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February 02, 2014

Brunswick stew

Brunswick stew 

We went down to the forests to do the usual look around.  Trees are looking okay.  They will soon start their spring growth.  We stopped to see our local friends who were making Brunswick stew.  This is the signature dish of Brunswick County, where the forests are located.

You see they make it in big pots.  The hunt club uses the stew as a fund raiser.  They told me that they had originally used the stew pots to make stew as fundraiser to rebuild the local church, destroyed by fire. 

Extinction is forever?

News about Neanderthal genes in modern humans makes you think about the whole concept of species and extinction. Among modern humans, 1-3% of our genes are Neanderthal, but these are not always the same genes in every person, so if you summed up the Neanderthal genes found in modern humans, you could reconstruct 20% of the Neanderthal genome. Someday we could recreate Neanderthals. Would that be a good idea?

The idea of a species is a human construct. As our understanding of genetics improves, we begin to see how fluid the concept really is. You could argue that Neanderthals and humans are/were the same species. Polar bears and grizzly bears could be called the same species; they just come in different colors and a few other variations. Maybe even horses and donkeys. The boundaries are not clear.

Any species has lots of variety within its boundaries and the “species” changes every day. This might seem a little strange, so let me explain. A species is made up of individuals, each one of them is a little different genetically than all the others. Every day some die and others are born. Those exiting are different in some ways than those entering the species. This is one of the requirements of evolution. Over a short time, things don’t seem to change much. Over a long time, they change a lot.

This kind of complexity and evolution explains many things beyond biology, BTW. This kind of emergent behavior can help explain development and change in almost every system, such as languages, cultures etc. But this is another story.

Anybody who has seen Jurassic Park is familiar with the theory of species restoration. It may soon become a widespread reality, although maybe not with dinosaurs. This will present us with various dilemmas. What should we do with restored species? Some will probably be uncompetitive with their evolutionary descendants; that is how went extinct in the first place, but others might displace their modern cousins. If we restore an animal, does it deserve protection as an endangered species? These choices will be on us sooner than we think. Somebody will restore a long dead species very soon; somebody probably already has.

December 07, 2013

Fracking stimulus: real energy for the real economy

American energy is booming and energy is driving the economy. It is a stimulus much larger, more effective and sustainable than anything the Obama folks have done. And it is reaching all over the U.S. Fracking is lowering energy costs and reducing pollution. It is giving business to railroads, jobs to truckers and money to rural landowners. Beyond that, the fracking boom is stimulating a renaissance in heartland industries, such as fertilizers, plastics and other petrochemicals.

In my native state of Wisconsin, the western part of the state had some problems in rural areas. Then came the fracking boom in North Dakota. Fracking fluid is mostly sand and water and Wisconsin sand is particularly well-suited for fracking.

This story is being repeated all over the American heartland. I suspect that the immense proportions of the success are under reported because much of the value and the jobs are going to smaller cities or rural communities outside the general purview of the bicoastal elites. But it is real and sustainable. This is not cash for clunkers or Solyndra pipe dreams. This is real and sustainable. And instead of costing billions, it is providing billions in earnings and taxes.

Of course there is also the conspiratorial reason to think it is under reported. The bicoastal elites tend to dislike both fossil fuels and the "hicks" in the heartland. Beyond that, if we understand the true engine pulling the American economy, how can politicians take credit?

W/o the fracking stimulus, our economy would be even more in the dumps and it may be fracking and its less expensive energy and abundant petrochemical complex that pulls us out.

Everything about fracking appeals to me. My blue collar heritage loves jobs for honest working people in an America is making real things, wealth through creation, not artificial stimulus or redistribution. The environmentalist in me sees the carbon reduction and the clean burning gas energy. My inner economist figures the potential salvation for an economy still in slow recovery from the great recession. My spirit of enterprise is excited by the courage and imagination of the men who took this technology discarded by big oil and made it great. My sense of fairness is enamored with the spread of prosperity to my people of Middle America and my patriotism is exalted by American energy letting us give the middle finger salute to despots and tyrants that control so much foreign oil and gas. We did it again.

November 21, 2013

Know the place for the first time

 

Many people would like to be farmers at five in the afternoon, but few want to be farmers at five in the morning.  Farming is hard work and it was even harder work years ago. It is still hard work for many of the small farmers in the Amazon.

These guys, or their parents, came up the new Brasília to Belém highway thirty of forty years ago.  They sometimes walked from places like Goiás of the Northeast looking for a new life in the new lands. Some made it big and there are a lot of productive large and modern farms on this Brazilian agricultural frontier. I talked to some of the smaller farmers.

Pigs 

Paragominas has a program that tries to help small farmers.  The municipality guarantees that they will buy their produce for use in the schools, i.e. provides a certain market.  But it is hard to keep them down on the farm and easy to understand why.  It is hard work.  The couple I talked to, the one you see in the picture above, were originally from the NE, I think they said from Ceará. They worked their whole lives on the farm, but their kids were college educated and unenthusiastic about keeping up the tradition of farming. Birth rates in Brazil are dropping and it seems likely that fewer and fewer farmers will be on the land as time goes on. This is probably good. More will be produced on fewer hectares.

Rubber trees 

I keep seeing parallels between American environmental history and what is happening today in Brazil.  We are pioneer nations, taming the wilderness. It is out of style these days to tame the wilderness, but we have the luxury of it being out of style because we have tamed the wilderness.  We cannot go back.  Our challenge now is to adapt what we did to make it sustainable. Forests are growing back in the U.S.  There are now more trees growing in Eastern North America than there were in 1776. Marginal lands have returned to forests and our agriculture is becoming sustainable. Brazil is on this path.  We passed through the time of maximum destruction and we now it will begin to reverse.  In the U.S., the nadir of forests was around 1920.  Then things got better.  I don’t know if Brazil has turned the corner yet, but it will soon.

Supper 

Sustainability sits on three pillars: environment, social and economic development.  We often forget the last two when talking about sustainably, but in the long and medium run, w/o development in the social and economic spheres, the environment cannot be sustained. We humans do not properly understand the complexity of the environment and we never will.  But sometimes we come close enough to truth to know some of the things we should do.  We come around in circles.  I recall the lines from TS Eliot, "We never stop exploring, and at the end of all our explorations we come back to where we started, and we will know that place for the first time".

My pictures show some of the farmers. The pigs are an Amazon variety. You can see rubber trees tapped int he picture below and the supper picture is a great meal I had at one of the family farms, all with products growing locally and organically. 

November 18, 2013

Family businesses in for the long run

me and timber 

Many of the businesses around Paragominas are family owned, with generations of family members working there. The small sawmill in the picture above is family owned and so is the multimillion dollar wood processing and forestry operation farther down.  I think this has to do with the pioneer nature of the society.   The founders - or more likely today grandfathers - came to this place and set up shop.  They have often gone through several cycles of business.  There were shortages of people they could trust, with the proper skills to run the businesses, so they made their own.

The saw mill has been here for many years.  The logs come up the river and are processed at this and other nearby mills in the town of São Miguel.  All the logs processed here are certified.  You can see the markings on each one.   It is a specific number so the wood can be traced.

Factory floor 

The Floraplac MDF  plant is in a different business. They make fiberboard and wood products and require smaller trees that can be chipped and/or pulped. Originally, the factory used naturally occurring timber. But in the early 1990s, the owners saw that this would not be sustainable and started to plant their own. This created the need for different machines.  Logs from the forest primeval tended to be big and differentiated. Those from plantations are smaller and uniform. The latter are easier to process, which is another benefit of plantation tree farming.

Parica plantation 

Some of the trees are a native Amazon species called paricá.  This tree grows to harvest in around nine years.  You can see the picture above.  The wood is good and worth more per pound that eucalyptus, but eucalyptus produces more pounds per acre and has a shorter rotation of only seven years.  There is need for both but the eucalyptus is often more useful, if less popular because of its non-native status.

 

There are hundreds of species of eucalyptus, so the variations are almost endless.  Eucalyptus is native of Australia, but there are probably more types of the trees and more trees in Brazil than anyplace else in the world.   Vitorio is constantly seeking to improve the genetic stock and silviculture of his trees.  For example, some suffer from rot when there is too much humidity and they are now planting crossbred trees that are resistant.   They are in a perpetual arms race with bugs and diseases.  This is the way of nature, especially when you have large areas of very similar trees. 

As I have written before, I am a little sad that eucalyptus has replaced pine over the warmer parts of Brazil.  Pine is also an invasive species here, but it is familiar to me.  I like the eucalyptus trees, but pine are more the woods of home.   But where eucalyptus can grow well, pine cannot compete in the pulp & chip market.  The eucalyptus has a nice scent, kind of a fresh mint.  I still, however, prefer the pine. 

Floraplac is a vertically integrated operation of a type we see increasingly rarely in the U.S.  They own the land and grow the trees they use to supply their operation. During the 1990s anon most American pulp, paper and timber firms sold their land to smaller holders and timber investment management organizations (TIMOs). This is how I got my forest land.  Companies figured that they did not have to bear the carrying costs and risks involved in growing the trees and owning the land.  They could rely on private owners. The additional transaction costs were low compared to the carrying costs.

Brazil is not ready for this just yet.  There are probably not enough private owners for all the land around here needed to supply the plant.  I asked Vitorio about this model.  He said that they are trying to source some timber from smaller holdings, but these were not people engaged in forestry, as they might be in the U.S.   Rather they were doing a kind of silvopasture or woodland agriculture, where they would raise stock and/or crops among and between the trees.  The forestry would provide a supplement to their income but not in itself be a viable investment.

Buying from small holders is not the most profitable business possible. Floraplac does it as part of its commitment to the community and corporate social responsibility.  It is smart business in the long run.  At some point in the future, there might be calls to move the plant or criticism of its use of forest resources.  At the time, it will be good to have a significant group of people who better understand sustainable forestry and are connected by their own interests to the continued viability of the enterprise. 

They were down to earth, friendly people.  The multigenerational nature of the business ensures that they look to the future.   It seems to me a really great business and an admirable business model, so far removed from the caricature of people showing up in the forest to make a quick buck and a quicker exit.  People here are in it for the long run.

November 17, 2013

Belém to Brasília highway

Belem to Brasilia Hwy 

They started work more than fifty years ago. Today many people consider it a kind of mistake, maybe even a ecological disaster.  After travelling along the road, I don’t agree.  This is Brazil's Route 66, a highway of dreams. The Brazilians at that time, led by President Juscelino Kubitschek, wanted to open up the empty land in the interior of Brazil. That is why he built Brasília and why he built the road to connect the new city of Brasília with the older city of Belém and with all the places in between.You can see a stretch of the road above

It was heroic work, cutting through what people at the time called jungle. Today we have a more politically correct term – rain forest.  The people who did the work were pioneers, like those of the American west.  They came to settle their country and seek a new life.  It was hard and dangerous.  Many people died in the process.  Others are still there and they and their descendants are still there.

I learned that once the Amazon forest was cut, the soil would soon turn to rock and sand, unproductive.  My observation is that this is not true. The soils are fertile and things grow wonderfully. 

The land next to the Belém to Brasília highway has had three main and overlapping cycles. The first involved clearing the land and using the forest resources. This is very much like what happened in Wisconsin and Michigan in the 1850s and 1860s.   It was disruptive, with forests being destroyed.  Immigrants cleared the land and tried to establish farming. As with Wisconsin or Michigan, the success of the farmers was mixed.  In some places, the soils and topography supported farming; other not so much.

The second stage consisted mostly of unsustainable cattle ranching. Ranchers put large numbers of cattle on the newly established pastures.  There were not many animals per hectare. It was profitable for some, but very inefficient.  This was the nadir stage. Things had been destroyed and degraded but not yet begun to renew.  his was like Wisconsin in 1871, during the great Peshtigo fire that may have killed as many as 2500 people or the big blowout fire of 1910 that destroyed three million acres in Idaho, Montana and Washington and helped establish the need for the U.S Forest Service.  

oil palm 

Cattle raising in the way they were doing was indeed unsustainable and that which is unsustainable will not be sustained.  The region is now entering a third stage.  This is the stage of readjustment and sustainability.   As I have written elsewhere, sustainable does not mean natural.   The ancient forests are gone, as are the ancient forests of Wisconsin.  They will never return as they were, but that does not mean that the new systems are not sustainable. Above you can see an oil palm plantation newly established on a degraded pasture.

Cattle ranching remains an important part of the local economy, but it is becoming more efficient, with fewer hectares required to grow beef.   Some of the degraded pasture is now available for crops and re-afforestation.  This is exactly what happened in the U.S. a century ago.  Paper and wood products mills are now mostly using fiber from planted trees, which I will talk about in subsequent posts.  In the area around Paragominas, they grow soy.  This is a triumph of the Brazilian USDA equivalent, EMBRAPA, which developed soy that growing in this tropical environment.  A little farther north, where it rains more, they grow oil palm.  You can see in my picture that oil palm is being planted in degraded pasture.

It is interesting what they have learned about micro-climates.  The area around Paragominas has less rain than a hundred miles north.  It still rains a lot, but less. Agriculture is sophisticated here, because they can plan for the rain. They have a regular rainy and dry season, like Brasília, but the dry season is not as dry and the wet season is even wetter.

Having my feet on this Amazonia ground gave me a different perception.  It was also useful to come back thirty years later and see what had been done. I understand that there could be wildly different lesson learned.   The natural forest is gone over much of the land. We can mourn the loss.  On the other hand, it looks like it was been replaced with a sustainable system that supports human aspirations and endeavor.

I cannot help thinking back to my own home-place, with all its myths and realities. I grew to full adulthood in the forests of northern Wisconsin and that shaped my outlook. There are no “virgin” forests in Wisconsin. It was all cut over in the middle of the 19th Century and usually cut over and burned a few times after. Yet the forest is magnificent and sustainable.  In many places you find stone walls and other evidence of old farms in the middle of old growth forests.  Obviously, the people who tried to farm these thin soils gave up and moved away. But there is a human presence throughout in forestry, farming and cities. People live in and with nature. It is good.  

This is what I see and wish for my Brazilian friends. They will look back at the extractive period in the same way we did. They will lament the loss, but appreciate the sacrifices and heroism of those who went before. This is the lesson good people will teach their children. They do already.  I felt at home in the “tamed” Amazon in ways I never have in the “natural” parts. Human endeavor need not be destructive but it will lead to change, sometimes for the better.

One more thing about sustainable. Nothing lasts forever, not anything natural or man-made. We can strive for predictable and favorable change. 

October 26, 2013

Feed the birds

Damaged corn 

Above you see part of my corn crop.  I looked at it this morning and figured that it needs a few more days.  Evidently the birds didn’t agree.  I have some bananas at the end of the yard.  They are still green and hard, but maybe I should harvest them before some bird, mammal or bug decides they are ready.  

We used to grow tomatoes when I was a kid, but always had to wait for a longer time to get our first taste. My father liked tomatoes while they were still green and hard.  He harvested them before anybody else wanted to eat them. We didn't get our share until the productivity of the tomato vines overtook his daily consumption. 

I really don’t have much success with my food crops. I got one watermelon. It was good, but not very big and the vines took up lots of space.  I got a fair amount of tomatoes, but only after I changed to smaller, faster maturing varieties that beat the bugs.  I doubt I will get any corn.  I don’t like mangoes, but even if I did the fantastic production of the tree in my yard wouldn’t be worth much. The birds go after them high in the tree.  We get dozens of those florescent green bungees. They are kind of pretty, but their songs suck. They show up at dawn and squabble.  I suppose I can take pride in that I am feeding the birds, bugs and possums. It is a lot easier to buy produce at the supermarket. Given the actual yield from my gardens, it is probably cheaper too.

Below is my giant compost heap produced by the spring cleaning.  Supposedly things decompose really fast in the tropics, but I have not noticed that it happens faster than in Virginia. To be fair, I suppose I am thinking only of the warm months in Virginia. Nothing much decomposes in the cold. The tree in the front with the interesting leaves is a breadfruit.  This is what Captain Bligh was supposed to bring back on the Bounty when that famous mutiny took place.  It was a Polynesian plant and is one of the most productive food sources.  Breadfruit is starchy and hard to prepare.  My tree doesn't have much fruit and if it did I would not work too hard to cook. 

Compost heap 

October 25, 2013

Green AND Growing - U.S. CO2 emissions drop again

Elm trees at the WH

The U.S. economy grew 2.8% last year, But energy use DROPPED by 2.4% and CO2 emission DROPPED even more, by 3.8%. And despite the overall decline in renewables, the carbon intensity of power generation still fell by 3.5 percent, mostly because natural gas is replacing coal. We are figuring out how to grow the economy, keep the free market and still go green.  

This provides a good case study. Our European friends, who talk green, have not achieved both growth and carbon reduction. They have also sometimes reduced CO2, but at the expense of growth. Meanwhile, the U.S. is successfully separating growth from increased energy use and energy from increased carbon emissions. 

This is not the first time we have responded well. Our American market system just works better than the planners in other places. It often doesn't seem that way. Planners have a rhetorical advantage. They can point to their plan. We can only respond with the true but unsatisfying, "Our plan is to let millions of people make plans in the belief that what they come up with will be better than your experts."

This is something I have noticed in my years of travel and living overseas. Many places are nicer than the U.S. in theory. People have more rights, in theory. They get more stuff, in theory. But Americans do better in reality. I think it is just difficult for academics to understand the U.S. market economy. Market forces are as protean as they are ubiquitous. They defy explanation. So for many years, since before we were even a country, intellectuals have been predicting our imminent demise.

The CO2 problem remains, however. China and others are emitting enough CO2 to swamp any improvements we make. In less than ten years, China will emit more CO2 all by itself than the whole world did in 1990.

We can figure out how to make the future work;  I have less confidence in some others.

My picture shows elm trees at the White House. These elms resist Dutch elm disease that wiped out so many elms in the 1960s and 1970.

October 16, 2013

Something to Share

Road out in tree farm September 2013 

I wrote this article for "Virginia Forests" magazine. Presumably a similar, maybe improved, version will be out soon.   

People who own or work with forestry are in a controversial business. Whether or not we want to acknowledge it, most (not some most) people misunderstand what we do and a significant number of people consider a term like “logger” a type of insult.  

This point of view is mostly based on ignorance, but it is ignorance that we cannot ignore.  In a democracy, policies are based on the desires of the majority and, yes, on their misconceptions and prejudices too. If a majority does not understand, they can be pushed into doing dumb things by vocal minorities. As development comes closer and even into our forests, more people are interested in what we do; it is our interest to make sure their interest turns into understanding.

I was reminded of this need while reading about the recent disastrous fires in the West. One article talked about the need to thin forests in order to improve forests’ health and make them more fire resistant. I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know from the article itself, but the comments were very enlightening. By the time it was all done, there were dozens of comments. Some  readers were evidently appalled that anyone would even suggest that a human activity like thinning would be proposed for nature’s forests.  Others thought they might accept thinning, but wanted to make sure that nobody made a profit from it.

Comments are not necessarily representative of the general population, but they do come from people who have an opinion and who care enough to take the time to write about it, in other words, motivated people more likely to take action.

Our problem seems to be that a significant number of people view forestry as a kind of mining.  Their attitude seems to be that nature provides forests that humans disrupt and exploit. And then they are gone, maybe for years and maybe forever. This is a silly idea to people who work in forests, especially older people who might have seen several thinnings and harvests on the same tract of land. We must not overlook, however,  that the narrative of loss, destruction, exploitation and the heavy footprint of man is firmly and passionately believed by some people who vote and influence policies toward forests. We should also accept that their passion is based on good will. They think they are the good guys. The facts are on our side, but that doesn’t diminish the intensity of their passion.

This is not a discussion we can or should want to avoid. We are doing the right things and trying with each planting and with each harvest to do them better. Tree farmers act today with the promise of the future firmly in mind.  Sustainability is our concept, one practiced by foresters long before it was stylish or even described. Each of us lives from the gifts of the past and leaves more for those who come after us. This is what sustainable means. 

Our story is important and we should tell it with eagerness and vigor, not just to each other but to all who want to listen, and maybe even to some who don’t. Our narrative is not one of “leaving a smaller footprint” or “reducing damage.” Ours is the affirmative story or renewal and regeneration, of imagination, intelligence and innovation making things better. Generations of tree farmers have been protecting water, soils and wildlife while producing wood and forest products.  It is what we do. We know it works because we see it, smell it in the air we breathe and feel it under our feet as we walk across the land. It is something to share.

October 06, 2013

Lost, found & maybe lost again

Things should be lost and only sometimes found.  We try too hard to preserve things for a posterity that should be left alone to discover for themselves what we knew, what we were and what they have become.  It is sad when something of old beauty disappears and tragic when hard-won lessons are lost, but it might be sadder and more tragic still if they persist and crowd new beauty and lessons to be learned by another age.  

We have a passion to preserve, or at least try to.  We embrace change in theory but in practice try to hold onto everything, memorialize each moment.  But things pass and when they are gone they cannot be persevered, perhaps only fossilized, a lifeless impression reminiscent of the vital living thing, but w/o any of its essence. The essence of vital life is change and the fossil preserved cannot do that.  

Sometimes just let go, let that moment pass into obscurity, with maybe some lingering meaning to be discovered by an explorer or an antiquarian of a future generation, when it will be rediscovered and misinterpreted to fit their needs.  

Things preserved are things dead.  The world should belong to the living. My historian’s heart loves the past and knows that we can learn from the experience of others.   Our ancestors left us a wonderful legacy and I count as MY ancestor every human who came before me whose legacy I touch: good, bad and indifferent. Events change but human nature abides.   But with all due respect to what went before, the future is what matters. Knowing what came before should enable us, not hold us down. They are our ancestors but we have no responsibility for what they did. 

I often feel most awe in lonely places. I recall coming on a big pile of rocks while hiking in Norway.  It turns out that it was a Neolithic monument.  Thousands of years ago, the local hunters and farmer just piled rocks.  There was a marker, which is how I knew what it was, but it didn't really have a good explanation. Maybe it was just that somebody started to do it and other just did it too.  The tradition perhaps persists along hiking trails, where you find piles of rocks that people create as a type of fetish.

When I come on a sign of some great past event, I feel pensive but also connected. I feel connected, however fleetingly, to humans who like me strives, achieved, failed and overcame.  I know that all I do will soon be like all they did.  I take a moment to respect them and also myself.  I try to take a lesson and then I move on.  

September 22, 2013

Forest visit 2013 September part 2

Border between forests in NF 

These are the pictures from the other farms. Above is the boundary between the two regimes on our new forest.  When we harvest the bigger ones, they will essentially trade places. Below is a food plot in the new forest.

Food plots at the new forest 

Below is the food plot on the Freeman place. 

Food plot on Freeman

Below is a longleaf pine.  We planted four acres of them. They are a little too far apart to produce a regular timber plantation, but they will be really nice trees.  I am happy to see many survived.  They are in the "grass stage." What happens generally is that they take a little time to establish and then they shoot up. 

Longleaf pine seedling 

Below is tobacco growing near the Freeman farm. The Virginia economy used to be based on the horrible weed.  One reason land is relatively inexpensive in Brunswick County is that the tobacco industry collapsed a few years back.  Much of the farmland was replaced by trees like mine. 

Tobacco farm in Brunswick County 

September 21, 2013

Forest visit September 2013

623 View 

We went down to the farms. Trees are looking good. I don't have any real news beyond the pictures.  Above is the CP road view. That I take for reference.

Corner trees
 

Above is my reference picture from 2013 with me as reference.  Below is the same place in 2009 with the truck as reference.  The trees are getting too big for the pictures.

Truck and pines 

Below are the food plots cut for fall.  They are full of bobwhite quail. 

Top of hill food plots 

September 20, 2013

Fracking 99% successful

Fracking 99% successful

A new U of Texas/Environmental Defense Fund study shows that new natural gas fracking operations capture 99% of the methane. This corrects an earlier speculation by a couple of activists from Cornell who claimed that escaping methane negated the significant effects of natural gas in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

I am trying to give the Cornell folks the benefit for the doubt and assume that their motives were not merely political. If we extend this consideration to them, we find that they might have fallen victims to old data and perhaps looked backward instead of forward. It makes no sense to believe that "greedy" firms would want to let lots of their product just be lost. They would constantly be working on ways to get more product, even if they cared not at all about their image or following laws and regulation. And let's give credit to regulation. EPA regulations are coming on line that will ensure that there is no backsliding.

Older wells are less effective. This is not surprise. Methods and technologies improve. Think of a computer that is twenty years old. If you studied computers in general and included the 1993 version of the PC, you would not have an accurate picture of what was possible in 2013.

The news about shale gas was good and it keeps on getting better. It has changed the equation in the Middle East. In the last five years, fracking has created more than a million jobs and pumped more real money into the U.S. economy than the total of the borrowed stimulus. It has helped the U.S. reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, so that we will reach our putative Kyoto contacts w/o having to take the draconian steps envisioned. It is putting money into rural economies and helping spur the return of industrial production to the American heartland.

As importantly, our fears and apprehensions associated with the process are proving exaggerated or unfounded. Natural gas will provide the bridge to the future. It is allowing us to drastically reduce our CO2 emissions, while bringing jobs and money back to the USA. It is very close to being a miracle.

September 19, 2013

Good Environmental News

The Economist runs an interesting section on the environment, pointing out that sound economic growth has proven the best environmental medicine. Wild rates of extinction predicted 40 years ago have proven exaggerated and rates are slowing. Similarly, predicted climate change is much more moderate and may even provide a net benefit by 2083.  

Climate change is real, but it has been sort of "paused" for the last 17 years. Climate change experts have come up with many explanations. One might be that earth is less sensitive than they thought.

In any case, U.S. CO2 emissions have been plummeting since 2006. We will probably exceed our putative Kyoto targets in a year or two, not that anybody seems to care anymore. It was fun to bash the U.S. and GW Bush for not doing enough. Whatever we did was more than most of the others and it didn't require all those laws and controls advocates so loudly demand so now they mostly keep quiet about it.

America has done all asked of it in reducing CO2 emissions and it looks like we are on the road to cutting even more by 2020 and beyond. And we did it without Kyoto. Now it looks like climate change will be more on the low side, we can adapt.

This is beginning to look like the other apocalypses I have survived. In the 1950s we were told nuclear bomb would wipe us out. In the 1960s it was the population bomb. We were supposed to be starving in the streets of America by around 1985. In the 1970s we faced global cooling and the wipe out 20% of world's species by ... about ten years ago. Actually between 1980-2000 we lost nine, not 9% - nine. Of course, we also had the energy crisis. By now we were supposed to have pretty much run out of fuel. All that new natural gas is evidently not there.

Think of those SciFi movies that used to frighten us. "Soylent Green", that science fiction dystropia was set in 2022. "Escape from LA" took place in 2013; "Blade Runner" is supposed to be in 2019. I suppose it could get really bad by then.

I am not saying that the thing above, with the possible exception of global cooling, are not problems, but they are not the world ending things we feared. Population growth continues, but at a slower rate and will probably reverse within the lifetimes of some people alive today. Species are still being lost, but nature is adaptive and so are people. We have been saving more land and restoring habitats. Wildlife is returning or not wiped out. Brazil lost 90% of its Atlantic forest, but not a single bird species was lost.

IMO the biggest ecological problem we face today is not global warming but invasive species. My opinion has to do with natures adaptive ability. I believe that species will adapt to warming. But that same adaptive capacity in invasive species is already creating trouble all over the globe.

I am not suggesting we become complacent, but we can best address our problems by keeping calm and carrying on with our step-by-step improvements. The people who told us in 1953, 1963, 1973 ... 2003 and now that we have to make immediate and radical changes have been wrong. Had we made radical changes we would be worse off. In any complex situation, it is usually better to try lots of things, check how they are doing, make adjustments and move forward again.

Life is better now for the average human being than in any time in human history. I am reasonably certain that it will be even better for our kids, if we don't overtax them with SS (see below). So let's continue to adapt and learn as humans have always done. Future generations is look at our urgent worries as we look at those of our parents and grandparents.

And I find that those who talk most loudly about the great problems tend not to solve problems at all, great or small.

September 15, 2013

Driving less now and forever?

America reached peak gasoline in 2007, i.e. Americans are unlikely ever to use as much gasoline again as we did in five years ago. Most of this comes from people driving less, something most people thought would never happen. This is good news.  Our CO2 emissions continue to drop. And it is not only because of hard times. Young people just don’t seem to want to drive as much.

My parents never owned a car and I did not buy my first car until I was twenty-nine years old. I don't drive much even today. I prefer to ride my bike or walk. One of my "lifestyle choices" is to shop and find entertainment near places I can walk, bike or take public transportation. I find a cultural gulf with friends who grew up with cars. They will drive long distances to get to the "best" restaurant or store. Not me. They think I am silly for satisfying; I think they are silly for being so demanding about things that make little difference.

My kids are not really car people. They choose their activities based on location. Evidently, this is the way many young people think. It used to be that kids got their driver's license as soon as they could, often when they were only sixteen. Today, fewer and fewer seem to care. A full third of young people ages 16-24 have not bothered to learn to drive. If this trend continues, it means big changes.

Perhaps we just missed some big changes in how people live. On the one side, Internet makes it less necessary to leave home. Kids can meet friends w/o going out. This is not always a good thing. It probably contributes to the growing girth of the American population. But another trend is urbanization.

Young people are moving to urban areas that are walkable. But urban areas are also moving to where people live. C&J have owned the same home since 1997. It used to be in the suburbs. Today it has become as city. I could always walk to the Metro. Now I can walk to all sorts of restaurants, movies and stores.

Higher gas prices probably helped kick this off, but I think it has now become self sustaining. Another important trend has been the reduction in crime. Many people like to live in urban environments, but were pushed out of cities by crime. Reduce crime and you bring back vitality to urban areas.

The only thing missing from the urban equation is good schools. Good schools were the reason we moved to the suburbs. Urban schools still largely suck, which is one reason that many affluent urban areas are almost child free. Some people like it that way, but divorcing affluent people from children is not good for the future.

No matter how successful you are, you will probably have only a little more than  thirty years of productive working life. After that, you will depend on the production of people younger than you are. If you cheaped on their education and neglected their development, your life will be worse. But that is a subject for a different post.

September 13, 2013

Peak gasoline

Another example of our vastly changed energy landscape is the fact that we a have passed “peak gasoline.” We did this way back in 2007 and it looks like we will never again burn as much gasoline as we did in that year. So, we are producing more oil and gas and using less gasoline. Who would have predicted that ten or twenty years ago. Our CO2 emissions are also dropping quickly. This is good news for almost everyone, but it creates a problem for highway maintenance. Highways are maintained by gasoline taxes. Less gasoline burned means less money.  

A simple solution would be to raise the gasoline tax, although this is a dynamic equation. As you raise the tax, you get less use and in the medium and long run less revenue. But raising gas taxes is politically very difficult, especially in a political season and in the last few years the political season never ends.

These developments continue to amaze me. Coming of age in the 1970s, we were told that we would run out of oil and gas soon, that there was no way people would burn less gasoline w/o draconian measures, maybe rationing and that the energy future would be a bleak succession of shortages and decline.

Today we have achieved success beyond that wildest dreams of the experts of the 1970s. If we could go back in time and tell them what happened, the experts would think we were crazy or worse. The "worse" would be that you would be an energy crisis denier. Everybody hated them. but they were right.

It goes to show how unpredictable things really are and why the only real way to plan is to let lots of options be tried. No central solution works for very long and usually creates trouble. Imagine if we had been able to implement those "expert" solutions of the 1970s.

We used to talk about peak oil back in the old days. That is a meaningless concept. Turns out, however, peak gasoline makes a lot of sense.

September 09, 2013

A true stimulus

Unconventional oil and gas production added the equivalent of $1,200 to real household disposable income on in 2012. Since the poor spend relatively more on energy, this is clearly one of the best anti-poverty program going.  

The industry raised GDP by by $283 billion last year and was responsible for $74 billion in federal and state tax payments.

What a great program. It not only pays its own way but also pumps revenue into the treasury, more than $200 million a day. Revenue is expected to rise to $138 billion a year by 2025.

Fracking has been as close to a gift from God as I have ever seen. Imagine the trouble we would be in w/o it. It has been the single most important stimulus after what the Fed has been doing. And it keeps on coming, year after year.

I am not a big believer in one or two things "saving" the economy. But clearly the unexpected bonus from fracking helped lift us from recession and will do a lot to get the economy finally back on track. Revenue from fracking can pay for a lot of mistakes, such as Solyndra.

Let's just not let them screw it up.

On a related item, I was learning from a UC Santa Barbara study that energy exploration has REDUCED natural oil seepage into the ocean by about half. An article starts, "Next time you step on a glob of tar on a beach in Santa Barbara County, you can thank the oil companies that it isn't a bigger glob."

July 28, 2013

GMOs and Organic farming

There must be a term for it, when you fear and reject a new solution because of imagined risk and keep to an older solution that you are certain is not safe. GMOs are a good way to produce more food, while reducing inputs such as pesticides. They also will help us adapt to climate change or other quick changes.  There are no confirmed cases of anybody getting sick from eating GMO foods, yet they are widely opposed.  Organically grown foods, however, kill hundreds of people each year and yet are presumed innocent even in the face of evidence.  This is one of those cases where our fear of new science leads us down a more familiar but less healthy path.  

Let’s talk a little about organic foods.  The line between “organic” and conventional is not bright.  Most food we eat is grown primarily in organic ways.   Farming is now and has always been mostly an organic enterprise.  It makes sense to rely on natural processes when possible.  It saves effort and money.  However, most soils are deficient in key nutrients and a plague of insects or fungus can attack even healthy crops.   In that case, it is smart to apply inorganic fertilizers or chemicals to kill the bugs.  The key is to deploy the appropriate tools in the appropriate amount at the appropriate time.  Reasonable people can differ about such things.   But it is foolish to limit the tools you can safely apply.  As we learn more about soils, water and ecological relationships, we have become better at applying both organic and inorganic methods in complementary ways.

The recent outbreak of hepatitis in certified organic berries is only the latest.  A few years ago in Germany forty-five people died and almost 4000 got sick from eating organically certified bean sprouts.   Neither inorganic nor organic foods are automatically healthy or unhealthy.   But it is clearly true that if we applied the same scrutiny to organic foods as we do to GMOs, we would effectively shut down the organic food industry.  

Supporting organic farms and eating locally are lifestyle choices that we can indulge in the U.S. because we are a rich country, but we could not support the current world population using organic methods alone, even if we cut down the forests and invade the natural regions as the less efficient organic production methods would require.  

I favor of organic farming methods.  There is sufficient demand for organic products, as some consumers are willing to pay higher prices.   I like the idea of smaller farms with lots of people close to the land.  We should, however, be practical.  And we need to be vigilant with our food supply.  Just because something is certified as 100% organic does not mean that it is healthy.

In pre-industrial times, all crops were grown organically.  At those times, food-borne diseases and parasites were so common as to be ubiquitous.   We have learned a lot since the middle ages, but the even more ancient statement “nothing too much” still applies.   A smart course is a moderate one.  Eating only organic food will not make you healthier nor would it be good for the environment if everyone did that.   On the other hand we have to be circumspect in our use of chemicals and GMOs.  But we should welcome their use when they improve health or environment.

July 14, 2013

Good land management needs farm animals

Vegetarians are bad for the environment

CO2 contributes to climate change, although it works in complex ways. For example, higher concentrations of CO2 helps plants grow. Trees require less water when there is more CO2, so can we expect MORE forest growth, a benefit of climate change? A more straightforward factor in climate change, and maybe a bigger factor, is land use. As grasslands turn to deserts, climate gets worse. An unusual solution might be MORE cows and sheep.  

Watch this TED talk. Think about grasslands. Grasslands co-evolved with large grazing animals. It is easy to see how grazing animals depend on the grass they eat. It is harder, and maybe even counterintuitive, to see how grasslands depend on large grazing animals. In fact, years ago we were taught that grazing destroyed grasslands. But like everything else in nature, it was more complex than that.

Just as the difference between a lifesaving medicine and a deadly poison is often in the dosage, whether grazing animals destroy grasslands or save them depends both on the amount and on how it is done. Overgrazing makes semi-arid grasslands into deserts, but so does under grazing.

Alan Savory, the man featured in the TED talk, was surprised when he studied parkland that had been protected from grazing. As you can see if you look at the TED talk, some lands that were green and prosperous when a park was established and livestock was excluded, were in much worse shape thirty years later. Far from recovering in the absence of grazing, they degraded further.

Grazing good and bad

It is not a simple matter of finding the right number of animals to graze a field. More important is HOW they do it. I would think that a herd of animals spread evenly over a field would be optimal. They would nip off the top of the grass evenly, never trampling too much. But this is wrong. The grass needs to be grazed heavily and trampled down and then it needs to rest. The best thing to do is put lots of animals into concentrated areas but to move them around. Where the animals have been, it looks "overgrazed" and it would be if they stayed, but they don't. The grass gets a chance to grow back and when it does it is stronger.

It starts to make sense when you think of how you might work your own lawn. If you just let the grass grow w/o ever cutting, raking or fertilizing, the grass gets patchy and starts to die. Grass thrives best when it is clipped down and the resulting thatch removed. Grazing animals do this and provide fertilizer in the process.

The best thing about this method of grassland restoration is that it is sustainable and profitable. This means that farmers can use it, stay in business and benefit the environment at the same time. In the long run they can graze MORE animals on the same land because the method also restores and builds soils.

Soil is the basis of all our prosperity, but we usually just treat it like dirt. A healthy soil gives us many benefits. Besides growing better plans, healthy soil can absorb water better. Pastures with strong soils resist drought better. There is another advantage important today. Strong soils sequester carbon.

Before I finish, let me make a few points clearer. First, this grazing method is used for grasslands that don't get much rain or get rain in large doses, as in wet and dry seasons. In places where it rains all year around, such as in Western Europe or Eastern North America, you can let grazing animal just spread out. This is because the grass grows back quickly and, as importantly, the residue rots rapidly in the humid environment. Neither of these things happens in the drier places. That is why you need the grazing animals deployed in intense groups. Second, MORE animals can be grazed on the same land. It is a real win-win. Farmers and ranchers benefit directly by being sustainable. And finally, eating meat is good. In many of these drier areas, grazing animals are the most efficient makers of food. If the system is done properly, there were will more animals than the land can support. Some need to be removed and if there is not a strong market for them, farmers will be unable to support sustainability. Sustainable agriculture and strong markets are mutually supportive.

On a related topic, I saw on an article on Globo Rural about a multiple land use with cattle. On a farm in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, they divide their land into five sections. Four of the five are planted in soy. The last one is corn with grass planted under it. After the corn is harvested, they put cattle on the land to eat the grass. They move around the fields, so that every five times the field is in corn followed by cattle. This increases profits on the farm, improves that soil and reduces inputs of fertilizers and pesticides.

We really can be sustainable w/o radically changing our ways of life. Profit is not only compatible with a good environment; it is a necessity. Strong markets and sustainability go together. And clearly meat-eaters are better for the environment than vegetarians.

July 07, 2013

Wood: sustainable fuel of the past/future

It is an exciting time to be in the biofuels industry and all forest owners are now in. In the last five years, the situation for forest producers in the southern U.S. had changed dramatically. Within easy driving distance (and so market distance) of my farms, three pellet mills have recently opened. Couple this with a probable return of demand for structural timber, plus the decision of utilities like Dominion Power to substitute wood chips for some coal and things are looking good.

I participated in an online seminar about the growing demand for wood pellets, sponsored by "Biomass Magazine" and learned some interesting things. Wood pellets represent an old technology. People use them for home heating. It has not been a very sexy part of the market because, unlike solar, wood pellet use tended to be concentrated among poorer parts of the population, especially ordinary folks in rural areas. The most important reason for this was availability. Wood pellets are bulky and so shipping them far from the forests they came from was cost prohibitive and unlike solar or wind power, which would also be cost prohibitive w/o subsidies, pellets got few breaks from governments. But that has changed.

The European Union wants to get 20% of its power generation to renewables by 2020. There is no way this can be done by ramping up solar and wind, even in the most optimistic scenarios. Only woody biomass can get them to their targets. Even in Germany, with its enormous subsidies for solar and wind power, 38% of non-fossil fuel energy is generated by wood & in Europe as a whole, about half of all renewable power comes from various incarnations of wood (sticks, chips, pellets or sawdust). In fact, good old-fashioned wood has been the chief beneficiary of renewable energy mandates and its role will grow for at least another quarter century. Europe consumed 13 million tons of wood pellets in 2012 and demand is expected to rise to 25m-30m a year by 2020.

The big practical advantage of wood is that it can be used in existing power generators and substituted for coal w/o major renovations and with only two caveats. The big differences between wood and coal have to do with its energy density and reaction to water. Wood is only about 2/3 as energy dense as coal, so more bulk is required. Coal is also essentially waterproof. It can get rained on for days and still burn just as well. Wood has to be kept dry. These disadvantages can be addressed. The bigger "problem" for the Europeans is that they cannot produce enough wood to meet their own energy demand. American forests have come to the rescue.

The southern U.S. sustainably produces enough wood every year to fuel as many generator plants as the Europeans are likely to convert to wood in the next twenty-five years. We have several advantages in being the big suppliers. Logistically, it is inexpensive and easy to move wood pellets from the eastern U.S. to Europe. Our forests are near roads and railroads that lead to ports that can take bulk cargoes. Once on board ship, it is about a ten day voyage to Europe. Sea transportation is efficient and cheap. Another important reason is that American forests are managed for sustainability.

Most of our forests have third party certification through organizations such as the American Tree Farm System, the world's oldest third party certification & the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the biggest forest certification program in the U.S..

Most of the wood used for pellets comes from "round wood," i.e. stems too small to be used for lumber and or residue from logging operations. Some of this was/is used for pulp and paper, but that market has been declining.

Let me make the point that healthy forests MUST be thinned. If the trees grow too close together, you invite insect pests and all the trees grow more slowly and are not as healthy. There has never been a time since the last ice age when North American forests were not "managed" by humans. Native Americans regularly burned forests and so forests in Virginia in 1607 tended to be more open, i.e. fewer trees per acres and less understory, than they are today. We have learned to manage forests much better in recent decades, using good thinning techniques and proper use of fire. Most pine ecosystems are fire dependent and trees like oak and hickory require some fire in order to regenerate. Intelligent thinning of trees and some grazing can substitute for fire in some cases and is desirable where fire dangers are high.

Strong markets and sustainable forestry are mutually supportive. Forest owners rarely can afford to do good management if they cannot find a market for their forest products. If you just "let it grow" it will grow poorly, invaded by exotic bugs and invasive species, and be prone to disastrous fires, as well as devastating insect attacks.

Our goal is to protect biodiversity, preserve wildlife habitat & safeguard water quality while we sustainably harvest our trees and promptly regenerate the forests. To do that, we need help from markets and reasonable public policies. I don't know enough about the relative value of pellets versus coal in an economic sense to voice a strong opinion. But in the ecological world, it is a great initiatives, not only or even primarily because it replaces a polluting fuel like coal, but because it helps us manage our forests the way they should be managed, the way we want to manage.

BTW - Americans forests sequester about 12% of the CO2 produced U.S. industry, cars and homes. Well managed forests do it better, not only in the wood, but also in soils.  Wood is good.

June 30, 2013

Chapada dos Veadeiros

Espen at falls of Rio Preto in Chapada dos Veadeiros 

You don’t have to have a guide anymore to go into Chapada dos Veadeiros, but it is still a good idea. It supports the local economy and the guide can point out things you would otherwise miss. Our guide was very good, although he speaks only Portuguese. 

Espen and pond in Chapada dos Veadeiros 

Local people made money by crystal mining.  It was not an ecologically benign operation.  Our guide told us that he was the son of miners and had mined himself for a time.  By the late 1980s, most of the best crystals were mined out.  Miners like our guide spent a lot of time sorting through the slag heaps.  Some crystals that were considered too small in earlier times were the best they could do later on.  Employing local people as guides gave them some income and also gave them incentive to preserve the environment.   It seemed to have worked.

Chapada falls and lake 

Our guide clearly loved the land and knew a lot about it. The only problem with him was that he could walk too fast.  We took the waterfall route. We took the canyon route when I came with Chrissy a couple years ago.  Both are really nice.  Overall, I think the canyon route is a little nicer, but it is a close call.  The waterfall route has more spectacular views, but the canyon route has more interesting ones in some ways. Maybe it would be a good idea to stay for two days and do both. Each hike takes about five hours.  That includes a significant amount of time swimming or hanging around near the ponds and waterfalls. The walks are steep in places, but not very arduous.

Espen in little falls 

The climate here is pleasant.  Because of the elevation, it rarely gets very hot and because of the tropical location it never gets cold at all. Seasons are wet and dry. Both times I visited were in the dry season. The area is semi-arid, but in a strange way. As in Brasília, it almost never rains during the dry season, but rains a lot during the rainy season, so it is very wet half the year and very dry the other half. The vegetation has to adapt to the more demanding dry season, so it looks like what you might find in parts of Arizona. As I wrote in the earlier post, São Jorge reminds me of Sedona and the area around is like parts of northern Arizona.  One big difference is that there is no cold weather here. There probably has not been any frost here for millions of years, maybe never. The other big difference is water. There is lots of water during the wet season, which keep the rivers running and the lakes full during the dry season.  It seems an anomaly to have so much water running through so dry a place.

Espen walking near little falls on Rio Preto 

The water from the Chapada dos Veadeiros flows into the Rio Preto, which empties into the Tocantins River. The Tocantins is often thought of as a tributary of the Amazon, but actually is its own basin and empties independently into the Atlantic Ocean through the Amazon delta.    

June 20, 2013

Brazilian eucalyptus

Eucalyptus plantation in Minas Gerais, Brazil  

Pines used to be the plantation tree of choice all over Brazil. Today it is eucalyptus, at least north of São Paulo.  Eucalyptus grows very fast and it has few pests. The eucalyptus is native of Australia, but it is developed to its genetic best in Brazil. The trees were introduced to Brazil about a century ago. They are used mostly for charcoal and pulp and grow with a five year rotation in most places. South America produces about half of all the eucalyptus products in the world.

Eucalyptus in Brazil 

It is nice to walk in eucalyptus forest. They smell good and there are not too many bugs. But this has its negative side.  The reason it smells good and there are not too many bugs is that few animals can eat the leaves or bark.  They are a pretty version of a desert.  It is exacerbated by propensity for fire. The wood has oil that can explode into fire and the trees drop bark, so that the ground is covered by tinder. In any case, not much grows under the eucalyptus. This makes them a popular crop tree.

As you see in the photo, they are planted neatly like any other crop and they are planted continuously with some harvested each year and news ones planted w/o much regard for seasons of the year. It is a different sort of forestry, maybe not really forestry at all. What is attractive about forestry is the interaction among parts of the forest community. These forests of eucalyptus are much like very tall corn fields. Too neat for my tastes.

On the plus side, they cover the naked hillsides and produce valuable cellulose rapidly.

June 02, 2013

Green Infrastructure

Me in the 1970sNature provides lots of valuable services. Unfortunately, it is often hard to value them and even harder to figure out how to pay for them. Most of us have come to believe that things like water & air are free and/or belong to nobody. That attitude is what gets us in trouble. Things that are free or belong to nobody get wasted and ruined everybody. We need to think more systemically.

I just finished reading a good book called "Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature" by Mark Tercek, head of the Nature Conservancy. I suggest you read the whole book, but I will expand on some of the ideas here.

The quote I liked is "Nature is not just something to preserve in a few places and degrade in others. Nature is everywhere. Yet nature is also not just a source of tangible benefits to people. It has a deeper meaning to people around the world."

The main idea is that we can and should work with nature. Nature provides fantastic infrastructure, which the author calls "Green Infrastructure". I will go into examples below, but first let me quote the other passage I found useful and true. "Contrary to popular opinion, companies can be better at making long-term plans for those resources than governments, which often get hamstrung by political divides and short term thinking driven by the next election cycle." That is not to diminish the indispensable role of government, but often the point of leverage is working with businesses. I found this true when I worked in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. Governments talked and promised, but you could get things done faster in private spheres. Where private business was weak, as in communist countries, the environment was in the most miserable condition. He gave an example of Coca-Cola working to preserve water resources.

But the example I liked best, one I heard before, was New York City's green infrastructure. New York has some of the best quality tap water in the world. They began planning for its water needs way back in 1837. The system depends on forested watersheds in the Catskill Mountains. Most of this land is in private hands. Instead of building more treatment plants (i.e. gray not green infrastructure) NYC worked with landowners upstream, providing them advice on stream and water protection and sometimes money to help them do the right things. As a result, almost everybody is happier. Money has been pumped into rural communities that allow them to maintain a way of life they want that also provides clean water to NYC at a price lower than it would have otherwise to pay. And it is good for the environment. Smart all around.

Another example of great green infrastructure is restored oyster reefs. Restoring reefs was one of the good uses of Federal Stimulus Money and the RESTORE Act. It costs about $1 million a mile to restore oyster reef, about the same as the cost of a seawall. But an oyster reef is better. A seawall is as good as it gets on the day it is finished, then it starts of deteriorate and needs maintenance. An oyster reef improves with time; it is self-maintaining. And all the time it exists it filters the water, provide habitat for aquatic life and even sequesters carbon and potentially provides food for people. If there is a choice, why would anybody go with a concrete seawall?

I have been interested in the environment for as long as I can recall. I studied ecology back in the 1970s. Much of what I learned then has been overtaken by new knowledge. There really is no such thing as a climax forest, for example. I also imbibed the error that humans are separate from nature and that as one gains the other loses. Experience since then has demonstrated that both nature and humans can benefit at the same time from smart activities based on understanding relationships. I have also concluded that humans MUST manage nature. It is too late to try to keep hands off. As the head of TNC says above, nature is not just something to preserve in a few places and degrade in others. I wrote a couple years ago something I think is a good close here too.

Human interaction does not always profane nature; the interaction done right can ennoble both. Conservation is a higher order activity compared with mere preservation, which is an abdication of responsibility in the guise of wisdom. Conservation demands that you apply intelligence and ecological factors to sustaining a system that works for man and beast. We humans live in this world. If/when there is a world w/o us, it really doesn't matter anymore. As long as we are here, however, it is our job to do things right. .

The picture is me in the 1970s. My sister just sent me a bunch of pictures she scanned. I had to post it to show people who know me that I once had hair. Notice the long hair, confident smile and kick-ass boots. Back when I knew everything it was easier to make judgments.