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Radiant Heat

Its time for another post about beetles, clearcuts, burns, and all that goes with that.

Beetles are demolishing the conifers of our western forests.  Rising temperatures, years of  fire suppression policies, and natural cycles contribute to these changes in our forests.  Its also worth saying that conifers have been around for eons of time, way before insects and angiosperms were on this planet.  At one time you can imagine the whole world covered with conifers.  Their successful strategy of being wind pollinated has allowed them to disperse and survive.

So what’s the fuss?

In the end its all about saving structures.  Man-made structures like our homes.  And money of course.  I don’t disagree with that in essence.  But I do think there is a way to work with nature, taking as much into account as is humanly possible.

Because there is money from the state only this year, rather than over 5 years time, my neighbors had incentive to almost clear cut the forest on their properties, for essentially free.  But the caveat was that the loggers got the dollars and useable wood, leaving the slash piles for the homeowners to take care of.  Thus, there are humongous piles all over the woods now, if you could call what’s left ‘woods’. And the homeowners are trying to figure out what to do with these piles.

Wow, what a gigantic slash pile in front of my house in my neighbor's yard

I too was given the same incentive, but chose not to use a logging company and am looking towards doing my project in a lighter way.  Of course, I don’t have the intense forest of spruce and dead fall they had.  What I have is a more sparse population of Limber Pines, suffering from Blister Rust and some beetle kill.

Last year on my own I began limbing up trees starting with those around my upper cabin, with the intention of over the course of 5 years, completely limbing up all the pines.  Limbing them up to 5-6′ might help the pines fend off the rust.  My logic is for two reasons:  first they avoid contact with the Ribes that likes to grow under and next to the pines. Ribes is a host for the rust.  Second, since the rust is a type of fungus, air circulation can never hurt in helping fight fungus.

When the state forester saw I’d started limbing around the cabin, he and the fire chief were happy.  Its a good step in fire prevention as well.

This year I’m selectively cutting and burning those pines that have active beetles, heavily.  Its been easy to identify.  The trees have pitch tubes where they are trying to pitch out the beetles.  The ones that have a plethora of pitch tubes probably won’t make it.  We’re cutting those and burning them on the spot.

Burn on my property

I also have trees from last year that succumbed to beetles.  I’m cutting those selectively, burning the debris and using the rest as firewood.  The beetles have already flown from those trees.

Then I’ll continue to limb up all the trees and burn the slash.  Finally, we’ll do a night burn where we’ll fix a perimeter and burn a low fuel ground fire to clean up the soil, making it fresh for new nutritious native grasses and the young seedlings I plan to plant to replace those that died.

I’ve noticed there are few young trees amidst the old.  I’ve read that in the White Pine family, as the Clarks Nutcracker distributes the seeds, the most successful germination rates are on new burn areas.  Maybe that is why there are so few seedlings here, as there hasn’t been a burn in probably over 100 years.

I didn’t own any of that spruce forest that I loved to walk in daily.

Devastated spruce forest after intensive beetle logging

Filled with owls, moose, turkeys, deer, black bears, coyotes, martens, squirrels and endless other creatures, I’d see their sign, hear their sounds, and know they found cover and food there.  Now the forest looks like a vast hurricane-like force came whipping through it.  And although nature herself can deal some devastating blows, it didn’t have to go down this way.  I would have made it a 5 year plan, slowly clearing with intention so that areas could grow in with willows and choke cherries, alders and native grasses, keeping cover as I cleared successively.

The forest now. There will be lots of blow down still to come

So what’s the fuss?  Sure, it will grow back in time, although not in my time here.  We humans are like a hurricane.  It takes discipline and conscious effort to go forth gently.  As the old adage goes:  Destroying is easy.  Any one can do that.  Yet creating and sustaining takes work, nurturing and love.  And that is what makes us truly human.

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