I read the “sequel” – “1493” a couple years ago, so I was looking forward to this book. I was disappointed at first. The book drags in the first parts. There was too much detail of history that was precise beyond the available data and too much personalized accounts of the authors explorations.

His strength is ecological history and the author does well in the last chapters talking about anthropomorphic landscapes. For example, he talks about the terra preta land in the Amazon, which human created soil.

The big idea is that landscapes in the Americas were not untouched by humans, but rather the creation of humans over the centuries. This includes the wild Amazon. It was a different sort of agriculture, sort of a natural gardening with many species of trees and roots.

Where no man had gone before

When Europeans arrived, they thought they found a virgin landscape. They were mistaken. Native Americans had altered the landscape for thousands of year though their hunting and especially the use of fire.

European  settlers also came upon a “widowed” landscape, not a virgin one.  Disease killed the native population often before the arrival of Europeans.  Natives had burned and used the forests, hunted and controlled game.  When large numbers of natives were eliminated by disease, the forests grew thicker and animals proliferated. Large herds of bison, elk, deer, thick forests and flocks of passenger pigeons that Europeans found represented rebounding populations, not the previous situation.

Meaning for the land ethic

This is a sign of hope and helps in the understanding of a regenerative land ethic. Following a land ethic, we seek to live in harmony with nature.  Harmony specifically does NOT mean apart or not interacting.  In our context, it means means neither dominating nature nor mimicking it nor setting it apart to “save” it, but rather trying to understand and use natural principles.  Similarly, we should not try to mimic the techniques of the past nor try to restore what was. We can use these methods & principles of the past and make a once and future way to manage our land.

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Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement

“And I am not throwing away my shot; I am not throwing away my shot; Hey yo, I’m just like my country; I’m young, scrappy and hungry; And I’m not throwing away my shot”

We worry that if we miss the on-ramp to the success highway, we will be forever stuck on the bumpy little roads to nowhere. Our culture is full of references to getting that big break, and we emphasize youth and energy, as the words above from “Hamilton” epitomize.

But it is not a true story for most people. Worse, if we believe in the story, it leads to misery & failure.

“Late Bloomers” is a book I could have written, if I had more literary talent. As I read it, I saw myself in many of the anecdotes, especially now that I have become a gentleman of leisure.

Many opportunities beat equal opportunity

America does not need to be the land of equal opportunity, since none of us want the same thing. Equal opportunity implies the one highway in the metaphor above. We should be – and we are – the land of many opportunities. The one shot, the one on-ramp is not how life works and not how it should work. We have diverse desires and diverse skills. A good life is one that finds purpose and a good society is one that enables most people to look for the good life.

Scientific management

The author talks about how we got into this one-way highway mind-set. In many ways, it was a bargain we made to create the fantastic prosperity we now enjoy. It has to do with the needs of an industrial society, the progressive “science” of management and even with different life expectancy of the past. There is better detail in the book, but we need to consider Fredrick Taylor’s scientific management and the way our school systems responded to needs of an industrial society.

I have written about Taylor before and will not go into detail now. Most of us recognize his methods, even if we have never heard of him. This is the idea of making work-processes most efficient, sometimes called time and motion studies. Taylor and his students would observe work environments and optimize everything. Good as far as it went. The cost was that it made people into exchangeable parts. They all needed to do the same sort of things. A craftsman, who customized and thought about his work was unwelcome on the assembly line. These kinds of ideas so permeated American, and in fact world society that we sometimes forget that it is not natural. Our school systems were also designed with these sorts of ideas in mind. The schools we grew up in were designed to the industrial model. The kids come in a group. They do the assigned stuff. There are even bells to tell them when to move.

Thanks to people like Taylor, we no longer need to behave in the ways he advocated. We needed the industrial process to break the poverty trap. Now our society has built enough wealth and prosperity that we can more freely indulge our individual humanity. And that is what we should do.

Not everything you can measure is important and not all that is important can be measured

The author talks about late blooming, which he defines as not doing things on schedule. People develop differently. Most young men are not mature at 18 years old. Their brains are literally not physically mature, and they are not ready to get onto that success ramp. Maybe time off doing something else would be useful, give them time to develop. Do not expect instant success.

I have seen this in boys I know and in myself. At around 21-years old, they just kind of click into place. Tasks that were impossible for their immature selves become easy. Girls develop faster, which likely accounts for much of their success in college earlier on. It may also explain why the boys catch up after graduation.

Many chances mitigate the problem of the quick start, lets lots of people flower in their own way and helps society in general. Unfortunately, we are sorting people at younger and younger ages. Parents are training their kids to get into the “right” kindergarten, so they eventually get into the right college and achieve the big success. This is pernicious.

It is impossible to measure the potential merit of young people with any precision. Yet we apply increasingly precise measures. Most of these are just bull shit, but they are much loved by bureaucrats seeking to justify their choices and protect their phony-baloney jobs. We could eliminate most of the workers in college admissions, for example, w/o harming – maybe helping – the composition of classes. The process is much less precise that we admit. Admit it and design from there.

The crab pot syndrome

Later in the book he talked about the need for “re-potting.” Sometimes you just have to move to find your place. Community is a great thing, but it can also be limiting. People you know well don’t help you change. They know what you were, not what you are or what you aspire to become. This applies to people who love you too. (One of the best things I did for my son Alex was to go to Iraq for a year. W/o m to “help and advise” him, he was able to develop in his own way.) And of course, not everybody even wants you to succeed. Communities after have a “crab pot syndrome,” where others pull down any individual who tries to climb higher. (I checked, BTW. Crabs trapped in a pot actually do pull down any of their number that tries to climb out.)

Of course, there is a lot more to the book than I can summarize. It is worth reading. I won’t claim that it gave me great insights that nobody has though of before, but it did remind me of things I have observed over my life and made me think of others in new ways.

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Preservation & Conservation

Preservation &  Conservation

Not everybody makes the distinction between conservation & preservation, but some do and whole books have been written on it, usually discussing the differences between Gifford Pinchot and John Muir.

I won’t tell that story here.  Suffice it to say that despite sometimes serious ideological disputes, conservationists and preservationists overlap in their big goals, and in many, in most cases a conservationist and a preservationist behave in very similar ways. Conservation is the one with the Teddy Roosevelt tradition, and I would argue Aldo Leopold. Conservationists indeed aim to preserve nature, but also recognize the special role humans have played will always play as long as humans are on earth.

Land empty of people is sad and incomplete

A land full of people who overreach and destroy nature is a horror. A land empty of people is sad and incomplete. Walking gently on the earth is essential, but that implies humans are indeed walking on the earth. Harmony, not exclusion, is the valuable and achievable goal. Humans living in harmony with nature is joyful and helps us find meaning in life.

People who use the land and the biotic communities can be great stewards of nature. Hunters are often great conservationists, so are foresters and loggers. These guys are rarely welcome at a meeting of “true” preservationists. Preservationists count among their ranks deep environmentalists, who sometimes believe that earth would be better off w/o humans, and some animal rights activists, who sometimes put the “rights” of the beasts above the needs of humans.

You will note that I have been modifying with “some” or “many” when talking about adherents to the two strains of environmentalism. The debate is significant, but there is no dogma as you might have in a religion. You can get some of the taste of the differences in E.O. Wilson’s “Half Earth.” My interpretation is included at this link.  Wilson is in the  preservation camp, but he is not a deep environmentalist.

Deep environmentalism has all the attractions of a religion. Its strongest acolytes resemble puritans in many ways, but there is no redemption in their philosophy for them or for humanity. Of course, this is an extreme view held by fringe people, but the pure preservationist ideal infects many in the environmental movement & even more casual adherents often see preservation as the true religion, even if they cannot achieve it.

Ecological footprints

A preservationist mind-set is on display in the common concept of “ecological footprints.” It is often formulated as the damage you do, and the best you can hope for is to limit the damage. It is a narrative of loss or even original sin. As with medieval concepts of sin, it is a game you are bound to lose. Conservationists can accept the footprint idea, but they recognize that the footprint can be positive. We can take steps that improve at least parts of the natural environment.

Humans in nature, nature in humans

Some places are so unique that we should do our best to preserve them in “natural”  state that we found them. Some places must be used very intensively leaving little room for nature. In most places, nature and humanity can exist together, often in symbiotic ways.  In these places we can aspire to regeneration.

I am agnostic about restoring nature and I do not believe in natural intelligent design. There is no way that it “should” be. There is no pristine natural state to be recovered. That means that there is nothing humans can do that will “destroy” nature because “nature” is a human concept, beyond our capacity to destroy. In the billions of years of earth history before human consciousness developed, plants and animals lived, reproduced, evolved and died w/o notice or consequence. When MOST of the world’s species died out at the end of the Paleozoic era, it didn’t make a bit of difference to nature. The disappearance of the dinosaurs was mourned by nobody until the modern kids found out about the great extinction, shed a few childish tears and called it a tragedy.

I was happy to read in the Nature Conservancy Magazine. In an article entitled, “Beyond Man vs. Nature”, the Conservancy’s chief scientist explained that biodiversity for itself and/or simple preservation should not be top goals. “The ultimate goal,” he said, “is better management of nature for human benefit.”

Nothing untouched

Of course, there are places we choose to preserve mostly untouched – mostly. I have visited the Grand Canyon five times. Each time I find more to love and each time the Grand Canyon fills me with wonder & awe. We should preserve awesome places like the Grand Canyon for ourselves & future generations. Let me modify that. We should conserve places like this. The Grand Canyon that so struck awe into my soul was not natural. I enjoyed the Canyon by walking to the bottom and back up on trails carved by human hands. I drove up there on roads build by men and machines. W/o those human improvements, the Canyon would be as inaccessible to me as the mountains of the moon and as meaningless as some great canyon that might exist on Venus or Mars. The universe really is a big place and we are small. It sounds arrogant to say so, but it is humanity that makes this wonder of nature a wonder at all.

We are humans. We can pretend to take the point of view of animals, plants or even geographical features. We can imagine seeing through the “eye of the tiger” or “thinking like a mountain.” This is useful. It helps us understand, but for us it is an exercise. We cannot hear, speak or feel for plants, animals or natural systems.  It is literally like talking to a rock and expecting an answer. We can understand the world only with our human intelligence and perceptions, since we have never read or heard anything understood or explained by any but humans.

If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?

What gives nature meaning and what allows us to get meaning from nature is the interaction of us with it. An old epistemological conundrum asks, “If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” It is an insoluble problem unless you add detail. If you are talking about the waves that our human ears interpret as sound, a tree falling in the woods certainly does this. But a sound also requires interpretation. If nobody is there to hear it, all we have is physical phenomenon.

My guess is that preservationists would generally say it makes a sound, even if no human hears it. A conservationist like me might be a little more human-centrist and say that it falls silently. Add a time component and it becomes even more interesting. Sound travels at 331.2 metres per second – fast, but not instantaneous. It takes almost five seconds for sound to travel a mile. If you are a mile away from a tree when it falls in the woods, WHEN does it make a sound? For me, sixty million years of dinosaur history had no meaning until it was discovered by human consciousness.

Don’t mimic nature; work to understand & use natural principles

You cannot step twice into the same forest. The forest you fondly remember from childhood is gone, even if you can go to the same place and see trees and flowers that look just like you remember them.

I have written on many occasions that sustainable and natural are overlapping contexts, but they are not the same and that sustainable, in both natural and human influenced system doesn’t mean something that last forever. Nothing lasts forever. Sustainable just means a system that persists a long time adapting continually to continuous change. There are ecosystems that would be recognizable 5000 or 10,000 years ago, but none that have been unchanged during all that time. Most of the relationships among members of the biotic community are much younger. A good conservation strategy strives for a healthy human population interacting with a healthy environment. We don’t have to keep our human hands off, in fact, while we should work and interact with natural processes, we probably should not leave very much untouched. Human interaction does not necessarily profane nature; the interaction – done right, done thoughtfully & managed adaptively – ennobles both.  We need to understand and use natural principles, but we cannot and should not just mimic nature.

We can’t solve environmental problems without addressing human problems

All human endeavors need to satisfy the triple bottom line. They must be sustainable economically (profit), ecologically (planet) and good for the community (people). Sometimes there are trade-offs between them, but we must succeed in all three to call it a success.

Conservation is a higher order activity compared with mere preservation, which is may be an abdication of responsibility in the guise of wisdom. We can’t solve environmental problems without addressing human problems.

A sustainable environment demands that we apply intelligence, innovation and constant learning to ecological factors to sustain systems that works for humans and the beasts. We humans live in this world and ever since we evolved into humans we have altered the environment. If/when there is a world w/o us, it really doesn’t matter anymore. So long as we are here, however, it is our job – our responsibility – to act in the world and strive to do the right things and do things right.

Some additional reading

Conservation in the Anthropocene

Myth-busting Scientist Pushes Greens Past Reliance on “Horror Stories.”

We Aren’t Destroying the Earth

We Couldn’t Save Cecil the Lion, but Can We Save the Planet

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What were you doing when you were 40?

My story worth for this week. What were you doing when you were 40?

I thought it was the best of times, and it was the best of times up to then. The worst of times was just around the corner, but I didn’t know it at that time and that is another story.

It was the middle of my time as public affairs officer in Krakow. It was the best possible job I could have had at my rank and I knew it. Poland was emerging from the darkness of communism and it was an amazing privilege and joy to be there to watch it, have a small part in helping it along. You could see the improvements week-by-week. The air was getting cleaner. Shops were opening and electricity was becoming more reliable. It was like springtime after a long, dark and dreary winter. And my work was rewarding. Opportunities were so thick that my only problem was deciding among them. I got rock-star reception everywhere I went. I liked to think it was me, but I knew that they really loved the America I represented and that was okay too.

My Polish was not great, but it got me what I needed. Polish is hard for English speakers & Poles were glad to hear Americans speaking their language. They seemed to have no problem understanding, but I think my accent was amusing. My nearest guess is that I sound like Pepe Le Pew. I often talked on radio or TV, so it was not an impediment. My best teacher was my driver – Bogdan. My district included the whole south of Poland. Visiting all the places I needed to go kept me on the road. Bogdan and I spent many hours driving together, so much so that my more educated staff members joked that I should not talk so much to Bogdan. I was starting to sound like a peasant, they said. I think it was a joke.

Representing the USA in those days opened lots of doors and gave me lots of work. In retrospect, I think that I worked too much, more precisely that I did not adequately understand the nature of diplomatic work. I should have focused on fewer priorities and applied more leverage to everything else. Good diplomats work through others. I did too much myself and did not let others do as much as they could. I don’t beat myself up too much on this. This is common behavior of mid-level officers. Later when I was the big boss, mentoring younger officers, I tried to explain, but they more often did what I did, not what I said. Maybe it is a stage we need to go through on the way to better understanding. There is a time for energy, after all. It was my job to tell them and their job to do something else. And even looking back with my greater experience, I still judge my time in Krakow was a great success, despite my youth and inexperience.

A few anecdotes from those times.

Espen was a little boy and he learned Polish, at least at the little boy level, but he would never speak Polish with me. He claimed he could not. I heard him speaking to the cleaning woman in fluent Polish, so I asked him about it. “I thought you could not speak Polish,” I told him. He answered, “I don’t speak Polish. Those are just the words I have to use with her.” What an insight! That is one reason why kids can learn language so well. What is language, after all? You make a series of sounds and something happens.

My funniest Polish radio interview had to do with Christmas traditions. The interview was going well. I thought we were talking about Christmas trees. I talked about the tradition of decorating them and how each family had their own traditions. The interviewer nodded. I went on to explain that some people go to the forest to cut their own trees. Suddenly, the interviewer looked very confused. We talked a bit more. Turns out that I was using the wrong work. The Polish work for tree is “drzewo.” I was using “drzwi,” which means door. Funny, that it made sense. You could – and some do – decorate doors. Had I not talked about the cutting; nobody would have been any the wiser. This is a caution when you are speaking a foreign language and everybody seems to understand.

One of my scariest times was when Richard Holbrook came to visit us. Holbrook was one of the smartest men I have ever men and seemed to me one of the scariest. I met him at the train station and introduced myself. He dropped his luggage and walked off. We always joke that diplomats need to be ready to carry luggage, so I carried his. I must have done a good job, because I was placed at his table for a reception are Ariel Café in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow. It was a big table with lots of people well above my station. I laid low, not wanting to call attention to myself. Holbrook held forth on a variety of subjects. Seemed to know everything. I stayed quiet, speaking perfunctorily to the people near me, so as not to interfere with Holbrook, clearly the main event. The guy sitting next to me was the director of the Holocaust Museum. He was nice. We talked a little about the restaurant, which served traditional Jewish food and featured klezmer music. When we got up to leave, and made the usual goodbyes, the museum director was profuse in praise for the restaurant. I came to understand that he thought I was the owner of the café. I saw Holbrook at the other end of the table and I did not want to be explaining this when he might hear, so I just told the director that we try to please the customers.

On the dark side, Poland was a bloodland. Both world wars were fought over its territory and the Nazi occupation was very brutal. A casual walk in the woods will come across monuments to dozens of hundred of Polish civilians killed by Nazis. There were also remains of American pilots and aircraft. During the Warsaw uprising in 1944, the USA wanted to resupply the rebels. Stalin cynically wanted to let the Nazis wipe out the free Polish army.

Stalin would not resupply the Poles, nor cooperate with the USA to do it. American pilots and crews volunteered to drop supplies to the Polish Home Army. Since Stalin would not let them land in Soviet held territory, they had to try to make the round trip. Many did not make it. 1994 was the 50th anniversary of many of these events. I attended a quite a few memorials.

I was often assigned as site officer for Auschwitz. This is for official visits. The site officer makes sure everything is okay for an important visitor. I did some variation of these five times, including visits by Hilary Clinton and George W Bush. Each time I visited; it was worse. You notice more and more terrible details. My last visit was the worst. It was when George W Bush came to Poland. (This was a little outside the period in question. By then I was working in Warsaw, but they sent me south to help.) I went to the camp in the pre-dawn darkness and walked around the camp alone. Few people get to do this, and I do not recommend it. I will never, ever go back. The cruelty and inhumanity came stronger than ever, so powerfully that even as I write I am feeling physically sick. When people deny or minimize the Holocaust, well I wish I could infect them with this feeling. Well enough.

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The Age of Living Machines

Very optimistic & interesting talk at Smithsonian today. The speaker neuroscientist Susan Hockfield, former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, talked about her book, “The Age of Living Machines: How Biology Will Build the Next Technology Revolution.” I bought the book at the event. Bad form not to buy the book if you attend the event, but in this case I look forward to reading it.

The author explained that the last century was a physics-engineering period. Physics figured out enough of how things worked to make it possible to put it to practical use. The next century will be a bio-engineering period with similar wonders but from this new form.

She went into some history. Our electronic revolution is remarkably new. It was only in the 1930s that it started in earnest.

She talked about Vannevar Bush. I have read about him many other places and if you have not I suggest you do. He was a truly visionary man. There is likely no single individual more responsible for the fantastic scientific, industrial & technological advance in post-war America.

After that, she gave some examples of possible advances. One involves using a virus to made batteries at the nano-level. Another was biological water filtration. There are lots of examples. Most will not pan out, but some will and they will be be glorious.

Government has a strong role to play in funding basic research. Nobody else can do this. It is too risky for private firms. Private firms spend a lot on R&D, but they are much more interested in the D – development part.

The lecture makes me think that it will be along the lines of a couple other books I read – “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson & “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly.

I bought the book at the presentation and read it. It was an easy read, but there was not much more than in the lecture.

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Durham Bulls

Finished our Forest History Society board meeting. The evening program included a Durham Bulls baseball team. The local team did not do well. The stadium is very nice but a little small. The other team, the Gwinnett Stripers, were able to hit the ball out of the park on a couple occasions.

First two pictures are from the game. Last shows some shortleaf pine at the FHS headquarters.

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Forest History Society

Went to the ribbon cutting ceremony at Forest History Society. I was elected a board member last year. This is my first full board meeting.

The Forest History Society has archives and information about forests & the forestry industry. They also produce a general interest magazine and one on environmental history.

We are in North Carolina for a meeting of the Forest History Society. I became a board member last year. It combines love of forests with love of history, so it hits both of my passions. Not sure how much value I add to the Society, but if they want me and am willing to hang around as long as they will let me.

Pictures are from Brixx Pizza near our hotel, plus a few left over from yesterday’s visit to our farms. The first is just a picture of the road on our Brodnax place. It shows the SMZ on the right, with a pine plantation (planted 2016) on the left and a more mature pine stand in the background. Next is a picture of the new bridge on Genito Creek. They are selling 37 acres across the creek from my Diamond Grove place. I went to look at it, but decided not to try to buy it. It is mostly wet and natural regen in sweet gum, poplar and sycamore. I asked myself why I wanted it and could not answer so I said no. Last picture is the CCC memorial at FDR memorial. I took about a month ago. CCC is interesting for me.

As FDR said, more important than the material gains were the spiritual and moral benefits from such work. Politicians do not talk like that anymore. More’s the pity.

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White oak regeneration and looking at summer & winter burns

One of the things we lobbied Congress about yesterday was landscape initiatives like the White Oak Initiative. I told them that it was important and good for landowners to do. I figured I should take my own advice, so I looked around my land today and found lots of white oaks. I can encourage them simply by clearing out some of the sweet gum and poplar.

White oaks are still common in Virginia, but the problem is age. There are lots of old growth trees, but not that many successful next generations. Oaks needs disturbance. They like to grow in patches with decent soil and dappled shade. Fortunately, giving them these conditions is not rocket science. All you need is a few big oaks for acorns and some sunlight. I can do that.

I also found that the recent fire did good things for the little oaks. I think I can help grow those white oaks for the next generation of bourbon drinkers. I have been extolling the virtues of bourbon and white oak to anybody who wants to listen, and even many who do not. Most of bourbon’s flavor and all of its color comes from white oak. A drink of bourbon is to task 50 years of forest.

Checked out the burning on the Brodnax place. We burned part exactly a year ago and the other part a few months ago, i.e. a growing season burn and a winter one.

The growing season burn got a little too hot a killed a couple dozen trees. There are lots of sweet gum growing under those now. The winter burn is still developing. There was a lot of oak regen. It did not seem to kill many hardwoods and looks like none of the pines. There are a lot of ferns, however. First picture is the winter burn. Next two are the summer burn, #3 showing the dead trees. Picture #4 shows some of the firms on the winter burn and finally is oak regen on the winter burn.

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Lobbying day for forests

Our day of lobbying went well. We visited staffers from Senators Tim Kaine & Mark Warner, as well as from Representatives Gerald Connolly, Morgan Griffith, Abigail Spanberger, Rob Wittman & Ben Cline. I met a few of the staffers before and they remembered me. I understand that they have notes and do prep, but it is also because of my unique business card. All of those who remembered me mentioned the card. In any case, I am impressed that they took the time to welcome me back. Good constituent relations. My representative is Gerry Connolly. He used to be our Fairfax County supervisor. He is a good guy.

Proud to be American

All the staffers were friendly and listened to our entreaties with interest and attention. It would be unfair to characterize their responses in greater detail, except to note that Ben Cline’s district included our Virginia Tree Farmers of the Year in Highland County, and his staffer was especially interested in maybe meeting them. I can and will, however, list what I told them.

The facts tell; the story sells

I studied the night before the list of the bills we want our Virginia delegation to support and positions we hope they will take, but I decided that I would touch on those things, but that I could give them the leave behind material for details. Instead, I decided to tell my own story, what I think is important about the way we do forestry. The things I really understand and really care about.

Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees. I started with this mantra, and elided into the triple bottom line, i.e. every endeavor must be good economically, environmentally and for the community. We need the balance and if we fail on any one of them, we fail in general. The challenge for private forest owners, however, is that if we do the ecological and community parts well, we sometimes have problem with the economic part. To address this, I am grateful for government programs.

I gave the example of our own NRCS grants to restore longleaf, protect soils, plant pollinator habitat and manage with patch burns. All these things, I explained, are things I want to do, but could not afford absent the cost shares. For example, pollinator habitat seeds can cost around $300 an acre. I could not justify spending that much money on too many acres. The cost share is exactly that. It costs me time & money to carry out these activities, but it costs less with the help I get. I also greatly value the help I get in the form of advice and planning. The partnership is more powerful than either side could do.

My land is part of a big system

This fed into one of our “asks.” We want support for landscape scale projects for family forests. My land is part of a larger ecosystem. My land affects the health of the big ecosystem and my land’s health is affected by the larger system, so I care about that. Examples of landscape scale projects include longleaf restoration (one I am working on), wildfire mitigation and the white oak initiative.

I went into the white oak initiative in a little more detail both because I am fond of white oak and because it is easy to illustrate. There is today no shortage of white oak. The problem is with it age structure. We have old growth and middle-aged white oak, but there is not enough of the new generation. This is because white oak requires disturbances to allow the right amount of light. Doing this is not rocket science, but it needs to be done. It takes 50-80 years for a white pine to mature, so what we do now matters a couple generations hence.

The hook with white oak is bourbon. ALL bourbon must be aged in new white oak barrels. Other sorts of wood leak. All the color and most of the taste of bourbon comes from the white oak barrels. When you take a drink of bourbon, you are tasting the decades of oak. Even people who do not drink bourbon can appreciate this. In case they do not, wine, most cider and some beer are also oak wood aged.

Landowners cannot by themselves defend their land against invasive insects and plants. The government role here is to limit spread, anticipate invasions and research ways to adapt or overcome the threats. This is often done with grants to universities or to state and local governments. I think this is one of the most important things that government does. The challenge is that it is so important but often not urgent. If not done this year, you might not notice.

It is like nutrition and exercise. Skip a workout and eat nothing but donuts for a day or two and neglecting your health doesn’t much hurt. Neglect it for a long time and it is deadly.

Thanks for past success

We thanked Congress for the Farm Bill, which included lots of forestry friendly factors. One of the parts important to Virginia is the Sustainable Forestry & African American Land Retention program. This is aimed to help African American forest owners whose families owned and often still own forest land. The problem is that many are absentee owners and titles are unclear, with many descendants of the original landowners owning a small piece. This makes it difficult to manage the land and nearly impossible to take advantage of the many government programs alluded elsewhere, state and Federal.

We also thanked the Congress for the wood innovation grants, that have helped develop important innovations like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and for passing the wildfire fix, and I talked a little about the need for cross-boundary hazardous fuels projects, that will help private forest owners manage fire risk, and for the Community Wood Energy Program (CWEP).

If I sum up our talks, I think we were talking about the big picture, how our lands fit with programs and how the program fit with our lands. We got to know more about each other and understand better.

As Aldo Leopold said, “we can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in.”

More information on the American Forest Foundation at this link.

Pictures show Capitol on the morning of the visit. Next is a beautiful big beech tree on the grounds and a garden path.

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The Senkaku paradox: Risking great power war over small stakes

The Senkaku paradox refers to something unimportant causing a major war, as all sides escalate until it all gets out of hand. That is the World War I scenario. Nobody got what they thought, much less what they wanted.

I rode down to see Michael O’Hanlon talk about this paradox. The Senakaku Islands are totally unimportant. Nobody lives there. Nobody goes there. Their total land area is only seven square kilometers. They don’t even qualify as islands under the law of the sea. But China has begun to talk about claiming them. They are currently “administered” by Japan, but not even claimed by the Japanese. How can these piles of rocks constitute a risk?

The Chinese are using this as a provocation. It is a matter of pride and principle. This is what happens when there is no practical value and it makes negotiations harder, since nobody can trade concessions.

The “islands” are covered by the USA-Japan defense treaty, so if the Chinese make a move on them, the USA is bound to help Japan. Failing that would harm the alliance. Doing it would risk a war over something nobody cares about. This is the paradox.

O’Hanlon also talked about Putin. China is a rising power, and rising powers are dangerous to the established order. Russia is a declining power, and declining powers are even worse. Consider that World War I was provoked to a large extent by a declining power, Austria-Hungary, trying to hold on to its fading glory.

Putin want do weaken NATO. What if he made some “small” aggression into a Baltic country, something too small to fight about but big enough to endanger the alliance if left untended?

O’Hanlon suggests sanctions aimed very precisely against Russian gas and oil. This is better deployed as a threat than a response.

Putin can be put on notice if the Europeans build more ports for liquefied natural gas. Putin would know that we COULD be serious about cutting off his markets. W/o energy sales, Russia is just a 3rd world country.

Fracking has greatly weaken lots of bad guys, chiefly Putin and the Iranians.

Anyway, good talk and worth the time going down.

I have a personal story about Michael O’Hanlon. Back in 2007 I ran State Department Worldwide Speaker Program. I noticed that too many of our speakers were Bush supporters. I was myself a Bush supporter, but our mandate was to represent all the diversity of American opinion and I respect the principle, so I checked into it.

I learned that some programmers were avoiding “controversial” speakers, and by controversial they meant possible Bush opponents. The irony is that most of the programmers were liberal Democrats. They feared the reaction, even if there had never been one. They believed those intolerant myths.

I reiterated our long-standing policy of representing all of America and told everybody that if there were any complaints to send them my way. Among the people I asked our programmers to recruit was O’Hanlon. He had written lots of good articles. They were often critical of Bush but thoughtful. I don’t recall if he ever traveled for us, but he was contacted, as were many other thoughtful liberals.

We got only one complaint. A couple colleagues showed up in my office looking scared. They said there had been a complaint that one of our speakers was critical of Bush. I determined that the complaint was unjustified and then asked who complained. I assumed that no experienced diplomat would lodge such complaint. Still, I was relieved to find out it was nobody important, some pissant junior officer who had yet to learn not to antagonize his betters. We could safely do nothing and nothing is what we did. I told my guys not even to answer the guy. So ended a tempest in a teapot.

Let’s hope that other small things like that end w/o even whimper. It is too easy to make little things big when you think small.

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