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What to do with massive pine deserts (pinus insignis)  RSS feed

 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 125
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Extra bonus save-the-world points if you come up with a good solution to this one, because the insignis pine (pinus radiata) currently covers 150,000 hectares of land that no one knows anything better to do with in my area. (That's 370,000 acres or 580 square miles) All in glorious monoculture. It might even be the same species as sepp holzer's neighbors famously grow all around him in Austria. Anyway, the basic question is what *extremely low maintenance* solution could permies offer to replace a monoculture pine plantation? Before you answer, I have to give you some background.

1. Most of the pine deserts are on steep to extremely steep slopes. Sometimes land that used to graze sheep, sometimes land that was even too steep for the sheep!

2. Predominant soil type around here is clay.

3. Climate is humid and coastal, like the coastal Pacific Northwest. It's green and rains fairly consistently, and it's not too terribly prone to downpours.

4. Typical native forest trees are European beech (fagus sylvatica) and English oak (quercus robur) as well as a number of other oaks and of course loads of other species.

5. People originally planted pine trees mostly when they left the farms for the factories and could no longer take care of a lot of grazing animals. So they planted up the steeper pastures. They viewed this as their retirement plan: 30 years after planting, you clear cut them, get a fat check, and have a nice retirement nest egg. In the 80's, people who harvested made a fortune, prices were great, the trees went to paper pulp. Then prices collapsed in the 90's and haven't recovered (and won't). People get a little bit when they clear cut now but are always disappointed, it's not like the "good old days." In any case, they want and expect to make money off the land in about a 25-40-year cycle and essentially not have to manage it in any way. For a solution to get traction, it needs to offer: No management, no maintenance, and at least a little bit of money in your lifetime.

6. A lot of this is in smallholdings: patches of an acre here and three acres there that belong to individuals. Some people or local governments might have 100ha/250 acres or more.

7. When you call in the loggers these days to clear cut your pines, they will grade access roads all over the place, sometimes extremely steep, and leave the ground bare. If you want, they will replant with more pine trees or whatever you want to pay for. The erosion in the first year or two after clear cutting is awful, silting up rivers and streams, etc., even though there's a buffer zone by the water that can't be clear cut.

8. These areas are zoned for forestry, no other use would be permitted. No structures, no nothing.

Okay, so this is a solution for way more land than you could ever even go visit, and it's in the hands of way more people than you could ever talk to. The only hope (I think) is to come up with a solution that sounds like an improvement to the average Joe and to maybe some influential people in local governments, environmental agencies and such. People here tend to do things in droves (that's how we got all this pine desert in the first place), so a catchy plan could, well, catch on.

This is not (I don't think) an opportunity for your personal permaculture paradise, with the food forest and all, but another kind of exercise I think: how to make a different in the management of a sh*tload of land. If we can tip it a little bit in a permie way and think of something practical that will make sense to hard-headed people that know nothing about permaculture, it might fly! Interested in hearing your ideas!

 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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paul wheaton proposed that permaculturists might inhabit these sort of pine deserts to care for them, perhaps one or two permies per 40 acres or so (I don't clearly recall the ratio he used of people to land).  So, the solution is to get more people on the land so those pine deserts can be Sepp Holzerized.  The current system is bullshit and I don't think bullshit can be easily fixed without eliminating the current bullshit system.

 
Travis Johnson
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Unfortunately this is not a Spain issue, this is a world wide issue including Maine here in the USA, and microscopically speaking my own woodlot. You can insert the name of any tree species here you want, in our case it was the spruce and fir. In the 1990's it was harvested in abundance because it made incredible paper; nice long fibers, white naturally that required little chemical bleaching and grew in abundance. But that market was Newspapers and we all know they went the way of the Do-Do Bird.

If my area, my farm, is any indication; it will revert back to what it was before. It was first old growth forest, 90% cleared by the settlers, then because the paper industry made the land more valuable for growing trees, it was allowed to grow back into natural forest. Now with the paper industry paying very little money per cord, we are reverting back to clearing the land to make more agricultural fields because its worth per acre is much higher. On my own farm I am doing this because it simply makes sense.

There is an old adage: "What is old is new again", and I am sure you will find rotational grazing, like is what is used here and in Switzerland will return simply because of economics.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Dave de Basque wrote:

8. These areas are zoned for forestry, no other use would be permitted. No structures, no nothing.


This is why permaculture may not be able to fix it, as far as I can tell.  If humans can't live there, and it is not an intact functioning ecosystem Zone 5, then it can't be permaculture, because permaculture is a system of designing human habitation that functions like an ecosystem.  Humans are the central important feature of permaculture.  Except for permaculture Zone 5 which are functioning ecosystems that don't require the input of humans, there is no system which can be permaculture if it doesn't include humans, at least according to Bill Mollison who invented permaculture.  Permaculture, as I understand it,  is about humans and their interaction with living systems.  So humans will need to be involved in order to fix the problem.

We have a similar problem here with large ranches being overgrown with the native Ashe Juniper (aka "Cedar") which used to be controlled by prairie fires but now with no fires the cedars are taking over and creating these same kinds of deserts.  It's a problem that could be solved by more people on the land, and devising solutions which might include restoration of the bison ecosystem including wolves, etc. and humans living perhaps as humans lived here historically, as semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers/horticulturists.

 
Regan Dixon
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Location: Zone 4b at 1000m, post glacial soil...British Columbia
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Hm.  Here, pine is a pioneer tree that gives way to Douglas fir.  I know that Dougs aren't native to Spain.  But some other trees might grow in succession to P. insigne.  What native species like to start in the shade of mature trees?  Would walnut grow?  The timber is valuable (presently), and I believe harvestable at around 40 years.  How about those native oaks?  Very slow growing, true...but oak is valued as a timber.  Maybe by the time the trees are mature, people will have forgotten the plan of logging, in the first place!

You don't want me sending you any pine bark beetles to take care of the pine desert problem.  They looooove  monocultures....
 
Devin Lavign
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I think the most obvious solution would be to harvest strips and patches of the pine, and replant with a variety of other species. Not to clear cut but to do more sustainable selective cutting and small sections.

In other words break up the single species with others. The harvest of the pine could likely pay for the replanting of other species with a tidy profit.

There is good profit in timber of other varieties, cedar for example is a highly profitable timber due to it's natural rot resistance, I know cedar used to grow all around the Mediterranean. It looks like Spain has silver fir and spruce. Fir being a good timber for lumber and pulp etc.. Spruce is excellent for musical instruments. So trying to interest the tree farmers into diversifying their timber investments by adding other species that might bring possibly better prices, or at least offer a hedge against flooded pine markets? Since if the entire area is growing pine exclusively that has to push the market price down.

Over here in the PNW, I highly suggest additions of larch as it actually seasonally drops it's needles, offering added sun penetration during the fall and winter. This adds a very different dynamic to conifer forests.

Of course the problem would be to get the people who control these forests to listen to such an idea.
 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 125
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
22
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@Tyler - She whose opinion I always value greatly! I do agree with you about the bullshit system! But also, some of these things have been done for a reason. You who once lived in the San Fernando Valley might understand... SFV: Formerly native chapparal, then the valley floor converted to orange groves, then... suburbia! But not just the valley floor, famously, every little bit of surrounding hillside has been graded into flat lots (=annual landslides and brushfires) and turned into expensive "view" homes. So you look at the hillsides and it's all "little boxes on a hill" (was that Woody Guthrie?) from top to bottom. And people will get in their gas guzzlers and drive for hours to get to their little share of hillside that they've put a little box on to enjoy the view. This has to be avoided, and Eurpoeans (especially the land use bureaucrats) are mostly hell-bent to do so.

Our area (like a lot of Europe) is pretty densely populated. Unlike other areas nearby, there is almost no flat land here. There are loads of narrow, steep-sided valleys (really canyons to an American) -- occasionally there's a wide spot and a real valley floor. Inevitably, those wide spots already have 700-year-old towns in them, and the last few farms on that fertile valley floor land have been bought up in favor of factories and high-density housing. Basically, everywhere outside these towns where there could/should be a house (+farm), there already is a house, and has been for at least 200-300 years. Some places there shouldn't be a house/farm, there is also a house there too. Anywhere there isn't a house/farm, really, really, in a big way is not suitable for a house. In general. So no one is letting anyone build anything in the countryside that's not already built. The countryside here is overbuilt already, the thinking goes. I desperately want to build a house in the countryside and can't, but I kind of understand this thinking having also lived in L.A. for many years. So this area, town and countryside, is actually pretty maxed out with people and human activity, though at first glance it looks very green and rural.

The pine desert patches are rarely far from their owners. In this area, "remote" means perhaps 20 kms (10-15mi) from the center of a town that has at least a small supermarket, an old stone church, a "historic town center," two banks and two bars. If a pine tree or two fall into an access road on your land, you have to go deal with it now, because access even over the muddy hillside forest roads is public. And certainly the wild mushroom and strawberry hunters, not to mention the wild bore and pigeon hunters sometimes, are all over your land in the appropriate season if your property is known to have spots good for any of these delicacies.

So what I'm saying is as a society we have a bit of Zone 1 (urban balconies and the occasional older house with a veggie garden outside), we're very hard up for Zone 2, we've got a bit of Z3, an unbelievably huge amount of Zone 4, and a sprinkling of Zone 5 (riversides, natural parks and other protected areas). The huge amount of forested land we have is not well suited to being converted into Zone 2 or homesteads except with a lot of expensive earthworks & terracing. As I said, a lot of this huge stock of pine desert I'm calling society's Z4 used to have a Z3ish use, grazing sheep and for the really steep parts, goats. Parts of our natural parks are still used seasonally for the collective grazing too, so sometimes even they are not really Z5. Sure, our permie hearts want all of the Zone 4 to be declared real Zone 5, may I live to see the day, but in a practical sense, the politician that proposes that will probably see her or his career end that day. Our political system and inter-party rivalry is as dysfunctional here as in the US, so an issue like that would become a big-ass ol' political football in nothing flat.

Many or most of those little patches of hillside have been in the same family for all of recorded history. Also during all of recorded history, the owners have been accustomed to making a modest amount of money off it in one way or another. So to tell them to donate it all back to Mother Earth... Well, I'll let someone else be the messenger. There is a lot of work on the ground to do before such a proposal falls on kind and attentive ears.

Which is why I'm back to the value of taking a step forward and making a big, broad improvement across the board in all of these Z4 pine deserts, without asking people quite yet to convert to our church or to totally give up the idea of getting some modest income from their property, i.e. donating it to make a natural park, Z5. I think once a halfway solution got running and was seen to be successful, you would break people's mentality about what can be done with these lands (now = pine trees, period -- jeesh it's even enshrined in law!), and minds would begin to open a lot more. Then I think the ground might be ready for some real permie solutions. But keeping in mind the characteristics of this land: Most of it is appropriate for forest, period. In some places you could sepp holzer it though the earthworks might be more expensive, and rotational grazing at low density would work in a lot of places too.

Am I making any sense?
 
Tyler Ludens
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If the human population per land area is maxed out as you say, then there "should" be enough people, but I'm guessing many of them are older, as are the ranchers here, and not physically able to do maintenance/restoration work.  I'm not arguing in favor of San Fernando Valley-style human density, but you knew that.  Maybe something like the land restoration camps could be done.

 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 125
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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@David

Thanks for the suggestions. I think if this land continues to be used as "managed timber" then yes, a good bit of diversification and harvesting in strips would seem to be the way to go.

Also logging access roads -- perhaps they should be on contour, or perhaps at -2% in steep areas so as not to accumulate water? And along ridge lines.

I'm thinking of perhaps a polyculture of three native species that seem to be grown for timber: European beech, English oak, and chestnut, plus adding in maybe black locust to enrich the soil? I haven't been able to get really good info on growth expectations for these trees but I do have some sketchy info that they all seem to do something worthwhile in 40 years (the oak surprised me in this regard) and fetch comparatively good prices on the market.

I would love to get away from conifers if we could! But cedar and spruce might be worth considering. Not sure about growth expectations or wood prices for these.

What I don't know: How these trees would work in quasi-polyculture (not really polyculture if they're planted in strips, but better than nothing I suppose...); realistic growth expectations for them; how/if they stabilize steep hillsides with the clay soil we mostly have; how to best grade roads on steep hills to avoid erosion and landslides.

Also would love suggestions for something to seed the land with right after people cut timber to help hold the soil and prevent erosion. Grass seems to grow in naturally pretty quickly or don't know if they seed it. Anyway, interested in the best of whatever's out there. If it adds nutrients and helps de-acidify the soil from the pines that preceded it, and wouldn't compete too much for water with new saplings once replanted, that would be great.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Dave de Basque wrote:
Also would love suggestions for something to seed the land with right after people cut timber to help hold the soil and prevent erosion.


An important detail people often miss is to simply make sure that slash is piled on contour in low strips, and not piled and burned.  Burning is traditional here.  People clear off a whole hillside of Juniper ("Cedar") and burn it in huge piles.  They think any remaining slash is messy and a fire hazard, which is isn't if it is pushed into low piles on contour. 

 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 125
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
22
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Tyler Ludens wrote:If the human population per land area is maxed out as you say, then there "should" be enough people, but I'm guessing many of them are older, as are the ranchers here, and not physically able to do maintenance/restoration work.  I'm not arguing in favor of San Fernando Valley-style human density, but you knew that.  Maybe something like the land restoration camps could be done.


Totally right. The farmers now are all at least 60 and most over 70. They do it for hobby, almost no one lives from it. The next generation either wants to use the farm as a suburban house or not at all. And spits feathers at the thought of physically maintaining the land, certainly!

I just want to be able to suggest to these people something that's in their universe and would be a step in the right direction.

I would love to see the local countryside reconfigured drastically, but I think people here are not quite ready for that yet. We could certainly use some land restoration camps, though, with the point of restoring native forest, and I think over time that's another great thing that will shift people's thinking! 
 
Dave de Basque
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Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
22
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Dave de Basque wrote:
Also would love suggestions for something to seed the land with right after people cut timber to help hold the soil and prevent erosion.


An important detail people often miss is to simply make sure that slash is piled on contour in low strips, and not piled and burned.  Burning is traditional here.  People clear off a whole hillside of Juniper ("Cedar") and burn it in huge piles.  They think any remaining slash is messy and a fire hazard, which is isn't if it is pushed into low piles on contour. 


Great idea Ludie! They don't burn here, the slash mysteriously disappears and I don't know what happens to it, but anything is preferable to watching soil erode!! This is a fantastic idea.
 
Dave de Basque
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Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
22
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Regan Dixon wrote:Hm.  Here, pine is a pioneer tree that gives way to Douglas fir.  I know that Dougs aren't native to Spain.  But some other trees might grow in succession to P. insigne.  What native species like to start in the shade of mature trees?  Would walnut grow?  The timber is valuable (presently), and I believe harvestable at around 40 years.  How about those native oaks?  Very slow growing, true...but oak is valued as a timber.  Maybe by the time the trees are mature, people will have forgotten the plan of logging, in the first place!

You don't want me sending you any pine bark beetles to take care of the pine desert problem.  They looooove  monocultures....


Hey Regan, thanks for your input!

Walnut is big around here on our small farms, it grows well, and every farm (I'll dare to say) has a few trees for the family. Some certainly used to sell to market. Never thought of it as a timber tree, but that would be a step toward a food forest, wouldn't it? Two birds with one stone.

I am by no means a tree-ologist so I can't answer your question about what native trees might grow in the shade of what. Input delightfully received.

I hope you're right about people forgetting about the logging eventually!

We don't actually need your pine bark beetles, we've got the Pine Processionary busy making the pine monoculture business even less profitable! But thanks for the offer 
 
Dave de Basque
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Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Regan Dixon wrote:...But some other trees might grow in succession to P. insigne.  What native species like to start in the shade of mature trees?...


Wow, ask and you shall receive... some very random browsing led me to this Wikipedia list of tree species by shade tolerance. And one of our predominant local natives, European beech, is described as "especially shade tolerant."

Yippee! I guess. I should be happy, right? Now what do I do?
 
Lance Kleckner
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One that you mentioned in the first post, European Beech, seems like a possibility with its shade tolerance and future nut production.
 
Travis Johnson
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Dave de Basque wrote:
Regan Dixon wrote:...But some other trees might grow in succession to P. insigne.  What native species like to start in the shade of mature trees?...


Wow, ask and you shall receive... some very random browsing led me to this Wikipedia list of tree species by shade tolerance. And one of our predominant local natives, European beech, is described as "especially shade tolerant."

Yippee! I guess. I should be happy, right? Now what do I do?


Well it depends on your comfort level. If you really wanted to be progressive on a good mast year, you could gather up the beech nuts and then as you walk around the area cast the nuts all over the land. Inevitable deer and chipmunks will get some of the nuts, but some will sprout and take root and then a more diverse forest begins to take over...
 
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