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Where are we heading?

There could be some dark days ahead for our environment.  The new folks in Congress seem to be determined to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.  Their antipathy toward the science behind global warming is well known.  If you don’t like the scientific results, outlaw them.  Takes us back to the Inquisition telling Galileo that what he was seeing through his telescope were not the moons of Jupiter. Galileo had little choice to recant, or face the rack.  His expedience though didn’t change the fact that what he was seeing were indeed the moons of Jupiter regardless of whether or not that was convenient for the Church.  The science will ultimately carry the day, perhaps though not before it’s too late.  The rest of their attacks on the EPA though are truly intriguing.  My favorite:  they want to eliminate any protection for the Chesapeake Bay.  I grew up near the Bay and remember when oysters, among other delights, were plentiful.  No longer.  The Bay is dying.  It needs protection, largely from the drainage of huge amounts of chicken waste.  Thank you Mr. Perdue.  But, seriously, why not save the Bay?  Certainly the hunters and fishermen/women who flock there want it saved.  State tourist agencies want it saved.  Even the Navy wants it saved.  It’s not that hard to raise chickens in a way that won’t pollute the water.  The list of rather strange actions on the part of the House of Representatives goes on and on.  Fans of Mercury poisoning may want to take note, that little trick could be making a comeback.

All this begs the question, what are they afraid of?  It’s not the deficit.  The EPA is not breaking the bank and environment action tends to stimulate economic action, not inhibit it.  There’s money to be made and to be saved in environmentalism.  But somehow that statement in and of itself seems to frighten some people.  We drive hybrid cars. They now cost about the same as comparable non-hybrid vehicles.  YOU SAVE A FORTUNE BY DRIVING A HYBRID.  For starters, you’re using 87 gasoline.  That saves you over a quarter, per gallon.  And, you’re getting 40 – 50 miles per gallon.  You actually have to remind yourself to fill the tank.  Nevertheless, I’ve had people try to convince me that my math must be wrong.  There’s no real savings in driving a hybrid. Sorry, those really are a bunch of moons orbiting planet Jupiter.

We’ll have to see how this plays out.  Hopefully, you will speak out if you agree with me.

All is not lost, however, even if some of our leaders are.  We had a chance last weekend to attend a presentation by Mr. Herm Eck, head of forestry at the Quabbin Reservoir.   We left the presentation with a fairly strong sense that the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, who own the water in the Quabbin, have no intention of paving over the surrounding woodlands. I make this comment not with the intent of entering into the debate over whether or not any commercial logging should take place there.  There is a real difference between managing a forest, in other words a population, and managing a tree.  Once viewed in that light, things become quite complicated.  Deer in sufficient numbers can make it impossible for the forest to regenerate.  They eat many different kinds of vegetation, including the leaves of very young trees.  If the forest ultimately goes away, the deer go away.  What is best for the population, may not be best for an individual deer.  Massachusetts will soon be classifying publicly owned forests as to the relative degree to which human dominance of the ecosystem will be allowed (meaning commercial logging, commercial activities, motorized vehicles, etc.).  Although far from perfect, I increasingly have the sense that the right questions are being asked, in a thoughtful way, and that Massachusetts could represent a model in the search for ways of fostering human/forest interactions that supports the needs of both.  (Of course, I realize I’m sounding like the guy who says he’s so glad he missed that awful traffic jam, thereby jinxing himself and assuring almost certainly that around the next corner will be, a traffic jam.)

What is far more alarming, as mentioned last week, is the growing threat represented by invasive species.  Here the policy makers seem  stumped. We know that global warming is a significant factor in that the warming climate encourages species from the south to expand to the north and attack new populations.   Mr. Eck’s most not wanted list for the Quabbin Forest:  Bittersweet, Japanese Barberry and Hemlock Wooley Adelgid.

I first noticed Bittersweet on a train ride through the southern United States.  I was absolutely dumbfounded by the degree to which vines had taken over whole southern forests.  I remember thinking with some relief that the damage tended to be localized to the south.  Now it’s right down the street.

You may have seen the Japanese Barberry on this blog before.  It’s visible in many places inside the Quabbin forests.

It certainly looks harmless.  But it can take over the forest floor in places where we’d hope new trees would grow.  It can destroy the forest’s ability to regenerate.  The Hemlock Wooley Adelgid (you’ve got to love that name) represents a potentially catastrophic threat to our vast stands of hemlock. I haven’t had the pleasure of running into that little critter, that I know of. Interestingly, the Hemlock Wooley Adelgid, which joins us from Japan, did not cause havoc there.  In its own native environment a variety of factors tended to balance out impact of the adelgid.  Not so when taken out of its natural environment.

Mr. Eck also did mention the Red Pine Needle Scale, which I discussed last week.  I erroneously have been leaving off the “Red.”  Red Pines are the target.  The scale turns this..

Into this…

And ultimately this…

Those are dying trees.  There is nothing that can be done to prevent their death. We will likely have to face a significant and on-going threat from invasive species and other impacts of global warming as we move ahead. And in all fairness, our environment, our forests, face other challenges as well. Adults are called upon to face their fears, not to run away from them. Yet increasingly, we seem to be confronted with leaders who believe that if we deny what is happening, then we won’t have to worry about it. Sorry, things just don’t work that way.

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