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Firestorm British Columbia: The Thread.  RSS feed

 
Roberto pokachinni
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So, this year is the second largest fire season is the history of British Columbia, and it might end up being number one pretty quick.  Nearly 50,000 people have had to evacuate at one point or another, from dozens of communities in the province's interior.

I've been toying with the idea of this thread for a while, but I have had little time to devote to it and even now I'm just going to throw out some ideas and see what people think.  Todays entry I'm going to throw off the cuff and it's all about how the situation got this way in the first place. 

So here's my take on why we have this massive fire season. 

The inland forests of this province have always had a fire element which helps systemic renewal.  Lightning has always been a part of interior weather, and was (and still is) the primary cause of forest fires.  The interior forests however have been altered over millennia by many factors.  I'm going to brief my thoughts about these.

In post glacial situations there is an abundance of moisture, and the resulting ecosystems become spongelike, holding a great deal of moisture after every winter, but some areas are dryer than others, supporting dry tolerant species, such as pine and Douglas fir.  Inland creeks, rivers, lakes, and swamps however, had ecosystems that were more similar to the coast, with ferns, cedars, spruces, cottonwoods, alders, birches and poplars.     

A very long time ago, Indigenous folks had a persistent tradition of burning forests in order to enhance production of food plants, particularly berries. Sometimes these fires got out of control, and took out areas larger than were expected.  Without realizing what was happening, since it happens over many generations (as generally the fires were not out of control), the ecosystems shifted from fire sensitive species, to fire tolerant species and to fire dependent species. It wasn't their fault that this happened, but the indigenous population's burning practices were an initial part of this process, and must be mentioned.   

The pine forests which were once a lot smaller and were more mixed with other species, become a dominant and in some cases monocrop type forest situation after a fire, and are often of single aged stands, which are very prone to firestorms. 

Fire also creates avenues for erosion from evaporation, rain run off, and wind, thus exacerbating the dessication caused by having no trees, and thus further altering the ecosystems.  The burnt areas, and the resulting less biomass holds a lot less winter moisture and as a result, is more prone to future summer fires, and this too, alters the ecosystems.  The larger the forest fire, the greater the wind speeds entering the burnt areas, and wind dries the ecosystems and fans the flames of future fires.
 
Sometime around two hundred years ago, the fur trade reached this province, and as a result the beaver population was decimated, as it had been in the rest of Canada to the East.  With the loss of the beavers, the dams slowly broke down, and lost their water, and many landscapes and ecosystems lost their primary dry season water source.  The water table dropped significantly, and the creeks that fed them become erosive forces on the landscape, creating deep cut channels and flash flooding the winter melt away to the rivers while holding little in the landscape for the summers.  The beaver ponds were a source of cattails and bullrushes and many other plant species which would transpire a lot of water to the air, not to mention that which was evaporated off the pond surfaces during the hot summer months.  This was a major source of rainwater for downwind areas, just a little further in the interior.  The less beaver ponds to the west, the less rain to the east.

Forestry comes to town, and clearcut logging goes full bore.  For the longest time, the forests were left to regenerate on their own, or were burnt in order to stimulate a natural growth.  We already know what fire does to ecosystems and landscapes.  Large towns are established around milling or processing the wood, and empires are built around the finances, and forestry becomes the largest industry in the province.  When tree planting is initiated, the process is largely monocultured, and if multi-specied contains only conifers, which leads to crown fire potential, especially in single aged stands where all the lower branches die to create ladder fuel.  Forestry companies like to have roads, and roads are major erosive forces on their own, and work a lot better if they are not flooded.  The last is a good reason to keep the beaver population low.

As weather moves inland from the coast, just as in the beaver pond evaporation mentioned above, the water is transpired from trees, and this transpired moisture creates clouds that rain further in the interior.  As more coastal old growth is cut, and as more temperate interior forest is cut, there is less water being transpired, and thus less rain further in the interior.  The main sources of rain in the interior become major oceanic based storm systems that cross the coast mountains, or lightning strikes.  The former are huge torrential storms, which, with the general lack of moisture retention on the land due to fires and logging, and the lack of beavers and their systems, causes flash flooding and huge erosion events.   The latter are more likely to generate a fire due to drier conditions, single age pine stands, and increase wind speeds due to previous large scale fires removing the buffering effect of forests.     

The world warmed up, and we suppressed wild fires.  Due to these two factors which would normally control their population, the Mountain Pine Beetle began to multiply beyond their 'natural' numbers.  Since Pine is their preferred food source, and the beetles carried a fungus on them that kills pine, the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic was born.  It has been growing out of control since primarily the winters have not been cold enough for long enough to cull the population.  Numerous strategies were tried, but it is thought that most of these were too little too late, and most of them were not effective even in small areas anyway.   The largest die off of forests in B.C.'s history took place, and is currently still taking place, in the interior of the province.  This creates an enormous fuel load, in an area that was already prone to firestorms.

Cattle ranching has expanded in this region since the first European settlers arrived, and is popular to do in areas where the forest has been cleared by "natural" fire resulting in a savanah like grassland forest combination.  Cattle ranchers like to have fences, and access to their herds and flooding of fences causes fence posts to rot and fences thus to fall over, and the flooding makes accessing herds harder for the rancher, so they too control beaver populations.  The fences also are meant to keep out wildlife, especially from hay fields and from hay barns, and wild herbivores are considered pests.  Herbivore populations are culled by ranchers to ensure food plants are for cattle.  Predators which might prey on cattle are shot on sight, or hunted.  The predator prey relationship as well as the role of large herds of caribou is removed from the landscape, thus further altering the potential of the landscape to evolve/transition naturally, to hold moisture ( the herding hoof trampling, particularly under clustering and stampeeding causes grasses and woody material to break down in the soil).  The free ranged cattle tend to degrade landscapes, as opposed to cell grazing following regenerative ecosystem management.  Cattle ranchers are often allowed to free range on public lands, further altering the landscape un naturally, and giving the ranchers the apparent rights to protect their assets on public lands.  The ranchers purchase more land, get loggers to clear it, burn it, planting hay crops, and continue the processes of landscape degradation with their cattle.  

The interior drylands/desert of the west is expanding into this region.  Formerly the Southern interior and a few pockets in this central interior region were drylands/desert type climates, but due to all of the above factors, the desert is expanding rapidly, but with less of the natural desert species, just the heat, the dryness, the wind, the floods, and all the resulting erosion and fire potential.

So what are we gonna do about it?  Let's brainstorm!   I'll write more in the next few days.
 
Chris Kott
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From your post, you seem to be suggesting that beavers are a keystone species that is instrumental in geoengineering the landscape for enhanced water harvesting. I heartily agree. It would seem that giving ranchers and foresters an incentive to work beavers back into land use and management policies is key. If ranchers can be convinced that less water retention capacity means less grazing, it could be an avenue to bring them back.

As to forestry, I think that will be a little harder to manage. The lumber roads themselves are rarely planned with hydrology in mind, from what I understand, but unless companies and government policy makers are taking the economic long view, I don't know how to make them plan better. So I suppose we might be looking for a way to get all of the players involved in policy and management to look at the long view, and, as in other cases, calculate the cost of managing and repairing (where possible) the environmental damage of badly, cheaply placed lumber roads and inappropriately used clearcuts as costs to them, instead of costs that will be absorbed by the environment and the local populations. In that way, the "cheap and easy" tactics that have come to prevail will no longer be cost-effective, and the practices that build their resource base over time, which in this case is a resilient and vital forest system, will be the economically responsible choice, as well as the environmentally friendly one.

Roberto, I hope that this thread is already linked to the one in the cider press that spawned it, or that we can get some of the pics and charts that were posted to that thread, especially that one that Dale posted, showing the aerial shots of the selective or block clearcuts, and the aerials of clearcuts you posted. Also, he made some good points about humans doing silly things like parking settlements in the middle of seasonally tinder-dry boreal forests without firebreaks, and how places like Fort McMurray, Alberta, could have been spared considerable grief by continuously cell grazing a doughnut-shaped pasture as a firebreak around their perimeter.

This is not a popular opinion to some permies, but I firmly believe that, as awesome as it is to be altruistic and to do things because they simply should be done better and because we should know better, that an effective recipe for policy success in these types of discussions has to do with linking an industry's prosperity to their stewardship of the land they use. If they make more money because the system is healthier, that serves the purpose of environmentalism as well. If we want to bring back bison herds, say, I honestly believe that the only way to ensure their survival is to tie the financial well-being of a willing community, or communities, to the well-being of the land that the bison will graze, probably by way of an annual cull. If people regard the system as the thing that feeds and protects them, they will fight for it. Hence the idea that ranchers and foresters need to be shown that beavers, far from being the nuisance species that they have been made out to be, are key to lowering fire risk, mitigating flood damage, and improving hydrology for pasture and forest growth. The motivation isn't as "pure" as some would like it to be, but it is the most permacultural answer to the issue. Any solution that ignores the people on the ground within the system, whether living in communities negatively effected by bad environmental practices or those working within those badly managed industries, fails to look at the system in its larger context, which is essentially what we're criticising about modern forestry practices in the first place.

I would love to hear more. The inter-connectedness of the issues you've presented is startling in its clarity. This promises to be an interesting thread.

-CK
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Thanks for your response Chris, and yes I did post a link in the Resolute thread.  

From your post, you seem to be suggesting that beavers are a keystone species that is instrumental in geoengineering the landscape for enhanced water harvesting. I heartily agree. It would seem that giving ranchers and foresters an incentive to work beavers back into land use and management policies is key. If ranchers can be convinced that less water retention capacity means less grazing, it could be an avenue to bring them back.

As to forestry, I think that will be a little harder to manage. 
  Yes!  That's exactly what I'm suggesting.  Beavers are indeed a keystone species... I might say that they are THE keystone species, if we have any hope of turning this situation around.  This is going to take government incentives, and a total rethinking of what's been going on in the region in question.  Ranches might be required by law, for instance, to have a certain amount of water catchment on their land (ponds, swales, etc) or allow beavers on the land.  The government's Ministry of Forests, or whatever the new name is for it now, has to come to terms with the disaster that it has had a hand in creating (By not creating proper marketing for and incentives for harvesting pine, and placing more value and focus on fir, spruce, and cedar, they allowed the pine forests to become too old and thus more susceptible to the beetles, and thus had a large roll to play in the epidemic blossoming so large so fast).  Now there is so much dead pine, the loggers could not possibly harvest enough of it before it burns in a forest fire or falls and rots. The former is unfortunately more likely.  What I would be suggesting in the rethink is to go into these massive fire zones, and plant the creeks with poplars, willows, birches, cottonwoods, and other deciduous trees, all of which beaver like to eat and build with.  There are thousands of unemployed people on welfare or Employment Insurance who could be paid to plant these easy to plant and grow trees under the tutelage of professional silvicultural workers.  In less than a decade, beaver could be introduced en masse to the area, and they could be introduced to any areas where these trees are already abundant. Beaver multiply pretty fast, and so this situation could get pretty wet in a hurry.  After the beaver systems are firmly established, the poplar dominated forest systems around them can be planted with wetter species than would have grown there in 2017.  As these Islands of wetter forest are established, they will slowly spread their moisture throughout the landscape through transpiration induced rain and natural seed dispersal via birds and rodents.  We had the wettest year in quite a while last year with the Super El Nino, and if this system had already been in place for a decade, there would have been such a massive volume of water retained in the landscape that there is no way that this forest fire season would have gotten anywhere near this bad.    

ranchers and foresters need to be shown that beavers, far from being the nuisance species that they have been made out to be, are key to lowering fire risk, mitigating flood damage, and improving hydrology for pasture and forest growth. The motivation isn't as "pure" as some would like it to be, but it is the most permacultural answer to the issue
For certain.  The foresters want to have forests forever, but they are not going about it with any kind of thoughts to creating that.  So much prime timber of fir, spruce, and cedar, has burnt with all that pine that the loss to their economy is almost impossible to calculate. The thing is, the program that I envision would allow way more choice species in the future than are currently growing in the region now, as it is presently dominated by pine. The biggest problem is that the government and the loggers do not think in future terms, they think in short term plans at best, dealing with 4 year provincial political cycles which are all about being popular with certain policy decisions. 
an effective recipe for policy success in these types of discussions has to do with linking an industry's prosperity to their stewardship of the land they use.
  What a breath of fresh air that would be (quite literally as it has been an incredibly smoky summer here... thank God there were no big fires here, and here's hoping that I get my ponds and swales in place before any happen).  Responsible forestry is almost mythological it is so far from the present reality.  A friend of mine went to an area to check out some logging blocks that were being offered to him as part of the local community forest, when he got out to them in the spring, he found that more than 40% had already been logged.  No accounting for it, at all.  Not just your average cut and run forestry that was done by the 'legal' books, but outright piracy.  That's the level of nightmare that is out here, and what we are potentially dealing with.   The ideas that I am presenting on not only not on the drawing board, they aren't any where near the room the drawing board is in.  These folks are not only not on the same page, they are in a completely different book.  I'm not talking about every logger, or every logging company, but the same is the case for most of the ranchers.  They are schooled in a different train of thought, and this is going to be a hard sell.  It's going to take a massive effort to get the information in the right hands.  Currently, politically, the government is almost the best it's ever been for such an initiative to get rolling, as the Greens have the balance of power with an NDP minority government barely holding power over the Liberals.     

I'll post more in the next day or so.  I worked overtime today and have to get up early to go to work again, so I haven't had much time on this.   Time now for a shower and sleep.  Thanks again for your response, and ideas.  Very much appreciated.  
 
Marco Banks
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Great conversation, guys.

Can you imagine the difference that 50 million beavers would make to the hydrology of our entire continent?  Conservative estimates are that there were once 50 million beavers living in North America, and perhaps twice that number.  They were hunted to near extinction in many places.  Everywhere they have managed to survive or have been reintroduced, the pond and wetlands they build have radically transformed the landscape.  Their dams hold water in the system, create all sorts of amazing new habitat for thousands of other species, recharge aquifers, and rehabilitate streams that have been excised by fast moving water to the point of severe erosion. 

Bring back the beavers!
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Thanks for your encouragement, Marco!

There were three distinct beaver societies that existed on the continent at the time of the fur trade.  The typical single family lodge dwelling beaver is the best known.  There are also beavers who chose to live in dug outs that they build lodges in, generally in the banks of water ways.  These were harder to see, and were likely the ones from which a lot of currently existing beaver populations came back from and were building small lodges as well as dwelling in banks.  The other society were condo dwellers.  They built large lodges that held multiple beaver families; I seem to recall there being up to 50 beavers in a large lodge.  These have not returned, though I have seen some lodges that were definitely multifamily units of greater than a single family, my guess is that it might have held 10.
 
Kyle Neath
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I think one of the more interesting aspects of fire in the West right now is the cycle of money in forestry and the negative feedback loop caused by large scale fires. Large scale fires do two very important things:

1. Cause excessive spending on fire fighting
2. Lower the price of standing timber, as burned forests are easier and cheaper to harvest

But, as a land owner looking to improve your forest, you have two primary sources of funding:

1. Grants from fire agencies
2. Selling standing timber

As there are more large scale fires, there's less money to divert to forest improvement projects since it gets used up fire fighting. And as there's more fires, the price of timber continues to drop, making it less economical for land owners to harvest some timber for improvement projects. Less money for improvement projects means more hazardous forests — it means more standing dead, fewer replanting projects, fewer fire control projects. Which means more fires, which starts the cycle again.

While this negative feedback loop is bad, I still don't think it's the cause of such severe firestorms. I think that comes down to two relatively simpler problems: climate change, and the past 100 years of forest management practices. We've gone through several different strategies for "managing" forest fires in the past decades, and most of them resulted in forests that are far more receptive to fire than they had been in decades prior. Modern forestry practices are much better — erosion and stream quality protections are mandatory and agencies are starting to embrace a philosophy of low-intensity, high-frequency burns. But these strategies take decades or centuries to realize their benefits.

In the meantime, we have overgrown, fire-starved, diseased forests just waiting for a lightning strike  — or maybe some teenagers to throw a firecracker into a gorge. These are the forests we have today, and the forests we'll have for a very long time given current economic motivations. Forests take a long time to mature, it's going to be a slow process.
 
Kyle Neath
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Something else that came to my mind is that we cannot ignore the significant involvement humans have in starting wildfires. While it's true that in B.C. the majority of wildfire are caused by lightning, 40% are still caused by humans. But B.C. is very unique in this aspect — in the United States 90% of wildfires are caused by humans. Imagine if we could flip a switch and stop 40% of fires from starting in the first place. That would be extremely significant.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Canada needs to take money out of disaster. I would like to see zero federal relief money for things like this. I went to many of the affected areas looking for property a few years ago. I decided it was a horrible investment, because of the way the forest is being managed. To me, the price of the property should have been much lower. By giving away money, the government facilitates further waste. More things will be built, that shouldn't have been built, and those who managed their forest poorly are being rewarded handsomely.
 
Chris Kott
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Thanks Kyle. All of this is why supporting beavers as a keystone species is such a monumental idea. Landowners can't spend a lot of money on property improvements. But they can stop doing things to kill beavers where they exist. Except for the areas where they have been completely extirpated, the only thing landowners would have to do is 1) stop killing the beavers; and 2) stop destroying the habitat conditions that beavers need to start out. They do all their own engineering.

So basically, aside from a Ministry of Natural Resources (or whatever the government agency that oversees Natural Resources and the Environment) program to reintroduce beavers in areas where they were once abundant, which eventually would also create a renewed source of income for trappers and other subsistence-level ruralists, all that would be necessary is a program to educate landowners about beavers as a keystone species, and tax breaks for not impeding the new mandatory conservation policy.

This would inform landowners, so they get why it is being done. It would also compensate them for things like having to replace rotted fence posts (though they could just use black locust) through tax incentives. And finally, if it's a mandatory conservation measure, penalties would apply to those who fail to comply (as in, if you keep killing the beavers, you pay). The penalty could be made to match the scale of the penalties for starting forest fires through carelessness, as killing off beavers is essentially encouraging the tinder box conditions that foster firestorms.

I think the best pilot projects would likely be in areas that have recently been devastated, and/or those unlikely to get much human contact during the initial phases. If pilot projects in appropriate areas were selected and started, I think it would gain a momentum all its own. I also think that, without looking into the interactions more closely, the impact on other keystone species, such as salmon (where their habitats or areas of influence would overlap) would likely be beneficial.

And yeah. The States have problems. Many problems. It may be an indicator of how serious they are that 90% of their forest fires are caused by humans. Unfortunately, I don't think beavers can help stupidity.
 
Chris Kott
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And as Dale has pointed out, stupidity isn't solely the realm of our downstairs neighbours.

-CK
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Modern forestry practices are much better — erosion and stream quality protections are mandatory and agencies are starting to embrace a philosophy of low-intensity, high-frequency burns.
  While the practices are much better, and this should be noted and celebrated, there is much that they could do in order to enhance stream quality and erosion control.  I think that this could be enhanced greatly, if forest was managed (logged) with direct consideration towards fire guards rather than grabbing the highest priced wood.  This would particularly have significant impact to our ends if fire guards were planted with a majority of deciduous species which not only drop firestorms to the ground, but often re-sprout from the roots after fires.  The focusing of planting conifers and ignoring the nursery effect of having a canopy of deciduous trees in which many high value conifers naturally regenerate is one of the many major failings in forestry planning.  There has never been a plan of succession in forestry, where one species is planted or encouraged to grow in the understory of it's nursery species, and as such forests are stuck in a false stasis, one that has become a degenerative system in many ways.    Also, as Marco eloquently put it, in regards to beaver
Everywhere they have managed to survive or have been reintroduced, the pond and wetlands they build have radically transformed the landscape.  Their dams hold water in the system, create all sorts of amazing new habitat for thousands of other species, recharge aquifers, and rehabilitate streams that have been excised by fast moving water to the point of severe erosion.  
 

Through my work, we all had to take a fire suppression course.  This year's course was taught by a guy who was a chief in charge of large scale fires in B.C..  I didn't bring up the point, but at one stage in the class he mentioned cutting timbers in the forest into manageable pieces and then aligning them downhill in order so that they do not catch coals, and thus accumulate enough that could insulate an ember that could cause a flare up.  The only ground that should catch coals, he said, are the fire guards carved manually or with machines into the mineral soil with all debris moved.  While it might be effective to stop coal accumulation against logs, all I could think of was the anti-swale effect of a downhill pointing log in comparison to the swale effect of a log placed across the slope.  Perhaps fallers could be hired, after the fire to remove dangerous trees from the situation, laying them down cross slope, while buckers could be bucking up logs that are on the ground and labourers could be moving them so that they lay across the slope, basically acting as thousands of contour dams.  This wouldn't have to be done throughout an entire massive fire, but if it was done in some key areas, it would make a massive difference in nutrient retention/accumulation and also the retention of snow melt and rainfall, thus going beyond controlling erosion to enhancing the existing water holding potential.  If logging cut blocks were done this way with their waste, most of the erosion problems would vanish.  Unfortunately, at this time, most of the waste material is piled high and burnt as 'slash', in towering fires in the early winter.  Also, fire guard trenches could be laid out on the contours so that they become swales instead of drainage ditches <- as if often the case.

Canada needs to take money out of disaster. I would like to see zero federal relief money for things like this....             By giving away money, the government facilitates further waste. 
  I think this government money would be far better spent on fire reduction programs including what I mentioned in this post and others in this thread.

Forests take a long time to mature, it's going to be a slow process.
  For sure, forests take a long time to mature, but deciduous forests do not take long before they can supply beavers, and beavers do not take long before they have increased the water retention in the landscape dramatically, which would be a more appropriate time to go in and replant towards the new hydrology of the landscape.

those who managed their forest poorly are being rewarded handsomely.
  The entire forest system is built around the idea of capital exploitation, not resource management, not sustainability, and certainly not ecosystem succession and encouraging natural regeneration systems.  The result is erosion of not only the landscape, and ecosystems, but also of their own economic base.  It's a suicidal practice, but so are all exploitive models... BUT, there's the short term profits! <-And that's what it's all about.  We have to remove those incentives, while giving incentives to practices that encourage diversity, regeneration, succession, riparian/water system improvements, and ground level biomass accumulation.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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One other cause of fires that most people don't consider is trees falling on power lines.  Interestingly a dead tree can be leaning over a power line and the power company will do nothing about it.  Numerous people will call them to let them know that the tree is there, and that if it falls they, the locals, will be without power.  The power company does nothing... until if falls on the line, breaking it and causing an outage.  At that point, there are emergency contingency funds in place to deal with the situation.  Otherwise no funds are allocated, despite the fact that it would be much cheaper to deal with problem trees than with live voltage on the ground, fixing the line, et cetera, not to mention fire problems.  One of the earliest forest fires this year, a few KM north of Tete Jaune cache and not far from the large Mt Robson tourist area, a fire was started from a tree falling on the line.  It burned an entire mountain.  I drive by it almost every day for work.

Just like on the railway where I work... management nickel and dimes us on tools equipment and track time to do the maintenance, but if there is a derailment, they throw money at it in ridiculous amounts.
 
Kyle Neath
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Roberto: Perhaps things are just very different here in California, a lot of your concerns are pretty well addressed here. I know that where I live (Tahoe), the Forest Service is eighty years into beaver restoration projects. We have hundreds of projects to raise groundwater levels and restore streams to their meandering origins (plug & pond and re-vegetation projects mostly). Similarly, burning piles is not the primary method of removing slash (mostly due to the recent drought, which banned burn piles for five years). It is far more popular to leave the slash piles in place for wildlife habitat (birds primarily), and increasingly CTL logging is popularizing leaving slash in place where the tree grew (instead of concentrated piles near landings). High grading (selecting the most profitable trees) is also pretty unprofitable now given the structures of forest improvement grants and the low price of timber.

I suspect there might be more foresters on your side than you assume. It took me a while to find a forester that was on my wavelength, but once I found him I found a large community of forward-thinking foresters focused on locally-adapted tree stock, fire-conscious planning, and low-intensity high-frequency burns. But I really do have to stress — this stuff takes a long time (much longer than our lifetimes). We're eighty years into re-introducing beavers here and it is by no means a magic bullet. It will take hundreds more years for their efforts to have an effect on fires, and hundreds more to grow forests that are more disease (and thus fire) resistant. We're still fighting just to replant the clear cuts of the 60s & 70s, much less take on more ambitious projects.
 
Dale Hodgins
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The effect of allowing regeneration, rather than planting a certain type of tree at the expense of others, can be seen within 5 years. If the regeneration contains a good portion of hardwoods, the chances of a fire within the next 50 years, are greatly reduced. Wildlife habitat, and nitrogen accumulation are both enhanced by natural regeneration, without the use of herbicides or other means to control hardwoods.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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natural regeneration, without the use of herbicides or other means to control hardwoods.
Generally hardwoods or deciduous species are seen as competition in B.C., and herbicides are used in some cases and in others manual brushing with saws, be they chain saws for larger material or circular bladed brush saws for smaller stuff.  Sometimes the stuff is hacked with a golf club sized cutter.   Sometimes a girdling tool is used.  I think that none of this should be done at all.  
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I suspect there might be more foresters on your side than you assume. 
  Certainly there are foresters with more of a holistic outlook, however they are often severely hamstrung by the political driven forest practice laws, and the needs to supply the timber companies with their annal allowable cut.  We are certainly miles behind California, when it comes to working with beavers.
  the Forest Service is eighty years into beaver restoration projects.
80 years!  That's impressive. 
We're still fighting just to replant the clear cuts of the 60s & 70s, much less take on more ambitious projects.
Well in that case, B.C. is well ahead of California, though there are some zones where the erosion was too extreme to revegetate properly, or the cattle ranchers moved in... trees are planted, but seedlings are not forest communities. 
I really do have to stress — this stuff takes a long time (much longer than our lifetimes)
Maybe I'm just a dreamer, but I think that with enough focus and effort, we can do much better than California has done.  This is partly true because of our winter snow moisture gain situation, and partly due to B.C.'s higher rainfall.  In comparison to California, there are way more water courses in B.C., way more snowmelt, and way more rainfall.  The potential to tilt the ecosystems towards wetter biomes is absolutely massive. 
 
Chris Kott
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I agree with Dale and Roberto on this one. Also, I would guess that proper management from a polycultural/permacultural view would speed the regeneration of the forest habitat, as encouraging native pioneers to do their thing allows natural systems to identify what is needed where. The example of alders, for instance, not being able to grow in the rich soil they create being a driver of succession.

And as to log placement on a slope, I would definitely agree with the contour swale and log placement idea. That, and letting the beavers do what beavers do, engineer away the fire threat and keep water in the land.

-CK
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Here's an idea of what a poplar forest could provide, besides beaver habitat:

Perpetual biomass for forest rehabilitation.  The poplar is a clonal stand, growing as a single living entity.  It can also grow as individuals, but once each reaches a certain size, the individuals spread in a clonal fashion sprouting outwards from their roots.  With some selection, this could create a system where soil is created at a rapid rate, by cutting it selectively for natural breakdown, or building hugulkulturs on large scale to keep more carbon in the ground, likely both.  

Here's a plan that could happen in a poplar grove that is near an area that needs serious erosion control work:  A crew gets helicoptered in during fall to a work location, and clears an area that is big enough for a work camp, near where some serious degradation has happened.  They fall a large amount of firewood, and build a structure that will shed snow and rain, so the wood will dry.  If a small woodgas generator and some other equipment was dropped in by a double prop helicopter, a larger crew could join it, creating a work camp in the spring.  In this camp, some of the wood would be cut and dried to be used in the generator, while others could be cut for use in hugulkultur, around the camp to provide food.  The woodgas generator could supply electrical energy, biochar, and the excess woodgas could be used to fire a wood chipper/shredder where the branches could go.  Shredded branches could be used for a compost that will heat the water and the structures too so the camp can run much longer into the cold season, particularly with some good greenhouse plastic.  Trees would sprout up shoots that could be used in the future as coppice material to feed the shredder, so that less and less trees need to be taken down.  The chipped material could be packed amongst the logs in the hugulkultur with biochar, and used to mulch the system as well.  In the meantime, serious riparian work could get underway, filling gabions, and planting willows, poplars, cottonwoods, and other root spreading pioneers in the degraded area.  Chipped poplars could be used as mulch around each seedling or cutting, and biochar worked into the soil, or simply be in the seedling plugs.  If the area was near a road, large scale swales, hugulkulturs, and other hardscaping could be done with machines.  At any rate the camp stays in place until the area of bad erosion is actually a place that is accumulating nutrients/water. 

A similar process could be done within dead pine forest, though the pines would not be growing perpetually from a clonal stand and don't multiply readily from cuttings, and would chip in a less moist fashion.  There is much that could be done in the pines, but there is a dramatically increased fire risk to the camp/workers.  This would be greatly reduced if the pine forest had already had a fire, but in comparison to poplars, the volume of biomass that could be utilized is quite reduced.

In some ways, a pine grove with an adjoining poplar stand, would possibly be ideal, as the pines could be selectively thinned, which would encourage poplar to enter the forest, and biomass could be added to the pine forest so that it retains more moisture and allows it to transition faster succeeding into wetter species.        

 
Julia Winter
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Marco Banks wrote: Everywhere they have managed to survive or have been reintroduced, the pond and wetlands they build have radically transformed the landscape.  Their dams hold water in the system, create all sorts of amazing new habitat for thousands of other species, recharge aquifers, and rehabilitate streams that have been excised by fast moving water to the point of severe erosion. 

Bring back the beavers!


So that's one way to think about sepp holzer - he is doing the work of the beaver.  Recharging aquifers is a major task to be done, all over the world.  We need to reclaim the complete water cycle, get the water out of the air and the oceans and back into the body of the earth.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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geoff lawton and everyone who builds a swale or unsealed pond... many are doing the work of beavers.  The dams of beavers themselves are often future hugulkulturs.
 
Marco Banks
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In 1995, the first grey wolf was reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park.  It's a massive park -- 3500 square miles.  You wouldn't think that it would have been such a big deal.  It was, but they stuck to their guns (so to speak) and additional wolves were released into the park.  Today, there are roughly 100 wolves in Yellowstone, running in 10 - 12 packs.  That is still a small population when you think of the size of that area, not to mention various state forests that border the park.

I read somewhere that in 1995, there was one beaver colony remaining in the entire park.  That is crazy to think about .  Today, they estimate over 100 colonies, with more to come.  The beaver population continues to grow, as does the habitat that they need to thrive. 

The elk of Yellowstone used to hang out down by the many rivers, grazing on the rich grass and trees that grew in those lush river bottom areas.  Having no other predator than the big lumbering grizzly bear, the elk went where they liked, and ate what they liked.  The beavers were pushed out by hungry elk who grazed the young trees and grasses before they could grow to any size.  All that changed with the introduction of those first wolves.  Now elk couldn't spend their summers getting fat down in the river bottoms, but had to stay on their toes.  Hoofs.  Whatever.  The wolves pushed the elk up much higher into the hills where they could more easily defend themselves and see danger before it attacked.  The prime beneficiaries of the wolves: the beavers.  The cascading effect of their predation caused the willow, aspen and cottonwood plants to recover, mature and re-fill the ecological space the once occupied.  More willows, more beavers survive the long winters.

Initially, elk populations dropped.  But now they have recovered, and over all, the elk herds are stronger and healthier than ever before.  Old, weak and sick stock are routinely culled by the wolves.  Bison populations have remained relatively stable.  In fact, the only animal that hasn't fared well with the reintroduction of the wolf has been coyotes, of which there were already too many in the eco-system.  Not only do wolves hunt many of the same small prey that coyotes do, but they also will take down a coyote for meal if the coyotes get too close.  Coyotes tend to be scavengers, particularly surviving the long Yellowstone winters by eating winter kill bison and elk that don't make it through.  Now the wolves are getting to those easy winter kill meals first.

Anyhow, its remarkable how the wolves made it possible for a massive comeback in the beaver population.  With hundreds of acres of new wetlands, every other species of animal, fish and bird in the park has benefited.  The trickle down effect of all those ponds and wetlands (see what I did there?) is habitat for dozens of other species.

So perhaps to encourage the beavers to make a more significant comeback in BC, we might need to let native wolf populations return. 

 
Roberto pokachinni
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So perhaps to encourage the beavers to make a more significant comeback in BC, we might need to let native wolf populations return.  
  Yep.  I sort of touched on this in the cattle ranching section near the end of the original post in this thread.  The expansion of caribou and wolf population would make a huge difference on re-establishing natural forest succession patterns.  At this time, wolves are culled provincially for a variety of very skewed reasons.  Although my particular location is wetter than most of the major fire zones, the dead pines in my forest are literally dripping with lichens, which are a prime winter caribou feed.  I'm sure this is also the case, but to a lesser extent, in the dryer areas.  The dead pine region that is involved in the largest fire this year is called the Chilcoltin/Caribou.  From my property, the mountains that I look at to the South are called the Caribou's.  But to you think that we see many caribou?  Not hardly any at all are ever seen.   
 
Chris Kott
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So I am hearing dissent on different parts of these issues. Most northern Ontarians that I have spoken to are of the opinion that beavers are a pest to be controlled strictly to protect the infrastructure they are likely to damage, like when they build lodges or dams up against bridges. While that's valid, I think it should be possible to designate wet firebreak areas, at least, such that we get the protective and regenerative aspects of healthy beaver populations without having to interact with them as a pest species around infrastructure.

And the trickle down effect would also involve more riparian regeneration, meaning more trees shading shallower watercourses, meaning lower water temperatures, higher oxygen levels, and a potential to counteract any eutrophying agents downstream. More oxygen in river systems could mean more food for all things up and down the chain, which could lead to things like healthier conditions for salmon, another keystone species in some parts. The effect of supporting the repopulation of some key species could easily have a reinforcing effect with benefits for the whole system, across the whole continent.

-CK
 
Roberto pokachinni
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And the trickle down effect would also involve more riparian regeneration, meaning more trees shading shallower watercourses, meaning lower water temperatures, higher oxygen levels, and a potential to counteract any eutrophying agents downstream. More oxygen in river systems could mean more food for all things up and down the chain, which could lead to things like healthier conditions for salmon, another keystone species in some parts. The effect of supporting the repopulation of some key species could easily have a reinforcing effect with benefits for the whole system, across the whole continent. 
This is exactly the case, and the trickle down effects on species would be radical and dramatic, as would the effect on climate, both local. regional, provincial, national and transnational.    
So I am hearing dissent on different parts of these issues. Most northern Ontarians that I have spoken to are of the opinion that beavers are a pest to be controlled strictly to protect the infrastructure they are likely to damage, like when they build lodges or dams up against bridges. While that's valid, I think it should be possible to designate wet firebreak areas, at least, such that we get the protective and regenerative aspects of healthy beaver populations without having to interact with them as a pest species around infrastructure. 
  Beavers are rodents which multiply readily to the conditions that are available.  The population is expanding and will continue to expand, if we let it, and they will spread into the watersheds, so long as there is food and the ability to stop waterflow.  The infrastructure that the beavers effect, however, goes well beyond bridges.  Imagine a farmer has a large rich hay field on a very gentle slope surrounded by poplar trees with a creek running through it near one side, and a couple of beavers show up.  Soon there is a pond, and then the couple can work safe from predators and they can also more easily haul materials.  They have kits (young) and they expand the pond system, building more dams and flooding more of the field.  The farmer, not recognizing that the rich field's deep fertile soil was likely the result of such past actions of beavers, gets out his traps, or some dynamite, and gets to work himself; after all, he wants a field, not a pond system, and besides that his fence posts are starting to lean.

I  work for the railway, and across Canada we have hundreds of thousands of culverts going through the ballast rock under the ties and rails.  Just like in permacultural thinking, so to do the beavers think that it's a good idea to do the least amount of work to perform a given task.  In dam building, they use the same principle.  The culvert is a bottleneck in the water system and the long wall of railway ballast rock provides additional in-place infrastructure for the beavers.  A small dam, blocking the culvert, has the potential to withhold a large amount of water.   As such, regular culvert inspections have to be done (not just for beavers), and any beaver issues have to be dealt with promptly.  Sometimes this involves removing the material, and sometimes it involves trapping the beavers. 

I know professional trappers who have been paid by logging companies to do the same thing along large logging mainlines.  I imagine the same is true of mining or oil and gas infrastructure.  

These are some examples.  There is plenty of infrastructure that could potentially be effected by an expanded beaver population, but as you wrote, Chris, there is also a large potential to expand the beaver population in remote areas where fire-guards of deciduous/beaver habitat could have great effects on our ecosystems and climates.  Unfortunately many of these areas are being, or have the potential to be, utilized for forestry, mining, or cattle ranching, and as such are potentially at risk of 'management' and these interest groups have powerful lobbying in political spheres.  

The problem might be able to be solved on small local scales, but to get these other parties at the table will take a massive education program toward ecological succession and long term forest regeneration, and that is going to be a huge hurdle if we are going to have as large an effect as might be necessary to stop the 2024 Firestorm, or whenever such a large fire season happens next.  An example on how to fast track this, would be for governments to not focus on bailing out ranchers who lost their large rural ranches and much of their herds to the recent fires, but to focus instead on buying the ranches outright, and reverting them to deciduous forests, or forcing legislation, should the ranches stay intact, that a certain amount of government money be spent on the land to hold more water and inter-plant trees, agroforestry style on the contours in their fields.  

In my valley natural landslides sometimes block high mountain valleys, blocking a small creek building up a small lake on the uphill side.  The blockage is breached often catastrophically, causing a debris flow that buries peoples houses or some of their land, or the highway.  The government then comes in and asks the people to sell their property.  The people can opt to stay, but they have no insurance.  Most people sell. 

 
Roberto pokachinni
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Here is a great little write up by one of my permacultural gurus:  Toby Hemenway: The Watershed Wisdom of the Beaver
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Imagine if the monocultured wasteland of much of the northern prairies was, instead of providing beef wheat and canola, providing beaver, wild rice, and hemp, while also building soil, retaining water, and massively increasing biodiversity.  Whole industries could be created with biochar, biofuels, and other resin oriented products, instead of the monocrop homogeneity.   Much of the Northern Prairie was originally a mosaic of aspen/spruce/pine forests mixed with prairie.  The woodland bison and moose roamed this mosaic edge of the prairie.  In less than two hundred years a massive amount of forest was incrementally cleared by homesteaders and modern farmers in order to 'improve' the land.  Now, the sloughs and ponds have mostly all been drained or simply plowed around for decades until they can be plowed through, the streams have been diverted or have dried up from lack of forest or pond infrastructure catching and holding the rain.  Rainfall has dramatically decreased without the pond, sloughs, seasonal and perennial streams, and forests.  The lakes and ponds that have managed to continue to exist often contain nitrate laden algae blooms from excess fertilizer use.  The current result of every one of these processes is a massive biodiversity drop.   
 
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