Ag at large: Forests suffering from lack of care

California’s forest mismanagement and neglect has led to billions of dead trees, much of it out of reach which is also due to neglected roads and trails. (Photo courtesy of Brockenhexe/Pixabay )

Trees in California’s forests are transmitting the message that the state’s farmers can recite in their sleep: neglect our care and we crumble. Disease, predatory insects and lack of routine care have brought much of the state’s forest land to a deplorable condition.

A majority of the blame for the neglect rests with the federal government’s U.S. Forest Service, with a bit left over for the State Division of Forestry, and a significant amount reserved for drought and pest conditions in recent years.

Untold billions of board-feet of usable lumber stand or lie in the state’s forest lands, much of it out of reach because of neglected roads and trails and some of it rotted and deteriorated because it is in millions of trees that have fallen unnoticed and out of sight.

The bright spot in the equation is the dialogue that has begun among University of California scientists, forest managers and public agencies to manage the consequences of the unprecedented tree die-off and increase the resiliency of forests to future droughts.  A report on that effort is part of the article in the April-June (current) issue of the university’s quarterly publication, California Agriculture.

Twenty five co-authors are credited in the report that enumerates the damages that have already occurred to the state’s forest land, forecasts future mortality, tree fall and fire risk and suggests practices and choices of tree varieties that might help avoid continuance of the devastation

“In unthinned stands,” the article states, “tree mortality was higher, and shade-tolerant species were not dominating the understory; less than 20 percent of the saplings and seedlings were pines, and less than 25 percent were hardwood species.”  Mortality was lower in stands that were thinned, with more hardwoods and pines present

The report recommends establishment of a rapid response network   One outcome might be a reaction to limited regeneration of desirable species, such as pine, by initiating replanting efforts focused on those varieties.  Almost a dozen additional practices, procedures and rulings were identified, including the political will to be more proactive in forest management, especially in engaging with communities to develop collaborative planning and policy mechanisms.

The report suggested long-term coordinated funding for forest management, perhaps from ecosystem service taxes paid by those who benefit from forests.  Limiting the number and types of businesses, individuals and groups that benefit from the forests might be as big a challenge as writing the report.

The authors of the university study emphasize the impact of the 2012-2016 drought by stating that it was the most severe in the past 1,200 years, revealing how vulnerable vast regions of the state’s forests are. It says more frequent and more severe extreme drought conditions are predicted by a changing climate.

The report concludes by saying that addressing the issues it has investigated will require money, continued collaboration among designated scientists and involvement by a variety of stakeholders.  Dialogue aimed at those objectives has begun, designated as Tree Mortality Data Collection Network.

While that is gelling we can remain aware of the reported damage as it occurs to one of the world’s greatest natural resources, so conveniently placed in our back yard. We can enjoy it as we protect it, not a bad proposition.

And we can learn as we go that fundamental lesson farmers live by –– awake or asleep. 

Don Curlee
Don Curlee is your man when it comes to Agriculture. His Ag Alert column in our publication is sure to inform you on what you need to know when it comes to the agricultural industry.