Monday, May 3, 2010

Dragonfly Eyes: Take 2

Ideas continued to percolate through the night - which was kinda cool on the one hand, but I didn't sleep much on the other. So, before I lose the thoughts, I thought I would try to write them down.

One of the conversations that I had with K and G had to do with something the Forest Service is doing to encourage young stands, with the goal of increasing biodiversity. What they are finding is that while the Northwest Forest Plan is actually working and creating more old growth forest, it has had a side effect of decreasing the biodiversity of the forest, since there has been a decrease in the young "seral" forest that allows for huckleberries (something treasured and picked by Native Americans - and in the Cascades, by the Warm Springs tribes), white oak, young Douglas fir saplings, and I can't remember what else.

The conversation had to do with intentionally taking life - as in selectively cutting down the taller, older trees in order to allow the growth of young stands. They asked me if it bothered me that the USFS is doing that and I replied that actually, it didn't. I understood the science behind it. If you think about it, Nature has its way (through fire, wind storms, landslides, etc.) of taking down old stands of trees and allowing the young seral forest to grow. (I don't know this for sure, but maybe the difference between man-made cutting and Natural disturbances is that Nature made these patches of openness smaller and less regular, not a nice, square patch that western science might make).

I gave the example of northern hunters and how they take the life of what some people in the Lower 48 call "charismatic megafauna" (seals, polar bears, walrus, etc.) in order to feed their people. I mentioned how in the Inuit worldview, those animals gave themselves to the hunters that were deemed worthy (I didn't get a chance to explain what constituted "worthiness"). G replied, "well, that gets them off the hook for taking life, now, doesn't it?" I said, "No it doesn't. What happens is that now the hunters are obligated to do certain ritual actions in order to return the animal's spirit to their world so that that animal can continue on its cycle of life and death. The hunters have to take care of what they hunted."

It got me thinking, this morning, about past landscapes. Do we mourn the dinosaurs? They died in order to make room for what we see today. I think we need to be careful about trying to keep things in stasis. I don't think this gives us free reign to destroy the natural world - we do need to take steps to protect it. But I don't think the USFS is wrong in trying to create stands of young seral forest either - both the young and the old forest gives us a chance for change and growth. Sometimes, the old (like the dinosaurs) needs to make room for the new.

In theory, in the case of climate change, wouldn't we rather have both old stands and young stands in order to increase the chances of the forest surviving? It's a matter of hedging our bets.

One thing that is constant is change. We do have a responsibility to keep what's left of our old growth forests. But allowing new growth that might be more adapted to a warming climate is also good.

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