Saturday, February 15, 2014

What is meant by the word "Natural" when it comes to Land Management?

We are now living in the times of definition shell games, terms being muddled and where gray areas and a world of no absolutes are championed. Mostly I find all this later day murkiness to be a mere marketing ploy, not only of business in the conventional sense which we all understand, but also religious institutions and political entities when it comes to push or wanting to justify various doctrines, schemes or policies. Funny how that word natural can be manipulated and promoted as having meaning beyond it's original creation, purpose and intent as it has been traditionally understood for ages in the real world. Take for example the illustration at the right here. Would you find it absurd, maybe even asinine if an obese man justified his condition as being natural, rationalizing that obesity can also found many places in the Natural World ? Interestingly, many with hidden agendas do manipulate that term for selfish reasons. The word natural has been further exploited in other ways by the addition of unique words to exaggerate or embellish the original meaning. "All Natural", "100% Natural", "Natural Fire Regime" etc. Take a look at this very humorous and illustrative play on the word "Natural" by our world's big business interests. You can click the link (HERE)

Or you may click the play button on the video in this image above
The manipulation and advertising of common words/terms through game playing by the giant Corporate Industries in our world I think we all understand well, but it's when the Scientists who work for or with them is where much of this goes wrong. These are actually the very people who should know better, at least from the higher educational backgrounds we are constantly told they have, hence deserving of our respect and trust. The big problem is they have screwed up so many times lately, that like religion and politics, they appear to be on the same lower level of suspicion. Take the Industrial Science-Based agricultural giant located in the San Joaquin Valley called Harris Ranch Beef. They have an interesting motto or clever statement on their website.
Harris Ranch Beef Company, "Beef the way nature intended it to be."
(SERIOUSLY ???) The way Nature intended it to be ? Anyone who has traveled Interstate 5 in the San Joaquin Valley on the west side and driven through Coalinga is well aware of dust cloud hell you have to endure with no relief for at least 15 to 20 minutes of fast driving. It's almost impossible to breath and how that dust gets into your car with the air conditioning turned on to recirculate is beyond me. Yet not only is Harris Ranch's business model promoted as natural, but also sustainable, which is yet another one of those interesting seemingly fuzzy words with definition problems. Montana Ranchers for example find the existence of Wolfs, Mountain Lions and even Buffalo as things which make their business model unsustainable. Seriously, a quote from an article yesterday in Yahoo Financial News about the government having to "Yellowstone bison slaughter begins" . A quote in that article says it all:
"But Montana's livestock industry has little tolerance for bison because of concerns over disease and competition with cattle for grass."
There is also a similar attitude from another science-based agricultural entity like the Industrial Forestry (Timber) business model which has an intense hatred of the western landscape's native chaparral. In their irresponsible scientific worldview, they mistakenly promote Chaparral as impeding the regrowth of what they consider proper plant species worthy of being called a forest. A forest which they intend to harvest for future profit. They also manipulate words in their irresponsible land management policies and programs to promote their industry and livelihood. They also no doubt manipulate political ties to get what they want. In the land management industry there are also other business entities when it comes to mastication and control burning and you can bet there are a significant amount of profit to be had by folks who are hired by that industry as this photograph from 2012 shows: 

Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic

Logging contractors, like this one thinning a forest near Mormon Lake in late May, create openings that slow a fire's advance. The nation's largest such thinning project, the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, is off to a slow start.
Interestingly, "Pioneer Forest Products" did not live up to the original agreement and barely thinned 1000 acres and did not have the finances to build that promised sawmill for producing wooden products which would have supposedly boosted the local & state economies. However last summer 2013, another company called "Good Earth Power" was said to be in line for the new contract. See link AZ Central: "New forest-restoration contract, same old problems" . Unfortunately for Nature and the environment, this company is huge and powerful with large business venture operations in Africa and financing is said to be coming out of the Middle East and China. Bottom line is, it's all about the money and to justify the money angle, the word term "Natural" and play on the emotions of the public is the usual strategy. They've come up with a term or phrase called "Natural Fire Regimes".  In so using this term, many large Industrial Forestry people and US Government land managers are utilizing a ongoing romanticized myth about Native American use of fire for land management and how much the natural world will benefit from this regular burning practice. Of course were are talking about the modern practice of "Control Burns" or "Prescribed Burns" which are more of a political hot potato solution solution to appease an otherwise upset public concerned with our present later day climate change enhanced wildfires. Actually, the debate is however whether Indians (Native Americans) should be considered as a part nature. I have previously written about Native Americans here in a post called: Dances With Myths: Indigenous Native Peoples and Fire Ecology and my opinion of course is that they are as equally human as any other peoples around our globe. But many fire defenders don't have that exact view of them. Why they were considered the ultimate eco-greenies when it comes to sustainability and conservation. But were they really ? Yes they no doubt they knew how to live off the land, but interestingly not all were successful. The most successful were those in large groups who cooperated with each other and that wasn't always the case. There is also another proposed movement which is now championing many of the much larger native civilizations empires throughout the Americas who are likewise romanticized today for their sustainable agricultural practices and how this art and ancient knowledge has been lost. (As a side not, there is presently also another kooky proposal scheme to story tell how this ancient knowledge was given them by ancient aliens, but I'll not go there. Many know what I'm talking about with the major so-called science entertainment channels) Does anyone out there appreciate that these civilizations are long extinct as successful Empires ? For example, I never ever hear this next subject brought up in discussion. From several centuries BC up until the 12/13 centuries, both the Anasazi empires of the western USA and the civilization which built the huge pyramid-like Cahokia Mounds in the eastern USA were far more advanced than the Natives the first Europeans encountered when they finally came to North America centuries later. So what happened ? Isn't the story told of how for 15,000 years the North American Natives were simple wildlife conserving cultures with an almost uncanny ability encoded within their genetic makeup to be the ultimate in everything eco-green ?  Why it's in their blood. The true facts reveal more and more that those Native American Empires overused and abused their surrounding lands and in so doing brought about a miniature localized climate change in the form of sustained droughts which led to their downfall. They also had problem with distrust and carrying on war with each other (hmm sounds very European to me) and no doubt would even used fire to war on their enemies. As European influence made inroads into the North American landscape, they actually influenced the natives who took up European technologies. Rather than rejecting the foreign invader's less than eco-green policies, they actually embraced them. Horses were not natural to the natives, as they hunted and chased prey on foot. So observing the huge advantage the Spanish brought with them, they adopted and traded for the ways of the horse. Please consider this, what native would have been willing to turn back the clock and chase Bison on foot in championing a more eco-green cause ? Hardly! What natives would opt for leaving the Winchester Repeating Rifle and going back to more eco-green hunting tools made from natural earth friendly materials like Spears, Bows  Arrows in the cause of their genetically encoded Eco-green preferences ? Again hardly! Why ? Because the early Natives were Human Beings equal to the Europeans they encountered and that is what all humans do. They advance to make room for more comfortable living conditions and survival a little easier. Eco-World had nothing to do with it. So there is no doubt they used fire just like every other culture on Earth had used it for thousands of years. No doubt there may have been some intent for creating better forage of berries (as the website below suggests) and possibly to facilitate an easier time of chasing herbivores on foot over cliffs with fire, but such strategies are not necessarily conservation nor does it explain fire's ability to create and maintain as well as other more *cough-cough* "Natural" components rarely mentioned.

Now for a change of thought here, take a look below at some of the more iconic picture comparisons being used from one website showing how natural it is to employ fire as a conservation and preventable wildfire practice. The website is and has this to say about it's backers.
"A People of Vision... The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are comprised of the Bitterroot Salish, the Pend d'Oreille and the Kootenai tribes."
On another page under the subject of "Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation" it has this to promote about it's people. 
"The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have always been good stewards of the natural resources. Today we strive to achieve good stewardship through excellent Fish, Wildlife, Recreation, and Conservation Program Management."
"Our efforts include continuing our cultural traditions, interdisciplinary consultation, setting high standards and professional qualifications, providing due process and public involvement as part of the regulation development process." 

Photo: Brady Hall
One major cultural tradition which is greatly referenced through story telling is the Native use of fire for conservation. The US Forest Service champions fire as the great ecosystem molder and creator of healthy wildlife and plant habitat creation. Why ? Because that's what the Indians did and no one was more one with the land as the Native Americans. It dedicates much photos and storytelling behind them to paint a picture of their great understanding of the natural world. But never once does it touch on animal influences on an ancient pristine landscape nor does it attempt any honesty with regards human error when it comes to lighting fires. For example, as humans, we all have our own predisposition to making mistakes. But no reference is made to this on the website. Things like Waring with neighbouring tribes who were considered enemies by means of fire, or irresponsibly leaving a campfire improperly left unattended with the possibility of an afternoon Santa Ana-like wind phenomena kicking up a wildfire which got out of control only to burn itself out eventually or at least until seasonal rains came back. Times would be similar back then to modern humans now. No mention of kids playing with daddy's flint stone to try and see if they too could make fire behind that hill outside the camp, only to get out of control. You all know kids, right ? The reasons for fire are many, just like today, but only the myth of conservation is dealt with on that site. Any idea of the effects of mistakes on the ancient landscape back then ? They also seemed prone to embellishing the Fable about themselves on that site. Now for any who wish to go down the road of , well you are making fun of them and therefore a bigot, seriously, don't even try and go there. I have a great fondness for their history and a strong dislike for the hand they were dealt by the Europeans. But I am also a realist, I view Native Americans as human beings equal to all other human beings on Earth, even those native Americans of the historical pre-European encroachment era.
Update (2015) - The image below and text quoted from the Saltish & Kootneai website can no longer be found. The text and many images used in the glorification of regular use of fire for management have been removed.


(Photo: Grant Rolf/Higgins Storm Chasers)
Personally, I don't find either of the two fire pictures settings  above to be natural. However I would define the one to the right here as a natural occurring fire ignition event often found out in Nature. I have to admit the website was interesting and in some cases compelling in it's arguments, but there were also some other clear flaws. For example, many of the historical photographs were from the 1920s and 30s and were compared with today. One has to keep in mind that by the 1920/30s, the Europeans had already had a major out of control natural resources obsession impact effect on the landscape's environment. These were also times when for the most part there were no rules as to conservation and rehabilitation with regards the landscape. Early white pioneers were out to make a killing financially based on rumors of the west and would have done what ever irresponsible thing they could to obtain that goal. Could much of those bare spots in the photos been European influenced ? Unfortunately we cannot go back much beyond 150 years to get an accurate visual of what the natural world was like or what influence the Natives had on a pristine landscape centuries prior. Hence at best all we have is story telling in the form of myths and fables to go by and taking things on faith. There is also clearly no way to defend a practice which 150 years ago did not have the climate extremes we experience now with climate change or shifting. The website brought out the regions which seem to show more open grassland ground than today's present denser tree and chaparral cover in the same locations. The site claims that they did this to provide grassland grazing areas for their herbivore prey. 
Possible historical alternative to wildFire as an Ecosystem maintenance component and ecological landscape creator

illustration: Karen Carr Jefferson

image: Smithsonian
One of my major problems with much of this justification for such the continual usage of fires for modern conservation is that animals are never taken into the equation as landscape modifiers or transformers and they clearly were a HUGE factor as modern outdoor lab examples testify to. Especially where the now extinct Mega Fauna are concerned. Questions arise everywhere like, "What roles did very large herbivores like Giant Ground Sloths play in the maintenance of chaparral ecosystems ? In every single artist conception of the Giant Ground Sloth the animals are always browsing trees and shrubs. From mummified dung samples taken from caves it is apparent that they were heavy browsers of Chaparral shrubs, forest trees and other high desert plants like Joshua Tree and Mormon Tea, some of the most rangy fibrous foliage that could be consumed by any creature.

These animals among other mega fauna lifeforms like Glyptodon (Giant Armadillo), Mastodons etc etc etc who were not grazers, but heavy browsers of leaves, branches, twigs etc. Take a look at the photograph of fossil teeth below comparing a Mammoth tooth to a Mastodon tooth. Modern Elephants and Mammoths have low, highly enfolded teeth for grazing, while Mastodons have high crested teeth for browsing tree and shrub branches, twigs and leaves. The modern Elephants and Mammoths are tall, while the Mastodons were shorter and stout with more massive bodies which could easily allow them to move through ancient type of chaparral plant communities, much the way the now extinct California Grizzly Bear once did.


Clues from modern day examples of how animals shape and maintain ecosystems which conflict with the "Burn Baby Burn"  mentality as a cure all solution.

Credit: OPB

Probably one of the greatest examples of a major factor other than fire as a plant community maintainer is the prime example of the Elk effect on plant life within the National Park called Yellowstone. It is said that in the early 1990s Elk numbers were close to 15,000. The countryside was more open and Alders, Willows, Cottonwoods and Aspen woodlands were kept in check by these large browsing animals. Wolves were introduced back then and the numbers are now said to be around 9,000. Now the young aspen trees are just finally recovering in the Yellowstone National Park, after wolves that were re-introduced in 1995 which helped to limit elk browsing that had been killing young trees. The older trees seen here date to the last time there were wolves in the park 70 years ago. Seriously, watch this video of how wolves changed Yellowstone's landscape. The researchers also noticed how when Elk and Deer numbers dropped and behavior changed, the narrator pointed out that most of the bare of bald spots in Yellowstone changed to a heavier vegetation cover than previously. This is the exact opposite of what the storytelling myth or fables invented by those in charge tell us on some of these use of fire conservation websites who credit fire as the fix it all answer. 

Okay, once again, the main point of those before and after photos on that Native American website is that the open space was the result of consistent regular Native American Control Burning with Fire, for which the website is a champion. However from this video you just watched and listened to, the modern "Natural" example in Yellowstone and the effect on vegetation by large browsing herbivores, is it not more clear that it was they who had a much more profound effect than admitted or discussed by anyone when it comes to the Prescribed Burning Policy. The subject of wildlife being used in land management is never brought up in hardly any discussion and it should be. If we are to believe the other scientific literature about not only Elk, but also Bison and Pronghorn Antelope, these creatures are said to have each numbered into the millions before the Europeans came. Ponder this for a moment!  What possible effect did these millions animals have in shaping the landscape ? If 15,000 unhindered unmolested Elk had a major effect on the Yellowstone ecosystem (creating open bald regions), what did millions upon millions of these herbivores have on the whole of North America ? Unlike Domestic Herbivores, the Pronghorn will eat many chaparral species of which many are toxic to the domestic cattle who won't touch them. Again, nobody ever factors this into any equation.

image courtesy of
Ponder for a moment the devastating megafires happening everywhere in the west. While climate change certainly contributes, others also blame the rampant unbridled killing of forest trees by various bark beetles. But could the elimination of thousands of bear (both Grizzly & Black Bears) who hunt and forage a number of downed trees and rotted logs for ant colonies and pupae and grubs from bark beetles have perhaps provided one measure of checks and balances which no longer exist ? Even if their didn't dine on every single grub from a ripped up log, other scavengers could have come after and cleaned up what was left over. Did this potential scenario  provide a type of checks and balances for forest bark beetles populations which appear to now be exploding out of control ? Who knows, but the beauty here of the Yellowstone example is that it is not something from way back in history where the need for myth manufacturing or fable fabrication needs to be employed as an embellishment or exaggeration to justify a belief system used for promoting an idea, policy or flawed program of land management. It actually did happen before the eyes of many modern day human beings present today who can read and watch what has been documented just a mere decade ago. It truly is an example of a real life natural occurrence of how nature's various mechanized components work in harmony when restored properly to their former position in the Natural World's cleverly engineered ecosystem system irrespective how ideologues of both sides of debate believe they got that way in the first place. Remember the old time saying, "If it's not broken, then why fix it ?"

Especially when Chaparral Biologist Richard Halsey brings all these points up to public debate. Surprisingly, he's often attacked by even his own followers who otherwise support his California Chaparral Institute's mission for bringing up this very subject. There are clearly those who just cannot give up this old time cherished religious dogma, hence the use of the terminology such as "faith statements" by those championing such control burn causes based not on actual science but rather a flawed gut felt myth motivated by heart felt belief in and reverence for an unfortunately mistreated people and culture. The main point behind Richard Halsey's research is very simple, Observational Science backed up by utilizing a discipline called Biomimetics resulting in Biomimicry or replication of Nature for restoration ecology. That is what we can truly call "Being Natural" 

Credit Richard Halsey

Native American Burning & Natural Fire Regimes

By all means please read the very informative article referenced above from the Chaparral Institute's website. Now for another change of thought. I'd now like to straighten up a couple of other points here. I am not totally against using fire as a necessary tool and for that matter neither is Richard Halsey, if it's respected as only as a tool and used properly. The general problem I have always observed with the US Forest Service's attempts at forest restoration is they attempt to bypass several "Natural" rules in forest re-establishment by cutting out several necessary progressive steps and accelerating tree growth which will be used as future profit. I also find most programs which are use as an attempt to re-establish trees after a catastrophic wildfire are as a rule done way too late, often times 3 or 4 years after the event. Anyone know how long "Nature" takes to repair and mend the environment after any kind of disruption ? That's right, immediately! Unfortunately most Forest Service projects wait until scientific environmental impact studies can be done and starting times are at best two or three years later. At that point chaparral has grown back and suddenly war is declared on this plant community as if it were an alien invader. The fact is Nature actually start trees off immediately during the first winter rainy season. In fact most seeds germinate in the ground long before Spring with seedling emergence quite often pushing through snow. That's called a clever head start. I know, because I experimented with various pine seed by actually outplanting them in the soil on my own acreage at the beginning of winter up in Anza California to see what would happen as opposed to Spring planting year old seedlings. They out performed by means of the head start because of a more advanced already in place functional root structure prior to the onset of summer. The companion chaparral that also sprouts up with it is actually an ally not the enemy. It could well be considered a nurse plant or mother tree. Without going into much detail again, an excellent example of successful nature-based reforestation where trees live along side and within chaparral was a 1982 fire event where the results of nature-based reforestation came off successfully at Mountain Center California south of Idyllwild. Nobody replanted anything nor cleared any chaparral. The area which is mostly private land was left to it's own redevelopment.

The result is more trees than previously and larger by comparison than many of the land stripping programs in Garner Valley to the east where chaparral was obliterated and also soils are much deeper. Yet even the trees from the Forestry sponsored plantation project up the road on Hwy 74 near Keen Summit which is forest land from Mt Center are not nearly the size of the same age trees. They actually stripped acreage for a sterile planting bed and maintained it a couple years after by use of a water wagon, I know because I commuted past there for almost 20+ years. See the article: "1982 Mountain Center Fire & the Forest's Regeneration" (Article Link) also see the article I wrote about a similar 1983 project I did utilizing biomimicry in forest establishment which left about 40% to 60% of the native chaparral down in lower elevation Terwilliger CA where rainfall is even less. This was a property I care took for free rent. The chaparral plants are the main heroes for this success, not me or the property owners. I also inoculated the trees with symbiotic fungal spores found in higher elevation forest areas which also enhanced the root infrastructure under the ground. Many of these trees are larger than even the Garner Valley tree plantation sites and some equal to the Mountain Center trees. See the post: "Establishing a Forest where the Experts said it would Fail" (Article Link)

Old Dawson Place Terwilliger CA
Now in the event of wanting to establish forest using fire, fire should be used responsibly, along with the site remaining untouched and unmolested of it's native chaparral that following rainy season. In other words, don't remove these plants by further mechanized  or chemical destruction of all other plant roots, considering these as competitors. Then plant already pre-existing nursery raised trees immediately not waiting and wasting precious months or years as has been the conventional method. I have also written about pesticides and herbicides and I while do have a strong dislike of them, I also have used them properly and only under desperate circumstances to create and immediate eradication of an overwhelming scenario of weeds or pests, then you can establish a healthy ecosystem whether it's in the wild or urban landscape utilizing beneficial bacteria and fungi. Once the successful system is established and in place, the future need of such chemicals will be unnecessary if maintained properly through replicating the Natural World's version of maintenance. 

Does the chaparral habitat scenario above really look to you as an overgrown brush wildfire hazard that we are all treated to in News Reports which is promoted as an example needing eradication by fire in order keep folks safe and provide better habitat for wildlife and livestock ? Hardly!

Sad to say many myths about Fire are hard to erase from people memory and deep internal psyche. I read comments by average citizens in News item articles on the subject where fire is championed as necessary for Nature to survive, exist and/or even reproduce. Why is that ? Because the average person not familiar with such natural mechanisms take it on faith that our world's modern day experts actually know what they are talking about. Especially are such question important in why such ignorant talk comes from a group of people like Scientific Researchers who are promoted to the public as above all of such ignorance ? Below is an interesting couple of articles you should take up and really read which came out last years which beautifully examine what is at the heart of irresponsible belief systems and wrong understanding of our natural world. The first article is how scientists tend to employ story telling as a tool to educate, but often times go to far with embellishments and exaggerations which tend to mask the reality of the natural world. It was published in Nature magazine in October 30th 2013 and titled: "Should scientists tell stories?" Here are some excellent quotes:
"Everyone loves a good story, and writers of many kinds use narrative techniques to get their message across. A recent Points of View article (Krzywinski and Cairo, Nat. Methods 10, 687, 2013) described how techniques of storytelling, such as a structured story arc, can effectively guide the presentation of scientific data in figures. But as pointed out in a Correspondence by Katz (p. 1045, this issue), the notion of communicating scientific information by storytelling can be taken too far."
Sadly this is where myths and fables about Native Americans have been etched in stone and hard to eradicate. But again, why the scientists ? Seriously, of all people, why Scientists who are supposed to know better ? We all get an easily manipulated and ignorant public believing this stuff, but why Scientists ? This next article from the website "The Conversation" published back in December 13th 2013 posted an excellent article titled, "Scientists falter as much as Bankers in pursuit of Answers". Here are some awesome quotes:
"Bankers aim to maximise profits. Scientists aim to understand reality. But Mike Peacey of the University of Bristol suggests, based on a new model he has just published in Nature, that both professionals are equally likely to conform to whatever views are prevalent, whether they are right or wrong."
In the past decade scientists have raised serious doubts about whether science is as self-correcting as is commonly assumed. Many published findings, including those in the most prestigious journals, have been found to be wrong. One of the reasons is that, once a hypothesis becomes widely accepted, it becomes very difficult to refute it, which makes it, as Jeremy Freese of Northwestern University recently put it, “vampirical more than empirical – unable to be killed by mere evidence”.
 “vampirical more than empirical – unable to be killed by mere evidence” 
Isn't that a beautiful quote ? I tell you, I just eat this up with a spoon. It doesn't get more illustrative than this. People everywhere need to train up their powers of perception. For human beings they don't come naturally. Blindly believing any word out of some Expert's mouth because they claim to wear some self-described badge of authority isn't good enough. You have to determine what is truly "Natural" otherwise known as the  real world and what is artificial and manipulative. I don't have anymore references to post as you have plenty above. Please read the references and make it real by burning it down into your memory through practical application of what was said or learned by means of reading. It will actually take getting your back side outdoors and making practical application. Practical experience is what helps you understand the truth of what is and what is not "Natural".
Maybe this is a good time to consider Murphy's Second Law: 
“No matter what the experiment’s result, there will always be someone eager to: (a) misinterpret it, (b) fake it, or (c) believe it supports his own pet theory.”