An astronaut on the International Space Station snapped this striking photo last month of forest land adjacent to the Priest River in northern Idaho. From NASA:
The squares in this landscape checkerboard appear to be the result of forest management. Similar patterns originated in the 1800s, when alternate parcels of land were granted by the U.S. government to railroads such as the Northern Pacific. Many parcels in the Pacific Northwest were later sold off and harvested for timber.
The land shown here is now managed for wildlife and for timber harvesting. The white patches reflect areas with younger, smaller trees, where winter snow cover shows up brightly to the astronauts. Dark green-brown squares are parcels of denser, intact forest. The checkerboard is used as a method of maintaining the sustainability of forested tracts while still enabling a harvest of trees.
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This deforestation machine slices and plucks trees at their base and then wipes off all the branches and foliage in just a few seconds. (Thanks, Dustin Hosteler!)
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Fun little short documentary from the Atlantic on YouTube, in which you meet people who build, live in, and love treehouses. Gotta be honest here, this is very much a lifelong passion and dream of mine.
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By now, many of you are probably aware that human behavior is one of the key factors behind some of the massive forest fires we've seen in recent years. The basic story goes like this: Under a natural cycle, periodic small fires sweep through forests, burning through small trees and dry brush. But if you prevent those fires from happening—as humans have done for around a century at this point—all that highly flammable stuff builds up. In the end, you're left with a giant tinderbox of a forest. The next time a fire does happen there, it's almost guaranteed to be much, much bigger and more destructive than the natural fires that forest is adapted to.
NPR has a very nice story about the science and history behind this problem, which forest fire experts call "The Smokey Bear Effect", after the cartoon Ursus the U.S. Forest Service has long used as part of its fire prevention campaign.
Its ill-advised fire prevention campaign.
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And it was the experts who approved the all-out ban on fires in the Southwest. They got it wrong. That's the view of fire historian Stephen Pyne.
"The irony here is that the argument for setting these areas aside as national forests and parks was, to a large extent, to protect them from fire," Pyne says. "Instead, over time they became the major habitat for free-burning fire."
So instead of a few dozen trees per acre, the Southwestern mountains of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah are now choked with trees of all sizes, and grass and shrubs.
I'm currently attending the Marine Biological Laboratory's 10-day science journalism fellowship. As part of that, I get to do some hands-on science experiments and get a better perspective on how the work of science is done and how data is collected. Along with five other fellows, I spent last weekend collecting A LOT of data in Massachusetts' Harvard Forest—3,500 acres of extremely well-documented wilderness.
All this week, I'll be posting some of the highlights from my trip—videos and photos that will introduce you to the Harvard Forest, how science is done in the field, and to some of the key ideas that I'm learning during my time here.
This will be the central access point for all those posts. Check back every day to see what's new.
In This Series:
Scientific Research in a Forest
How Past Land Use Affects the Current Landscape
How To: Collect 6000-year-old swamp mud
Climbing a rickety stair to the top of the forest
What's your diameter breast height?
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Jared Keller on the new science of forestry robotics: "The vast majority of forests are destroyed by wild forest fires, and current methods of sylvan vigilance -- mainly those involved individual personnel on foot patrol -- are grossly inefficient
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One of the interesting things about the global carbon dioxide and climate systems is the concept of feedback loops. You already know that as atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide go up (and with them, the global average temperature) you get lots of different kinds of changes all over the place. For instance, mountain pine forests start experiencing warmer winters and smaller snowpacks. But, as those changes happen, they can actually trigger secondary effects that contribute to, and increase the rate of, climate change.
In this video, you'll learn about how warmer temperatures and lower snowpacks are contributing to the spread of massive pine beetle infestations across the western United States. This is more than just inconvenient. The pine beetles can quickly kill huge amounts of trees, raising the risk of property-destroying forest fires and razing whole ecosystems. And, as the trees die en masse, forests that were once carbon sinks (absorbing more carbon dioxide than they released) become emitters—adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Thanks to Barfman for Submitterating!
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