact I believe somewhere in twists and turns, Cary Rd becomes Tripp Flats Road. At a certain point you will come to a Y in the road where pavement continues to the left, but straight on to the right becomes Woodview Rd which loops around and eventually comes back to Tripp Flats Rd by means of Saddleback Road. There are other loops, but that is a main one. Keep in mind that traditionally this road has been a rough one with rocks, wash board and ruts everywhere depending on recent rains. But that's rural life in Anza. What you will notice in many of the cuts the road takes through hills is that the sloping berms created by the road cuts will have numerous small Manzanitas of varying ages and Fire was NOT a reason they germinated. Anyway, here is a map link to make it easier to find. (Map Loop link) . Even off Baustista Rd, you'll find many roads heading west towards other land development which will offer similar observations. The "Obligate Seed" anomaly may simply be viewed as  a document or file of a genetic programming to be used where immediate recovery on a grander scale is necessary to counteract the effects of a catastrophic event. If these fire events however happen to frequently, even this file or program is made worthless. 

The recent events of the major wildfire tragedies have brought out the Ideologue boys in pimping Control or Prescribed Burn philosophies which are nothing more than Government looking like they are doing something good in the eyes of their citizens, despite the evidence that Nature doesn't work this way. Hence, justification for prescribed burns are said to be necessary because the Native Americans did it. Or the flawed argument that chaparral needs a regular healthy burn because it can't germinate without it. Both these flawed reasonings are parroted by countless ignorant citizens on all manner of discussion boards because they are conditioned to letting the Authorities do their Natural World thinking and research for them as opposed to actually getting off backsides out and out into the field and finding out for themselves. Such strategy by Authorities is nothing new. When Christendom ruled europe for Centuries with an iron fist this was done very effectively for Centuries by indoctrinating parishioners not to question their Authority. So it should not come as a surprise when today's Secular Authorities employ the same information control tactic. You've heard the expression, "If it's not broken why fix it" ? Rulership never changes, just the change of garb. Especially with this latest "Mountain fire" in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs California have many well known ignorant statements been made by people promoting themselves as the infallible authority. Two main ones come to mind. Recent comments by supposed Fire Ecologist Richard Minnich who says old growth vegetation is a bad thing and Politician Harry Reed who had this to say below:
"Reid said the government should be spending “a lot more” on fire prevention, echoing elected officials who say the Forest Service should move more aggressively to remove brush and undergrowth that turn small fires into huge ones."

Image - Mine

Cuyamaca Cypress & it's
Chamise Nurse Plant
The sad thing is, the average person will parrot such men or woman in charge of fire policy. Chaparral and old growth Forests are not the problem. Human error however is the issue. The challenge for these Politicians and others in authority, is how do you control human behavior ? Answer- you can't. Aside from creating some newer extremist type of Laws hindering more freedom and strict enforcement of penalties by means of a Scientific Socialism type of Gestapo police state action, quite simply you still won't control people's actions, whether deliberate or the flaws of their own stupid decision making. Education certainly would be beneficial, but let's be honest here, this freedom mentality is a tough nut to crack and rein in. Teaching people that Freedom has limits is not what the majority wants to hear, even though they know this to be true. You all know what I'm talking about, just flick on the Nightly News. For some people like the Minnichs, Bonnicksens or the Reids of our world, they will always cite that often misused and abused term "peer-review". Ever notice that some intellectuals [at least the ones that promote themselves as such] seem to be incapable of believing in something unless it's been "peer-reviewed". It's like a truth of a matter cannot be correctly established unless it has been 'peer-reviewed'. But is there really any guarantee that 'peer-review' translates as 'Truth' ? While peer-review is a wonderful concept and should be used for the purpose intended, it is no guarantee of truth of a matter. Some people use it in discussions and debates as a kind of 'magic pixie dust' for settling an argument on Public Forums.The bottom line here is, you should always test things out for yourself. If you believe you cannot trust something unless it has been peer-reviewed, then you seriously need deprogramming. The obsession with "peer-review" often champions another term called "political correctness, when what is really needed is "common sense." If "peer-review" was actually the silver bullet for success,
"The gullible believe anything they’re told; the prudent sift and weigh every word. Foolish dreamers live in a world of illusion; wise realists plant their feet on the ground."

Don't be gullible and taken in by the Expert's bluff. When you here the News Reports and the Politicking going on, take everything with a grain of Salt. If you are a private citizen property owner, don't wait and count on the leadership to say and do the right thing before you act on your own land. Historical precedents tell us it'll be a long ride before that happens and the Earth and Natural World under the present system doesn't have the luxury of time.

Interesting Reading References:

From the Chaparral Institute's Fire and Science page:
"The Basics on Fire in the Chaparral"
"Are Leading Fire Ecologists Really Lying?"

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tropical Storms Linger Longer Over Wet Land & Fizzle Over Dry, But in Truth it's a Universal Phenomena Globally Speaking

Star Tribune
There was an older article back in 2009 that I had bookmarked or rather saved offline some time ago, but it's importance has real meaning now. Especially in view of the present Monsoonal Season in the Southwestern United States and the extreme Fire danger. It is also clearly evident that weather and ecosystems are not behaving as they have traditionally in the past. But this article and study also holds some important Weather or Climate mechanism component understanding when it comes to vegetation's important influence on rainfall. This article of 2009 confirmed some of my gut feelings about Storms gaining energy and strength, not only over water, but also over wet vegetative landscapes where moisture was abundant. Here are some pertinent quotes from the article, followed by the Full Article link, then my take.
"If it has already rained, it's going to continue to pour," according to a Purdue University study of how ocean-origin storms behave when they come ashore.
I love the above quote. While they are clearly talking about Tropical Storms originating off shore over open sea where they gain their strength, energy and momentum, once they come ashore their intensity and longevity are determined by the moisture content of the soil on landscape over which they move. 

In so many ways, this to me could be the explanation of what I was describing with the initial Monsoonal cloud formation to full blown Thunderstorm development   over both the Anza and Terwilliger Valleys back in the late 1970s through the late 1990s. The behavior of an isolated Thunderstorm with it's flanking pattern development were entirely different depending on how light or heavy the Winter rainfall had been in the San Jacinto Mountains. As I've described here in the blog on weather patterns in Anza, especially the Cahuilla Mountain phenomena, isolated cloud formation patterns always seemed to develop over specific areas around these Valleys mostly during drier years and geography wasn't necessarily the common factor among all regions. What was the same exact identical common component was old growth vegetation whether chaparral, forest or a mosaic combination of both. That I learned early, and with the 1996 Diego Flats Fire on the north side of Cahuilla Mountain destroying most of the older growth vegetation [both trees and chaparral], that initial cloud multi-cell flanking development over Cahuilla mountain towards the east ceased to perform thereafter which for me was the exclamation point on old growth vegetation's importance to storm development and ultimately rainfall within a given surrounding area. With the removal of the vegetation structural component, all mechanism of hydraulic lift and redistribution of water and electrical conductivity from deep Earth to the surface and ultimately into the atmosphere ceased at least temporarily. Even the release of VOCs or plant aerosols was temporarily shut down preventing such development. The quotes below are also outstanding on this pattern. Keep in mind that most of this multi-cell Thunderstorm cloud flanking pattern in an isolated region is usually more pronounced during dry winter rainfall years. Isolated cloud or storm development will mainly be confined over areas of dense vegetation. This is because the moisture content is still within reach of the deep rooted old growth Chaparral and Trees which create conductivity and transport of moisture by means of hydraulic lift and redistribution from deep water table regions by bring such to the surface. The ground is also negatively charged and ions released into the positively charged atmosphere along with tons of Biogenic Volatile Organic Compounds otherwise known as aerosols for which particles act as a nuclei point of water droplet formation. If however the winter season was excessively heavy with rainfall, as was the 1978-1983 El Nino wet period, that isolated cloud development would no longer be observable as most all of the land surface areas had enough moisture conductivity to develop clouds which in turn created at times one massive cell stretching for miles. Interestingly, in during these very wet season periods after that first initial Thunderstorms would downpour accompanied by lightning and thunder, as the quotes below reveal, these large strong storm would linger or endure and proceed to light shower for many hours until the system had complete wrung itself dry from the monsoonal flow. The next day, the entire process would repeat. In the summer of 1983, my home on Table Mountain received almost 9 inches of rain just during the period of late June to  July-August & first half of September. I just wish more of these researchers would start making some of these same connections.
"Once a storm comes overland, it was unclear whether it would stall, accelerate or fizzle out," said Dev Niyogi, Indiana state climatologist and associate professor of agronomy and earth and atmospheric sciences. "We found that whether a storm becomes more intense or causes heavy rains could depend on the land conditions - something we'd not considered. Thus far we've looked at these storms based mainly on ocean conditions or upper atmosphere."
What was fascinating about watching the buildup at certain specific locations during those drier periods, was that the same locations would always be first to kick off the monsoonal development. The main cloud formation starting points for which the leading tip of the cloud flank would actually manufacture separate cells, one after another with the first, second, third and so first over multiple times at 10 minute intervals.  Most first development often started over the Buck Snort Mountains south of Terwilliger which had heavy dense undeveloped Redshank dominated chaparral forest on the southern region of Cahuilla Reservation. What was interesting about this location which always seemed to receive the regions first downpours was that the first rains would start there and over a period of days into weeks while the pattern existed, would widen out and expand beyond the chaparral over to the drier grassland regions of Terwilliger. But always the initial main downpour always remained mostly over that old growth chaparral location. As the expansion grew, so did storm intensity where larger portions of moist ground conductivity increased more extensively. It's exactly as described in the quotes below.

"The same phenomenon - the evaporation from the ocean that sustains the storms - could be the same phenomenon that sustains that storm over land with moisture in the soil," he said. "The storm will have more moisture and energy available over wet soil than dry."
Article Source: Purdue University August 26, 2009 - Tropical storms endure over wet land, fizzle over dry

Credit: Philippe Tarbouriech
This photograph I'm using as an illustration of what I use to see over the Salton Sea at around 4:00 - 5:00 in the morning, the day after Thunderstorms had come and gone over the mountains east and west of Imperial Valley. While storms often never rumbled over the sea during the day, At night was always a different story. While the mountains were often cooled down and uplift not as great, the deserts at night were always different, with loads of uplift energy. Towards morning however, even the deserts would quiet down. However, energy was always over the Salton Sea. The sea often times could have four or even five small isolated Thunderstorms. The eastern sky horizon on the eastern side of the sea towards Arizona was always a blaze before the sun came up. The mushroom shaped storm clouds themselves were mostly black silhouettes and even the rain bands themselves were mere streaks flowing from cloud to water. The only real colour other than the beautiful sunrise would be the intermittent flash of lightning hitting the sea below. I never had a camera with me when I'd see such scenes. I was always in a hurry to get to Brawley or El Centro CA. One day someone with a mind to will document such breath taking scenic natural phenomena over a body of water mostly demonized for something not it's fault and over which it has no control over.   Still, this beautiful Sea and those storms prove the worth of the research provided by researchers on the important conductivity of heavy moisture to sky thunderstorm formation.

Photo Credit: F. Guichard
Initiation of a Thunderstorm over the semi-arid Desert of the  Sahel in the region of the West African Sub-Sahara in the  country of Mali. In so many ways this photo reminds me of those same aspects I described in my observation of cloud formation and development over Anza & Terwilliger Valleys for almost 20+ years. Notice the storm and rain over the heavier vegetation growth in the far distance and only then moving over drier landscapes of grassland or bare soil. As ground moisture content increases, so does the storm development and longevity increase.

So then, this description I've just given about Anza and Terwilliger Valleys is also identical to this next article later in 2011 where cloud formation over a combined mosaic pattern of dry and wet landscape helps storm development in the sub-Sahara called the Sahel Desert regions. In the above picture with the Storm over the desert, it reminds me of storm creation over chaparral which then proceeds to move over the drier grassland of Terwilliger. Of course this is an entirely different circumstance, but the components are almost identical. Why more research, habitat design and rehabilitation  establishment never has these climate developments in mind as a goal is beyond me. These stuff never gets explained to anyone. You'll never find it in textbooks. This information also illustrates why remote heavy vegetation growth  [Chaparral Plant Community in southwest regions] far far away from any Human development should never be deliberately prescribed or control burned. Rouse Ridge from Thomas Mountain to Cranston Ranger Station on Hwy 74 comes to mind. When I was living in this area in the 80s & 90s, that ridge was continually under fuel management programs. Never have I ever seen or heard of major fire starting there and moving towards civilization to the west which is what they have always feared. All they have done is allow non-native weeds and grasses to invade and almost guarantee a disaster scenario. But most all mountains with inaccessible terrain should always be maintained & kept as an old growth biological weather creation and moderating mechanism if they really believe or want to reverse this climate change. Global obliteration of many of these ecosystems has contributed heavily to weather pattern disruption. The CO2 increases, warming Temps and other factors are mere symptoms of the real problem. But not one viable recommendation of vegetation rebuilding can be found anywhere from any Nation. Mostly the stupid solutions being promoted are of an artificial nature because it involves someone making a profit off the deal. Some things should not be pursued just because there may be financial gain in it for some corporation, but because it's the right thing to do.
Sahel Desert Storm Development Article:

Credit: Steve Horstmeyer
The thing about beautiful illustration on the left is, it is one that most people have actually viewed many times during the  monsoonal season, but probably have never given it any thought other than it being a common storm buildup. This above is a fully developed storm, but early stages will show separate small cell creation with a noticeable the tip being an initial starting point of that development and believe it or not, there will be almost mathematical timing intervals between each cell cloud, with each cloud preceding the one prior to it growing in bulk to eventually feed into the biggest one which will act as a magnet to draw all the others into it. This is what always use to take place at Cahuilla Mountain before the 1996 fire changed all that with the complete destruction of the heavy old growth vegetation which could no longer provide that go between catalyst  to facilitate the conductivity connection from the negatively charged Earth to the positively charged atmosphere.

© Copyright 2008 METEO SYSTEMS. All rights reserved.
As most readers will recognize this illustration above, it's one of my all time favourites. It comes to us from the Swiss Company who claimed to have made 52 Synthetic Thunderstorm rains during the monsoonal season by tapping into the humid flow coming up from Somalia in the country and region of Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula in 2010. For me it is also a representation of the geologic feature of Cahuilla Mountain and the cloud manufacturing natural phenomena with it's conveyor belt assembly line system. The exciting thing for me was when I checked the Patents which are required to explain in some detail what they do to accomplish this task with this rain technology. The hill in the animation represents selected high elevation points where the towers were located. At these points, a process called orographic updraft can influence flow. From there a large amount of energy was used to transmit into the humid positively charged atmosphere those negatively charge ions [normally done by trees & shrubs] which would create interactions. But aerosols were also released into this environment to facilitate particle nuclei positioning for water droplet formation (clouds) to properly develop. What you all should understand here is that this proves they know precisely what is important for climate and what moderates, maintains and drives weather systems. It's more than just mere physics. Biological components are a must. 

Hydraulic Lift from deeply rooted chaparral
is an important component to redistribution
of moisture from deeper layers of Soil to
other plants on the surface. This connection
to deep ground conductivity and release of
their aromatic aerosols also add to our
climate maintenance.
As previously referenced, Leonel Sternberg of the University of Miami pioneered important research on the Amazon Rainforests which provide a sustainable mechanism for maintaining these forests in the dry seasons by means of a ground water influenced weather mechanism which has no connection to storms off oceans. The forests incorporates hydraulic lift and redistribution and evapo-transpiration which helps create a ground to atmosphere recycling system of rainfall from tropical thunderstorms. Each day the process repeats itself. It's this same type of system I believe maintained forests in the southwestern North America with a very similar recycling to maintain the biological system even during summer periods or even drought periods, for which extremely deep rooted Chaparral mechanisms would tap into the seasonal monsoonal flows to create cloud formations. Of course most of the deep ground Aquifers would have been untapped, closer to the surface and available as a source of healthy moisture acquisition by deeper rooted plants to be evenly distributed among the entire plant network above. Conductivity, aerosols and evapo-transpiration would have been healthy enough which would have accounted for the greater bio-diverse life which once existed on Earth.

I'm making this post as a source of reference for my posts on what Juan Baustista de Anza wrote in his diary with the description of the richer plant and animal landscape he saw first hand and documented in text. At one time I had thought his work was an exaggeration, but clearly it was not. I also want to counter some of the myths of larger and greater forests of the region being in existence 1000s of years ago, when it is clear that the existence was even around in many areas just a few hundred years back. It may take thousands of years to create and build, but it takes a mere 150 years to wrecking ball it.

I also appreciate that much of this may be boring to most people, but knowing the natural mechanisms can actually help in rebuilding the Earth. Of course that's assuming that every individual on Earth actually cares and get's the implications of not caring. The one thing Science is incapable of doing is changing people hearts which motivates behavior. Scientists haven't exactly been the best of communicators historically, but that will have to change. Expecting such a thing to happen of course is like saying the world's leadership from Politicians to Religious Clergy will change for the better. Hmmm, "When the Sahara Freezes Over" - even still, practical application of things observed out in nature can still benefit people on an individual level.
Some references: 
(Note: Don't kid yourself that all this understanding is new and fresh. The Scientific authorities have known about these natural mechanisms for years and have done nothing to make practical application in replication of the observation.)
An in Depth View of Earth's Climate Creation & Maintenance Mechanisms and the Synthetic Biology Science is Pushing as a Replacement Solution
Other related Research of Interest:
TreeHugger: "Pollution Prevents Thunderstorms but it also Makes Them Worse"
Update: March 2nd, 2015
Deforestation could shift monsoons, leaving India high and dry

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dances With Myths: Indigenous Native Peoples and Fire Ecology

Fire Ecology: Hopeless Evironmental Romantics  say the darndest things!
Artist: Frederic Remington (1861-1909) - Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Can anyone tell me what's wrong with this picture ? Really ? Is something really wrong here ? Well, maybe or maybe not, but I'll deal with this further below.
These are just some of my own personal thoughts and observations that I have made over the years on Fire Ecology and benefits to Nature. Or could there be other means of Natural Ecosystem maintenance that has been ignored. I've pondered some of the justification for the present world policies of Prescribed or Controlled Burning Policies as a means of Mega-Fire prevention under the guise of modern Science and saying things like,  "It's healthy for Nature because Indians did it for centuries" and it just doesn't make any eco-sense to not do it. Also any quotes or references I make in this post are not reflective of the people or sites I am referencing, but I simply want everyone to sit and digest or mediate (not talking mind emptying Eastern religious stuff here), but on some of the common sense things I'll bring or point out below.

It has been popular and indeed romanticized for some years now as to the instinctive natural ecological-intuitiveness of the North American Natives (or other indigenous peoples in remote parts of the Earth) and their supposed uncanny understanding of caring for the Land. Certainly for myself, I have always been intrigued and curious as to just how Native Americans lived off the land ever since I was a kid in the early 1960s and found my first evidence of a couple of villages or settlements behind my house. This curiosity and/or obsession of mine has led not only towards my originally narrowed interest in plants, but well beyond with regards other environmental elements in Nature with regards the Natural World's entire mechanisms as a whole. A big part of my learning has always been replication and practical application of what I observe. I would have to imagine that life for the Natives must have involved quite a bit of success and failure or hit and miss when it came to survival. One advantage they would have had back then is none of the distractions we have today. They had plenty of time on their hands for observation which would have been necessary to properly develop which techniques would be key to survival. As the title above suggests, there have been a number of stories about the natives which continue to this day. And the title is also the name of a Book published with the same name (Dances with Myths) which offers several quotes like the ones below which often influence land management policy makers who are bent on a certain specific artificial conservation application for no other logical reason than because, "Well, this is what the Indians did"
Herb Hammond from Sierra Club book, "Clearcut"
"For many thousands of years, most of the indigenous nations on this continent practiced a philosophy of protection first and use second of the forest. In scientific terms, we recognize that their use of forest was ecologically responsible - meaning that it kept all the parts"
According to former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, 
"The Indians were, in truth, the pioneer ecologists of this country." 
From the Chaparral Institute's article: The Politics of Fire
"Historically, most of California's forests were open because Native Americans and lightning-casued fires burned regularly."  
Dr Thomas M. Bonnicksen,  2004. Restore Forests Before Memory Fades. California Forests 8: 14-15.
It's this last subject which I want to specifically address where fire ecology and plant life are concerned. The rest of it having to do with animals, etc is for another subject another day. Most global government land management programs are based on many of these legendary myths. When Scientists and other Researchers look at Nature, they see a precise organized balance in the natural world when left to it's own. Everything observed is harmonious and is only disrupted when humans come into the picture. However, often times the Natives are viewed as primitives with certain specific animal instincts when it comes to conserving and living off the land. Now, I understand some of the ideological, philosophical and even religious reasons for this view, but the reality is, those people back then & today, are just as equal a people like any folks today. Some researchers often seem to forget that they were human, a part of all mankind with the same frailties, faults, imperfections as well as ingenuity and smarts as folks today. They were not some lower animal providing an ecological niche in the ecosystems they occupied. So what I want to do is run by a couple of possible real world explanations for fire produced by Native Americans and the various reasons they were used and how possibly, some of these may have gotten out of control by accident, ignorance, stupidity, ambition, etc just like people today. See if some of these examples make sense.

The single biggest reason (myth) promoted by the experts today for Native American use of fires was for ecology and conservation. Creating food sources for game and increasing the health of the forest or grassland ecosystems. The funny thing is however, that when supposedly modern day superior intelligent humans with all their intellectual educational capacity have made practice of their presupposition about Natives for Fire Ecology programs, Nature has actually gone down hill. Gee, why is that ? Did they not perform it properly the way the Indians did ? Things really haven't improved all that much for wildlife or their vegetative environments either. That would lead us to believe then that perhaps these modern Fire Ecology experts have gotten it all wrong or perhaps they haven't quite got their technique perfected yet ? Still these myths will persist despite the failures and unproven historical control burn precedents. It is said that the plant world has evolved or adapted to these Lightning and Native fires and that is what kept forest floor under-stories clean. Really ?????  

Let's go back up to that Artist conception of American Plains Indians starting grassland fires to apparently improve Bison and/or Elk grazing range. It's the perfect vision for today's myths. I don't doubt that early pioneers of the late 1700s , but especially throughout the 1800s saw such reality of Native burning scenarios for real. But can anybody tell me when the Indians first got horses ? You do remember they were not in north America before the Spanish arrived ? Several research sites dealing with this show that the Indians didn't get horses until the Spanish brought them to the southwest where Apache and Navajo were the first to learn to utilize them. Apparently, most village sites of old, which were more like permanent civilized settlements showed that the Natives were more of a permanent resident to their localities and Nomadic habits were not fully developed until the arrival of the horse. But that's not to say there were no nomads. So prior to the Spanish, it is safe to say that all hunting was done on foot. Now the story goes that fires were started to make more grassland open country to promote animal population explosions for easier hunting. Does it seem reasonable that people on foot would want more open country to chase down creatures far superior in speed than themselves ? Yes, I'm aware of the pictures of Indians disguising themselves in wolf skins and doing that sneaking up on animal thingy, but even today in the wild, wolves and cougars miss more than they hit. I would imagine human chances would probably fare worse if it came to numbers of successes game. Recently, reading once again the diary of Juan Bautista de Anza and that of Padre Pedro Font, the Indians they mostly encountered were barely making a living and in many cases in pathetic shape. Many have no bows and arrows and were armed only with clubs. Yes there were successful villages and tribes back then who were more organized, but many were not, most likely outcasts at some historical point. It was a tough life. Horses just made it somewhat easier.
"Horses brought about a dramatic change in the Indian Culture, but horses did not materially change the Indian lifestyle. Indians still did the same things in pretty much the same ways except now they used horses. It was the Spanish horse that made it possible for the American Indians to move onto the Plains and become truly nomadic."
Artist - E. Irvine Couse

So according to the above quote, it would appear that the illustrated picture at the top of this post of Plains Indians using fire was perhaps at best only a couple of hundred years, not the imagined thousands upon thousands of years these myths demand. Incredibly, from my own experience in the San Jacinto Mountains, animals like Deer are mostly found in heavily vegetated areas of chaparral, although sometimes in open prairie, they seem to prefer cover. My bushwhacking treks have always proven that as well, as I have stumbled upon many a Deer game trail in dense cover and regularly used. I'm almost certain that Natives would have also known this and found that laying in ambush for just the most opportune moment to strike in dense cover was better than the open country which would have made element of surprise much tougher. Of course that isn't to say or rule out that some did open range hunt. But let's talk about other incidents of fire back then and compare them to today's reason that fires get started and accidentally get out of hand. (which would negate many of their purposed arguments)

Image -

Do you suppose that some camp fires were left unattended or not properly put out when moving on, especially by hunting parties ? If embers were blown to life again by stiff breezes, could that not have created a wildfire scenario, even back then ? What about villages ? Is it reasonable to believe that the Native Housewife back then in starting supper, lit a fire at an inappropriate weather moment and a wildfire resulted ?  Could one possible explanation for a wildfire be when two young boys [White Cloud Jr & Red Cloud Jr] got hold of daddy's flint stones and took off behind the hill to see if they could make fire ? What about the use of fire for war as a weapon to burn out a rival tribe or clan ? Take note of what one journal commented on when it came to reasons Native Americans used fire:
"Additionally, Native Americans could use fire as a weapon in war, to drive away their enemies. Conversely, if they were worried about an attack, they might intentionally burn the sur- rounding prairies and woodlands in a controlled fashion rather than giving their enemies the opportunity to burn it for them. Once burned and free of fuel, the blackened area became a safe zone where they could set up camp without worrying about being burned out. This also eliminated many hiding places for an approaching war party and improved visibility so they could better watch for danger. In this sense, Native Americans were practicing what we might today call “fuel load reduction."
Growing up much of my appreciation was initiated by how Native americans lived off of the land. But one of the most disappointing things I remember learning later about the Native Americans when I was growing up was discovering that often times they displayed hatred and jealousy towards one another. I realized that in so many ways, they were actually no different than the conquering Europeans who are so often vilified today. And certainly burning grasses on the plains for concentrating and chasing Bison over a cliff would have been an easy human on foot ONLY way of providing both abundance and waste. See, no difference. Doing whatever it takes for a strategic economic advantage, which ultimately had zero to do with conservation. They were no different than the Europeans when you put it into such perspective.

But let's go back to the excuse used today as to fires being used to burn off chaparral and trees to encourage grasses to grow to attract and raise more Deer, Bison or Elk, etc. (I'll get to Bison later) Can anyone tell me what the biggest complaint is by gardeners and landscapers when it comes to Deer ? Is it, "Oh I have this problem with Deer eating my grass or lawn" ? Is that really what they say ? NO! It's always about Bushes and Flowers, Tree Seedlings or Saplings etc. I don't think or could imagine that any person would mind if all they ate was grass. And yet I personally have seen more Deer feeding on shrubs and tree saplings over grasses in meadows, although they do feed on meadows and in fields of grass. But, these very large numbers of grazing animals are the one component missing today as opposed to the notion it was just about the Native Americans. The abundance of large game. There is evidence that large game like Elk and Bison roamed forests and kept the forest floor under story cleaned regularly. Over here in Europe, there was a documentary from Germany which explained how meadows and fields of former east Germany were kept manicured and clean by large herds of Elk which feed regularly on the abundant European Oak (Quercus robur) saplings from encroachment into these fields and meadows. No fire is necessary. This again is the main animal component which is missing from California and other areas of the southwest or east. Previously, I wrote about the heavy numbers of  California Tule Elk in the San Joaquin & Central Valleys of California. Estimates are just over 500,000+ Tule Elk for which any numbers today are a mere fraction of what once was. Can you imagine the impact in tree understory for house cleaning they had and maintenance of grasslands and smaller meadows ? Then there is the issue of 10s of 1000s of native variety of Pronghorn Antelope. What impact did they have on grassland management ? Not to mention the Deer, California Grizzley Bears etc that would have impacted both chaparral and forested understories. In most cases we'll never know, but knowing something about the impacts they do have today in isolated locations where still abundant, helps us learn about the past. The loss of the abundant mega-fauna (Ground Sloths, Mastadons, etc) is almost never factored in, but clearly they must have made a major impact on the ecology of any ecosystem. But that's another subject and one we'll almost never completely understand. But there have been lately some studies showing that such animals were killed off by humans. And who would that have been ??? No one wants to touch this with a 10' pole.

Yellowstone Elk - (Associated Press - 2011)

As an example, we have the account of the Elk's impact on riparian woodlands in Yellowstone where to many Elk hindered Alders and Aspens from creating woodlands. Never under estimate the cleaning power of large abundant animal herds. The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park added a balance back into Nature. But Fire was not a necessary component for keeping understories clean, even though fire may have been present at times. The animals were so completely effective as vegetation eaters that without the wolves to keep the animals moving, whole riparian woodland ecosystems were disappearing or having a rough go at coming back. Again, it was NOT any fires that were accomplishing this. It was the abundance of large grazing animal herbivores. 
"Many scientists believe that the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, after they had been eradicated from the park for decades through hunting, has caused a trophic cascade with results that are generally positive for the ecosystem. Wolves have sharply reduced the population of elk, allowing willows to grow back in many riparian areas where the elk had grazed the willows heavily. Healthier willows are attracting birds and small mammals in large numbers. "Species, like riparian songbirds, insects, and in particular, rodents, have come back into these preferred habitat types, and other species are starting to respond," says biologist Robert Crabtree of the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center. "For example, fox and coyotes are moving into these areas because there's more prey for them. There's been an erupting trophic cascade in some of these lush riparian habitat sites."
This would also explain the fire ecology studies like the article from Southern Methodist University which posted the study called: 
Ancient tree-ring records from southwest U.S. suggest today’s megafires are truly unusual
Image - SMU
What is truly fascinating about these findings is that during the changes in climate cycling of drought and wetter periods, the behavior of fires were the same. It was NOT a common occurrence for fires to reach the forest canopy and Megafires were not necessarily known back then. The main difference in modern times is climate shift or change and much greater human impact, something missing previously, even though the Native American eco-myths wish to tell us otherwise. In reality, those tree ring studies actually paint an opposite picture from the Indian Eco-Myths. See Sage Journals: 
A 1416-year reconstruction of annual, multidecadal, and centennial variability in area burned for ponderosa pine forests of the southern Colorado Plateau region, Southwest USA
This actually brings me to some photos I took in and around San Diego County this past April/May in 2013 to illustrate just how effective animals could be used today as a means of practical applications. These photos were taken in and around the Lake Henshaw area which is owned by Vista Irrigation District and leased to Cattle Ranchers. Take a look at the effectiveness of keeping tree understories cleaned, especially with riparian systems

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine
Both these photos are illustrative of how large animals can be utilized to clean and maintain an understory of an overhead tree canopy. The top photo is the creek bed that comes out of Camp Mataguay Scout Camp south of Warner Springs CA. Many of these trees were actually established during that same heavy seasonal rainfall period I wrote about back in 1987 to 1983. Same with that ribbon of green life coming from Warner Springs to just south of the Glider Airport all the way west to Lake Henshaw. Mostly Cottonwoods there, but now very large and mature. Previously there was only grassland there with a handful of trees. Now there are hundreds stretching for several miles. The lower photo above of the Cottonwoods are a group of woods which have existed as far back as I can remember in the early 1960s when my family went for country drives. These are half way in between the Hwy junctions of 79 6 76 which is south and either a County or Cal-Trans Station to the north on Hwy 79. Turkeys were also out in these wide open spaces when I took this shot.

The idea of utilizing animals for forest health maintenance is also nothing new, as Joel Salatin actually works his pigs this way. He fences off an area of forest, allows the pigs to root around and feed exactly one month, then allows eleven months of forest understory regrowth. He calls the method, one month of ground disturbance and 11 months of healing. In this first video below, Joel talks about his Silviculture practices which replicate the disturbance caused by Buffalo and elk which would move through and disturb the understory every year. If there was a disruption in this natural animal disturbance for whatever reason, then fire would provide the physical removal of the understory build up, but never a crown fire. The main point is here, is this man is successful at replicating nature and has turned a farm that had no top soil originally into a lush environment working the system with animals. 
(As a caution, Joel momentarily for 30 seconds talks about his personal beliefs - hold off on the sarcasm & insults within your thoughts and focus on the main message & practices he expresses, which is basically replicating Nature. I don't believe everything he does or says either, but if you allow that stupid mode of ideological pride to take over, you'll miss the valuable lessons)
Forest Silviculture practices - Polyface Farms
Pastured Pigs - Part one
Pastured Pigs - Part two
Dr. Mercola Discusses Pigs with Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm
So what about the Native Americans ? Well, we've seen they are a lot like everyone else. There is no difference now or even back then. Humans excel at disturbing their surroundings. Many ancient civilizations did similar stupid things to their environment. The Aztecs in today's Mexico deforested their land for agricultural economics, then came drought and ruined the climate and any economy they once enjoyed. It's called greed and selfishness, just like today. Same in some other places in South America, Easter Island, the Maoris of New Zealand, the Colorado Plateau where ancient Natives called Anazasi which were very sophisticated with regards to building some incredible cities and an advanced form of agriculture went way to far, became greedy by removing too much forests for more farmland and no doubt deliberately burning the slash to grow more crops. When such historical disturbance was localized back then, only that area suffered as a result. However, today there is hardly a corner of the Earth that is not effected by dumb irresponsible behavior when is comes to land custodianship. Now the entire planet mechanisms are being effected and ecosystems which once took much abuse cannot take this any longer. The wild landscapes simply are not functioning normally. I saw this on my last visit where areas of Chaparral are not recovering fully or normally any longer. Some of this is due to lack of rainfall, but also there is more and more evidence of the underground disruption of the mycorrhizal grid which is effected by high concentrations of aluminum and other contaminants found in simple rainwater. I know, it's a long story, but I've got a post on this as well. Hope this at least puts to rest some of the Fables that have no doubt been exaggerated and embellished upon for some of the irresponsible land management programs which have done more harm than good.

Update - February 7, 2017: 
The Problem With The Ecological Indian Stereotype
Further reading:
Update: Also of note is an article from June 7th 2013 which explains the Proper uses of livestock to correct and heal the soil and Earth. Raising cattle and other livestock might prove key to combating the ongoing transformation of fertile fields into deserts. This actually replicates what Joel Salatin practices, which in itself is nothing more than replication of what is found and observed in Nature if one is intelligent & intuitive enough to recognize it.
How Livestock Might Revitalize Degraded Agricultural Lands