Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ways of Change

When there's enough momentum behind it, change can be swift. But this is rare the world over. So I, and others like me, accept that the change we bring about is often slow-coming and incremental. We celebrate small victories for the resources we care about: old growth units dropped from a timber sale; a pristine, backcountry meadow spared from the introduction of livestock; the conversion of a 40,000-acre chunk of forest into a play area for off-highway vehicles halted; and a couple wolves live to roam free another day.

Appreciating the value of these small victories doesn't mean we're not also searching for opportunities to effect change on a bigger scale and seizing those opportunities when they arise. We advocate for permanent protection, of the highest order afforded under our system of laws, for our last remaining roadless country. We demand land management plans, like our regional Blue Mountain Forest Plan revision (which will govern what happens on over 5.5 million acres of public land for the next 20 years), provide connectivity corridors for wide-ranging species to travel between core habitats and adapt to climate change. And sometimes we use aggressive litigation to send a messageloud and clearthat when resource management fails to ensure the protection of our lands, waters, fish and wildlifewhomever's responsible for it, is gonna get a "swift kick in the pants" (to quote my grandma).

We hope that the lawsuit we filed this winter, aimed at requiring the Forest Service to take the requisite hard look at the potentially far-reaching negative impacts of cattle grazing on resources that span over hundreds of thousands of acres of varied terrains and ecosystems, is a wake-up call; a reminder that sometimes slow, incremental change isn't good enough.

At least not when maintaining status quo management practices results in our public lands looking like private feedlots:

And not when our streams that support declining fisheries dependent upon clean, cold water are trampled, eroded, and loaded with sediment:

That's when it's time to answer the call for serious change.

Jennifer Schwartz, Staff Attorney

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Forests help to keep our world cool

Forests provide a wide array of important services to society such as clean drinking water, recreational opportunities, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, cultural values, and much more. A new study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society highlights the unique role that forests play in maintaining relatively cool land surface temperatures relative to surrounding native plant communities during hot summer months. This effect is particularly important in areas like the Blue Mountains where the summer dry period is very pronounced and non-forest plant communities “brown-down” during the summer and commensurately exhibit very high surface temperatures. The image below shows satellite based land surface temperature on the left and land cover type on the right and illustrates the much cooler land surface temperatures of the forested areas of the Blue Mountains compared to the surrounding grasslands, shrublands, and barren areas. The map graphically displays that with land surface temperature alone you can outline the location of forest ecosystems relative to drier shrublands and grasslands during the hot, dry, mid- and late summer months, particularly in the semi-arid climate of eastern Oregon and Washington. If you are interested in learning why the land surface temperatures measured by satellite are so much higher than the air temperature everyone is so accustomed to hearing reported by the local TV station, radio, or newspaper, follow the link below to the BAMS paper for a detailed explanation of this interesting temperature distinction.

Figure altered from Mildrexler et al. 2011.

Large portions of the Blue Mountains including the Wallowa and the Elkhorn Mountains have maximum land surface temperatures similar to that of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and Coastal Ranges. While this might seem surprising, with the exception of deciduous broadleaf forests that shed their leaves to avoid drought stress, all forests ecosystems converge to a similar upper temperature limit of about 100 F. The reason for this has to due with the characteristics that forest ecosystems share such as deep roots to access groundwater, and deep complex canopies that are efficient at shedding heat through interactions with the atmosphere.

Despite the numerous benefits that forests provide to society such as regulating the most extreme maximum temperatures that we experience all year, much of our current forest policies, such as the US National Fire Plan, focus almost exclusively on fuels. Its time we move beyond this overly simplistic approach and explicitly consider the numerous valuable ecosystem services we derive from forests in our overarching policies to managing these incredible ecosystems.

The BAMS study may be accessed here:

Post by David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator, Hells Canyon Preservation Council and lead author of the study.