By Jem Bluestein
(Author’s note: Many thanks to Tom Frantz for all his great work on behalf of our ecosystem and its human dependents. I have submitted a supplemental analysis of my own.)
What follows is a potential world carbon revolution and legacy:
- To paraphrase a former President, “It’s about the carbon balance, people!” It is incumbent on the people of our planet, if we are to survive, that we all successfully manage the carbon resources is our own backyards. The forests of California are our backyard.
- In the light of recent (long predicted) conflagrations, many actions will be taken—most of what is coming will only increase the catastrophic predicament and consequences.
- Many people and agencies are beginning to understand some of the circumstances and imperative actions but in general are missing important factors.
- The following update puts together important and frequently misunderstood aspects of the big picture, including origins of the problems, the basis of the solution and a specific protocol.
- Our current disaster scenarios can be transformed into extraordinary opportunity for all of humanity if we do this properly and without undue delay. Deliverables of this protocol include decreasing carbon release; increasing the volume and longevity of carbon sequestration; massive production of water for downstream usage; decreased air pollution; increased oxygen production; salvage and production of forest products; massive employment opportunities in myriad areas; and great savings of human life, property and firefighting costs, as well as (perhaps best of all) creation of a large segment of our population devoted into future generations to sustainable management of our natural resources.
- A pilot program to dial in methods and hardware will allow us to spread the practice far and wide.
This is an urgent proposal regarding the protection of forests in California and beyond. First, to the existing condition of the forest and its causes: Since the killing/removal of the native human caretakers of the land, we have established practices exactly contrary to sustainable management.
Mature canopy trees were mowed down, and this process was repeated with the regrowth of successive generations of trees. This caused damage to the soils and watersheds and led to choking regrowth of brush and tree thicket.
Combined with a century of suppression of natural fire occurrence (which previously resulted in frequent, “cool” fires and the safe reduction of forest fuels), these activities led to fuel loads and growth densities of unprecedented magnitude. Mix with rising temperatures and shifting precipitation effects, and we have now arrived at the serious ongoing losses that have been predicted in connection with climate disruption.
The necessary prescription at this point is that most of the trees and brush of less than 10” in diameter must be thinned (removed) as well as the huge amount of fuel on the ground (dead material) and all remaining trees limbed up to 16’ feet of hanging dead branches.
This eliminates what is referred to as the “fuel ladder,” which otherwise transfers the fire from a slow, creeping tidying affair on the ground to a destructive crown fire or fire tornado. The correct prescription will clear the ground, allow diverse species to grow and wildlife to move about, and does not harm maturing trees, sequestering great amounts of carbon in soil and forest.
It encourages genetic diversity, which in turn leads to ecosystem stability. The wrong prescription leads to a firestorm that destroys all in its path, releases carbon into the atmosphere and destroys carbon capturing capability, which is what mature forests do best.
Every region must manage and restore its carbon balance if we are going to survive. Before the recent bark-beetle pine tree die-offs in the central Sierra Nevada, government agencies were becoming aware of the disastrous condition that the last century of upside-down forestry has wrought. Panic had set in with no plan or budget to address it.
Climate shift has brought almost a decade of mild winters allowing beetle populations to thrive unchecked and decimate uncontrollably. The die-offs, the kiln-dry conditions, the choking growth and fuel accumulations are now flaming out of control in an ever-accelerating cycle. Here is how to immediately turn around the situation with maximum benefit to economy and world humanity.
We have to create many small conservation crews. (Step one is immediate pilot contracts to dial in best hardware and practices for ramping-up of magnitude and then global export of the complete protocol.) Crews will move through the forests with light mechanical backup. They will be small and many to lighten the impact on natural systems and expedite compliance with all restrictions.
Compared to a larger mechanical approach, this crew is trained to encourage maximum species diversity by selecting species to be left growing in optimal density and location. (This benefit alone is huge, compared to the big outlay and high fail rate of replanting efforts after fire, or major mechanical thinning or logging.) Portable pyrolysis or other cogeneration equipment will create virtually endless supplies of renewable green fuel.
The crew brings biomass/fuel conversion into the forest; fuel from forest is chipped and converted onsite. This maximizes value and minimizes the transport of raw material. Fuels can be used by project equipment directly or transported in liquid or other form (electricity; even hydrogen has some tantalizing tie-in possibilities) to communities or the nearest grid connection.
The clean capture of this perpetual source of energy (chipped forest debris harvested on an ongoing basis in perpetuity) can be made into hydrogen, bagged up and tethered to units of milled lumber or other forest product so as to be lifted and floated (towed along by a little air tractor up there) out of the forest and into town where the lumber builds shelter for the homeless and the hydrogen enters the growing hydrogen stream for fuel cell or vehicular use. Roads in the forest would not be required to move people, equipment or materials.
The spread of this substantial crew activity throughout the region (and beyond) will protect and restore our forests and their ability to absorb and sequester carbon while decreasing wildfires and carbon producing petro-based activities of all kinds. It will also produce great volumes of water downstream through processes that are becoming increasingly appreciated. Deliverables clearly would include employment opportunities in labor, training, sciences, education, operators, engineering, transport, energy, water, infrastructure and building.
To immediately finance this WPA-scaled initiative, consider first the current explosive costs of wildfire response and the ultimate losses of economy and human life and suffering. Next, look to the billions currently sequestered in the state surplus from the carbon trading program.
Add all the income-generating aspects described above and compare with the inconceivable cost of not responding quickly and effectively. The advantages in physical and emotional health from working in the forest are also significant and currently subject to much rediscovery. The goal of having whole segments of our society trained and devoted to sustainable, beneficial interaction with nature for all generations into the future cannot be overstated.
As Robin Kimmerer points out in her brilliant Braiding Sweetgrass, “Restoring land without restoring relationship is an empty exercise. It is relationship that will endure and relationship that will sustain the restored land. Therefore, reconnecting people and the landscape is as essential as reestablishing proper hydrology or cleaning up contaminants. It is medicine for the earth.” And for us humans as well.
Jem Bluestein is a forester, musician and massage therapist. Contact Jem at firstname.lastname@example.org or 559-765-1909.