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Rainforest Resurgence:

Farmland is beginning to revert back to tropical forest in many countries. The NYT reports:

new "secondary" forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest — an iconic environmental cause — may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

"There is far more forest here than there was 30 years ago," said Ms. Ortega de Wing, 64, who remembers fields of mango trees and banana plants.

The new forests, the scientists argue, could blunt the effects of rain forest destruction by absorbing carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, one crucial role that rain forests play. They could also, to a lesser extent, provide habitat for endangered species.

The idea has stirred outrage among environmentalists who believe that vigorous efforts to protect native rain forest should remain a top priority. But the notion has gained currency in mainstream organizations like the Smithsonian Institution and the United Nations, which in 2005 concluded that new forests were "increasing dramatically" and "undervalued" for their environmental benefits. The United Nations is undertaking the first global catalog of the new forests, which vary greatly in their stage of growth.

This could be a very positive trend.

The United States had a very similar experience. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, net forestland declined dramatically, but began to grow back in the earth 20th century. The United States has experienced net forest growth for most of the past century. Whole regions of the country that were largely denuded, including much of the northeastern United States. Areas in the east that are designated "wilderness" actually consist of second-growth forest on lands that had been cleared for farming. The shift of agriculture to the midwest combined with increases in agricultural productivity, along with other factors, including the displacement of draught animals with motorized vehicles and farm equipment, combined to facilitate dramatic forest regeneration with dramatic ecological benefits.

Rik (mail):
I read that Pennsylvania (my home state) is about half forest now, and pretty much all of it is second-growth.
2.1.2009 5:36pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Jonathan: Stop right now! No one likes a wet blanket harshing their money-raising schemes. You might end up with a fatwa against you.
2.1.2009 5:37pm
Simon P:
This, indeed, a good sign, but it would probably be a mistake to assume that the second-growth forests are perfect replacements of the old forests. When I see some reason to believe not only that the forests are returning, but that they are as biodiverse as they were before, or will eventually be, then I will be more optimistic. But as it stands, I don't think this means that conservation no longer has a role to play in forest management.

One might ask, since this is a libertarian blog for the most part, whether the regrowth is a good thing, and what may have caused it. Does this result vindicate conservation efforts, or does it demonstrate why we don't need the government to conserve the environment? Are we seeing an inefficient use of forest resources, or are we seeing a more efficient use of labor?
2.1.2009 5:51pm
Joel H (mail):
In the Northwest, regrowth of forests post-clearcutting has an entirely different nature than the forest that was previously there -- there is more deciduous growth and thick underbrush that previously was unable to grow because the mature canopy blocked the light. There is a different animal population as well, and many organisms have probably become extinct. Eventually the canopies of red cedar or Douglas fir or ponderosa will probably return but it may take hundreds of years. This pattern of growth, combined with systematic suppression of small fires, has contributed to the monster forest fires we've had in the last decades. I suspect similar patterns are occurring in these tropical forests as well. There are plants growing, but it's not "the rain forest" that was there before.
2.1.2009 6:06pm
raven397 (mail):
Note how enviros Simon and Joel are unable to recognize that gthe forests are re-growing. Catastrophe must always be imminent in order to maintain the party line.
2.1.2009 6:24pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Simon,

It seems to me (a layman in forestry and botany) that in the regrowth of forest on cultivated land, we are seeing the effects of efficiency in agricultural production. "Heavy" agriculture moved from New England to the Midwest (leaving niche crops, small truck farms and dairy as the main expression of agriculture in NE) because NE farms are generally small, hilly and rocky - not suited for vast acreages of wheat, corn and soybeans. The Midwestern farms in turn became vastly more productive due to improved equipment, seed and fertilizer and thus were able to allow a good portion of their land to lie fallow or rotate between crop and fallow.

Much of the rainforest-area agriculture was of the homesteading sort, and I would imagine that many homesteaders, having hacked a farm out of the forest (very hard work), discovered that what they had was a subsistence agriculture situation; that to get rich at it, they needed more money, equipment and manpower. Competing against farmers who had these advantages, reality set in with a bite, and they went back to the cities and towns to make a better living doing something else....
2.1.2009 6:34pm
John Moore (www):
Never to fear... the disruptions to global economy caused by foolish global warming policies will drive the poor countries back to slash and burn.
2.1.2009 7:00pm
Sam H (mail):
"n the Northwest, regrowth of forests post-clearcutting has an entirely different nature than the forest that was previously there -- there is more deciduous growth and thick underbrush that previously was unable to grow because the mature canopy blocked the light. There is a different animal population as well, and many organisms have probably become extinct."

Just how Darwin said it works.
2.1.2009 7:01pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

This, indeed, a good sign, but it would probably be a mistake to assume that the second-growth forests are perfect replacements of the old forests.


*spits beer across room*

bwaaaaaaaaaaahahahahaha...

I think we should fine forest fires... the fire, I mean, but only if we can't take the legal consequences directly to lightning.

Funny thing about plants- ya cut 'em down, they just start growing again.
2.1.2009 7:20pm
Fidelity (mail) (www):
If you want to understand North American forests, come to the North West. I do object to this entire of idea of replacement forests. It's not the quantity of trees that is important, it is the wonderful ecosystem of undisturbed territory. Once those lands are cut, it will never be the same. For example, in the North West we replant trees after the area has been logged, but any child can tell the difference between the an area once logged and a replant, even if the replant was 30 years ago. A "second forest" is not a replacement for a forest, just a regrowth of trees and shrubs, perhaps the writer of this article should learn the difference.
2.1.2009 7:35pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The "old growth" forests were the product of...smallpox. See Mann, "1491". Intro of European disease killed between 85% and 95% of the native population. Various fertile areas of both north and south continents which had been primarily devoted to agriculture reverted to forest. Nobody around to keep them down, you see.
The white pine forests of Michigan, post smallpox and pre- Paul Bunyan, were biological deserts. Little grows in white pine forests, which covered most of Michigan when the whites arrived.

I asked a conservancy guy if they were trying to preserve pre-human ecosystems or pre-Columbian ecosystems. He called me a redneck, but in a nice way. He knew I knew, and since the Indians were supposed to be wandering around in a pre-lapsarian idyll, making up environmentalist epigrams for the confounding of the white man, my knowing was dangerous.
But he's family. Smaller than me, too.
2.1.2009 7:49pm
taney71:
It seems to me that there are maybe one or two trolls on this board who post but with different account names.
2.1.2009 8:03pm
David Warner:
Fidelity,

Once you decide to get out of bed in the morning, you'll never be the same. Do your professors know that you've become this reactionary?
2.1.2009 8:08pm
Edmund Unneland (mail):
The difficulty with environmentalism is getting the Greens to define what they are trying to protect. It reminds me of the observation from South Park that a good way to ruin a good idea is to turn it into an "ism."
2.1.2009 8:15pm
Redlands (mail):

This, indeed, a good sign, but it would probably be a mistake to assume that the second-growth forests are perfect replacements of the old forests. When I see some reason to believe not only that the forests are returning, but that they are as biodiverse as they were before, or will eventually be, then I will be more optimistic. But as it stands, I don't think this means that conservation no longer has a role to play in forest management.


Old trees are better than new trees?
2.1.2009 8:31pm
Laura S.:
Yes, regrowth just isn't the same. e.g., whatever biological diversity exists in "rain forests" is unlikely to be recreated in these regrowth regions.

It is fascinating though in terms of common concepts of human progress. Up above in the hills North of my family home lies the ruins of a resort complex built in the 1880s and abandoned during the great depression. An electric railroad once even ascended the slope. No more.

A similar story plays out through-out the mountains: abandoned roads and bridges lost to time by lack of funding: pristine erections of the 1920s and 30s whose connecting roads are buried under decades of dirt.
2.1.2009 8:35pm
Jonathan Rubinstein (mail) (www):
Given the experience we have repeatedly with one UN organization after another on the take or violating human rights, local law and common decency,including widespread corruption of the Secretarit --Kofi Annan travels the world without a care -- why are one report after another produced by one special interest after another accepted as factual when produced by a UN machine working to fund its breakfast, lunch and dinner. Susan Rice did not take a job from Obama to do anything but reflate the organization that is TOO IMPORTANT TO FAIL, giving it a writ to lie, rape, cheat, steal and defame, while failing to protect anyone, anywhere. How much longer?
2.1.2009 8:39pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Redlands,

Old trees are better than new trees?

No, but most of a rain forest is stuff other than trees. It wouldn't be entirely surprising if some of the ecosystem of an "old" rain forest never reappeared in a "new" one, especially if there weren't any nearby "old" forests from which species could spread.

That said, this is encouraging news. It surprises me, because the conventional wisdom not long ago was that the soil beneath rain forests was so piss-poor that even the slash-and-burn farmers could get only a season or two's worth of crops out of the land before it became worthless for growing anything at all. Hence the pattern of hacking out a new plot every few years, you see, rather than just continuing to plant the ground you'd already cleared.
2.1.2009 8:41pm
Fury:
Laura S.

Interesting. How old is the bridge in that picture? It looks to be in good condition...
2.1.2009 8:49pm
SecurityGeek:
What's missing from the article is any informed opinion on whether this move away from farming on cleared rain forest is a permanent shift or just a temporary blip. Seems like that would make a big difference in the policy decisions here. If the economic reasons for this reversal, well, reverse again, then conservation efforts would still make sense.

Seems like an econ problem, and I'm not sure these biologists are going to come up with a good answer.
2.1.2009 9:05pm
Oren:

Just how Darwin said it works.

Genetic evolution cannot really be said to be working on the timescales involved since Western civilization came to this continent.
2.1.2009 9:08pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
No, but most of a rain forest is stuff other than trees. It wouldn't be entirely surprising if some of the ecosystem of an "old" rain forest never reappeared in a "new" one, especially if there weren't any nearby "old" forests from which species could spread.
I agree, but is that necessarily a bad thing? As several of the commenters above intimate, change is a natural thing. There's no inherent reason to prefer the previous ecosystem to the new one that will develop.
2.1.2009 9:12pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

Interesting. How old is the bridge in that picture? It looks to be in good condition...

Looking very closely, I see traces on the columns and arches that might be spalling. So maybe or maybe not in good condition.
2.1.2009 9:13pm
Laura S.:
Fury: 70-80yrs. The bridge is in pristine condition. The road leading to it is under the brush
2.1.2009 9:21pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Heard in anthro some decades ago that rainforest soil is really pretty poor. That's why slash&burn folks have to keep moving. But the forest grows lushly because it depends on rapid turnover due to heat and moisture. Or, in the more northern areas, rainforests rarely get below freezing, so that the nutrients are constantly cycling. One prof said that half the nutrients in a rain forest are above ground.

In her "Trashing The Planet", the late Dixie Lee Ray suggested that the acidification of lakes in New England was due to the increased forest cover and the leaching of acidic moisture from the fallen leaves. IOW, acidified lakes are "natural" and only lost their acid nature when the land was cleared for farming.
She also said that, if you wish to combat the acidification of the lakes, the cheapest thing to do would be to dump a truckload of crushed limestone into it from time to time. She didn't have to say that the greenies' preferred way was to destroy the economy. Went/goes without saying.
2.1.2009 9:22pm
pmorem (mail):
Trees are a luxury, reserved for people who don't need to clear the land to feed their babies.

The same can be said of all environmentalism. Taking care of the environment may be a necessity in the long term. In the short term, however, the long term is a luxury.

If you want people to refrain from slash and burn farming, the easiest way is to open up other ways for them to feed their children. Those who are motivated will take it, and those who aren't motivated tend to be too lazy for slash and burn anyway.
2.1.2009 9:58pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

Once those lands are cut, it will never be the same. For example, in the North West we replant trees after the area has been logged, but any child can tell the difference between the an area once logged and a replant, even if the replant was 30 years ago. A "second forest" is not a replacement for a forest, just a regrowth of trees and shrubs, perhaps the writer of this article should learn the difference.

It is called progress.
2.1.2009 10:09pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):


She also said that, if you wish to combat the acidification of the lakes, the cheapest thing to do would be to dump a truckload of crushed limestone into it from time to time. She didn't have to say that the greenies' preferred way was to destroy the economy.

How expensive is limestone (a nonrenewable resource).

There's no inherent reason to prefer the previous ecosystem to the new one that will develop.

How many old-growth forests were there ten thousand years ago? Or even three thousand years ago?

He knew I knew, and since the Indians were supposed to be wandering around in a pre-lapsarian idyll, making up environmentalist epigrams for the confounding of the white man, my knowing was dangerous.

Where did this stereotype come from?
2.1.2009 10:14pm
Urchin Barren:

Once those lands are cut, it will never be the same. For example, in the North West we replant trees after the area has been logged, but any child can tell the difference between the an area once logged and a replant, even if the replant was 30 years ago. A "second forest" is not a replacement for a forest, just a regrowth of trees and shrubs, perhaps the writer of this article should learn the difference.


It is called progress.


Better yet, Hope.
2.1.2009 10:25pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
Everything is the same until it's different.

"True" environmentalists know that ecology and climate never change unless humans make them change, and change is always evil, mean nasty and rotten.
2.1.2009 10:32pm
SamIAm:
Yes Oren, genetic evolution (is there any other kind of biological evolution?) indeed works at all timescales, most notably at the generational - that is, every time life reproduces, whether it's a bacteria fissioning or an animal giving birth.
2.1.2009 10:33pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Michael.
Limestone? Don't know. Dr. Ray said it was cheapest, not free.
Recall seeing a subdivision being put in near Allentown. Where I live, you excavate dirt of various clayiness. There, you tore out chunks of limestone to make room for the basement. The spoil has to go someplace, I suppose.
Point is, if you're a committed greenie, doing it the cheapest way is wrong.

Stereotype? You could start with Iron Eyes Cody and his single tear.
Or hear of Indians as the stewards of the land despoiled by white conquerors in various propaganda put out for the chumps.
2.1.2009 10:33pm
Kent G. Budge (www):
I'm no tree-hugger environmentalist, but I think the situation in the rain forests is somewhat different than in temperate forests. Temperate forests have been subject to forest fire and even man-made disruption for a long time now, they have a definite succession pattern (which we are now witnessing), and it's not unreasonable to expect that the climax forest will reappear in time.

The one thing that may be different is the absence of large predators. Or at least the non-human large predators. I think there are humans who will be happy to cull the deer population.

Rain forests have not had the same kinds of evolutionary pressures, one sign of which is that they have a much greater biodiversity than temperate forests. I fear some real losses there. On the other hand, I shrink from condemning poor humans in equatorial nations to grinding poverty to preserve some rare subspecies of insect.

It would be interesting to require some environmentalists to swap places with those dirt-poor people, and see what their revealed preferences are.
2.1.2009 10:37pm
Tatil:
This is positive news, but the new forests that sprout after man made deforestation is not always the "proper" kind. Here in the Sierras, the fast growing kind of trees dominate the new forests and crowd out the other kind that were common before the loggers cleared the area. These fast growing trees are more vulnerable to drought, so the recent long dry period has not been kind to these new forests. I guess that is how the stronger, but slower trees could finally make a come back, but where the seeds are going to come from is the big question.
2.1.2009 10:57pm
CDU (mail) (www):
What's missing from the article is any informed opinion on whether this move away from farming on cleared rain forest is a permanent shift or just a temporary blip.


It's probably a byproduct of the massive shift from away from subsistence agriculture and towards urbanization that's been going on for decades.
2.1.2009 11:02pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Kent G. Budge: Thanks for bringing up succession.

Some (too many) seem to think that forests are some static thing. They're constantly changing and for myriad causes. Even back in the 1960s, at the birth of environmentalism, my high school science books were clear that while all things in an ecosystem were connected in some way, they were also subject to change, over longer or shorter periods of time. All without human intervention.

Unless one is willing to except humankind from the ecosystem--something which certain groups are certainly willing to do--then human activity must be seen as 'natural'. Not always smart, not always benign, but part of the system even when disrupting what went before.

Michael Ejercito: The world will not be running out of limestone anytime in the foreseeable future. Unless you happen to be living on granite, it's right beneath your feet, everywhere in the world. Everywhere there was once an ancient sea, you will find limestone, its precursor, or its combination with other minerals.
2.1.2009 11:03pm
TokyoTom (mail):
A few points:

- Thanks for the good news about regrowth of secondary forests in some parts of the tropics, Jonathan.

- Temperate forests can't hold a candle to the biodiversity in tropical forests, which hold a greater number of species (plant, animal, mibrobe) in a single acre than does the entire expanse of temperate zone forests. This explains the concerns that biologists, enviros and wealthy conservationists around the world have for tropical forests.

- Degraded tropical forests and secondary growth is similarly poorer in biodiversity (though of course nature never stands still, and some species are adapted toward disturbed areas).

- What tropical forests are general in great need of is practically the same thing that is true temperate zones - owners (private or community), with defendable property rights. Most tropical deforestation takes place on PUBLIC lands, often subsidized by Western-funded roads, dams and other public works projects, for the principal benefit of elites, and without too much concern for sustainability or the rights of natives (who actually do a decent job husbanding their resources where they have title, weapons and access to courts). Governments (and those who control them) are to some degreee (depending on the country) in the business of taking these resources from natives, and looting/liquidating them. A similar phenonmenon can be seen in the bureaucratic mismanagment of US forests and public lands, where the supposed owners - the US citizens end up with none of the revenues but provide a blank check for road building and fire-fighting.
2.1.2009 11:27pm
Jimmy S.:

It is called progress.

Better yet, Hope.


See, I would have called it Change.
2.1.2009 11:41pm
Albatross (mail) (www):

...but where the seeds are going to come from is the big question.



Bird poop.
2.1.2009 11:43pm
Bama 1L:
There's no inherent reason to prefer the previous ecosystem to the new one that will develop.

Paging Edmund Burke!
2.1.2009 11:46pm
no such thing as a perfect replacement:
There was a finding not long ago that even the Amazon rainforests are not pre-diluvian and "natural" in the way environmentalists would have you believe. In fact, Amazonia has been farmed, regrown, and molded by generations of human civilization in the region. What environmentalists are trying to "protect" and hold in stasis is a mythical idyll -- a point in time that not even nature herself would preserve in time. The question to environmentalists is: isn't your preservation of a single slice of geologic time itself arbitrary and artificial? You're pursuing a mythical 'perfection' that isn't really there.
2.2.2009 12:13am
Toby:
I just remember reading back in high school.. of the 1880's, when you could ride a horse from Boston to NYC w/o seeing a tree, and when rails for fences in Connectitcut had to be imported from New Jersey....
2.2.2009 12:28am
Ricardo (mail):
The allusion above to Edmund Burke is entirely appropriate. If we are ignorant of the exact consequences of changes to social institutions, that ignorance applies even more strongly to the loss of biodiversity that we haven't even had time to properly study yet.

The issue isn't the false dichotomy between human-induced change and "natural" change. The issue is instead rapid change within an ecosystem that we do not properly understand. Tsunamis and volcanic eruptions that devastate natural areas do concern some conservationists but there isn't a whole lot we can do about those.

Instead of playing gotcha, it would be useful to see people who self-identify as conservatives explain why the principles they apply to the political and social realms don't apply to conserving nature.
2.2.2009 12:37am
Thomas_Holsinger:
no such thing as a perfect replacement,

Environmentalists will burn you at the stake for this:
"The question to environmentalists is: isn't your reservation of a single slice of geologic time itself arbitrary and artificial? You're pursuing a mythical 'perfection' that isn't really there."

True environmentalists know that ecology and climate never change unless humans make them change, and change is always evil, mean nasty and rotten.
2.2.2009 12:59am
Monty:
I think it is interesting that if this were a post about deforestation, the discussion would be about climate change, and how conservation is needed. But as soon as climate change is unavailable (or not clearly a result), we move right on to bio-diversity, and how conservation is needed. I think alot of the environmentalists care as much, if not more about bio-diversity than they do about the human cost of global warming. Yet they frame the aurgument for conservation in terms of global warming to attract a larger constituency.
2.2.2009 1:13am
Randy R. (mail):
"The question to environmentalists is: isn't your preservation of a single slice of geologic time itself arbitrary and artificial? You're pursuing a mythical 'perfection' that isn't really there."

And your point is what, that therefore we shouldn't bother protecting anything?

pmorem: "Trees are a luxury, reserved for people who don't need to clear the land to feed their babies."

For every tree that is saved, a little fetus is aborted.
2.2.2009 1:47am
Randy R. (mail):
and another gay couple gets married.....
2.2.2009 1:48am
Randy R. (mail):
"Montana Gov. Schweitzer: What they did 25 years ago is they demagogued "environmentalists" and people who were pro-environment as people that are going to take away your logging job and your mining job. Well, as it turned out it wasn't environmentalists who took your job away. It was mechanization and trade policy. My gosh, in Butte we're mining as much ore with 380 as we did with 30,000 people in 1920. It's mechanization. The timber industry—it's mechanization and it's cheap B.C. wood.... But, the Republicans managed to message it that it was environmentalists who took away your job, and it was always a question of the environment or your job, and people had to choose. And people chose, in big numbers, their jobs, and blamed it all on Democrats and on environmentalists.

All right. I don't use those terms. [I say] "You're going to be in a position where you can hand Montana off along to your grandkids in as good or better shape as when we found it." Now that doesn't sound like a guy whose going to take away your job. And I'm not. In fact, with our restoration economy in Montana, heck, we're creating jobs like crazy, cleaning up the messes from the past. Making the rivers cleaner, making the fisheries better. Improving the roads that we have in the forests so they don't increase siltation and kill bull trout. All those are jobs. Heck, there's as many or more jobs doing that than there was digging the holes or cutting down the trees in the first place.... So it turns out it was all a lie—jobs or the environment. To a large extent, what's driving Montana's economy today is people moving here to live in close proximity to those wildlands."
2.2.2009 2:13am
no such thing as a perfect replacement:
And your point is what, that therefore we shouldn't bother protecting anything?

That depends on your answer to my question. Why protect this slice of time but not others? Why artificially and arbitrarily "prefer" the forest as it was at a certain idealized point in time, but not others? The Amazon is hardly untouched, yet remains biodiverse -- despite millennia of human sculpting, deforestation, and regrowth:

They have also forced researchers to revisit ideas that have long colored Western thinking, casting fresh doubt on what researchers call the "myth of the pristine" and suggesting that untouched forests may be more an invention of the Western mind than something found in the real world. Research also has challenged the assumption that human activity destroys biodiversity; in some circumstances, researchers say, it can increase biodiversity. Thus, rethinking forests carries powerful implications for conservation policy—it may require, for example, a greater appreciation for working forests.

[. . .]

Heckenberger and others call such impressions misleading. The forests are not nearly as ancient or primeval as they seem. In fact, before Europeans arrived at the New World's doorstep, bringing disease and destruction, the Amazon was well settled: "There ain't no part of it," he said with folksy emphasis, "that wasn't touched by human hands in one form or another."
The Burkean prudence that is premised on mythic thinking is a false prudence, once we realize that humanity has been denuding and regrowing forests for hundreds if not thousands of years. Burkean wisdom counsels the contrary: that we should continue to make use of forests as our forefathers have, given that human forestry and the ebb and rejuvenation of forests have long been part of human practice. The biodiversity that accompanies the present regrowth is no more to be arbitrarily "preferred" than those of previous times. The myth of the pristine forest and pristine biodiversity is just that -- a myth. Anthropogenic forests like the Amazon, often held up as a paragon of biodiversity, support the contrary Burkean argument.
2.2.2009 3:09am
James Gibson (mail):
To personal notes on this subject.

My father was in the occupation forces in Germany in 1946. One day he decided to try his hand at hunting and checked out a bolt action rifle from the base club. Didn't find anything to shoot, no real hunting experience. But he noted that the entire forest he was hunting in had been clear cut a decade or more earlier. And how did he know. If you looked in one direction you saw lots and lots of trees, turn to the right or left and you could look straight down the rows of trees for over a thousand yards. Totally unnatural.

Several decades later the German government went in to a forest like that and took a number of the trees out. Forestry, No, it seems during the Nazi period they planted trees which would take certain shades of color in specific patterns. Thus, when autumn began certain symbols reappeared in the forests. Initially they were not seen, except by air, and so it wasn't until 1992 and German re-unification that they became known.

The joke of the matter is that two decades after a clear-cut the forest looks unnatural. 60 years after a clear-cut you couldn't tell it from virgin land unless something weird was done in the replant.
2.2.2009 4:28am
Frater Plotter:
What environmentalists are trying to "protect" and hold in stasis is a mythical idyll
Ah, just like social conservatives then, with their fixation on the pre-1960s virtuous social order, before the feminists and the hippies and the peaceniks supposedly ruined the country.

Interesting ... it seems a lot of movements think they are "re-establishing" or "protecting" some kind of old or threatened order. Usually that's because what they have to offer isn't actually very pretty, true, or virtuous in its own right.

Real environmentalism is anti-poison and pro-human. Toxic environmentalism is pro-poisoning-the-humans.
2.2.2009 4:49am
Steve in CT (www):
James Gibson, here's a link to one of the forests:

Germans Removing Forest Swastika
2.2.2009 5:41am
jukeboxgrad's favorite YouTube video:

It is called progress.

Better yet, Hope.

See, I would have called it Change.
There are cynics who say that we cannot regrow our forests. To them, I say "yes we can!"
2.2.2009 8:47am
blcjr (mail):
So, if large areas that were deforested in the 18th and 19th century become forested in the 20th century, what does that do to the CO2 production rate?
2.2.2009 8:58am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
blcjr.
Since forests only produce CO2 when the wood decays, not much. The CO2 takeup rate would have increased as the forests grew back.
Question is about the CO2 issue prior to 1492, when the Indians had deforested so much of the Americas.
2.2.2009 9:13am
Houston Lawyer:
The reforestation has also helped certain species of wild game proliferate. White tailed deer are now so plentiful as to be a nuisance. In addition, wild turkey now have a greater range than they did 300 years ago. We have fairly effectively killed off most of the natural predators of these species though.
2.2.2009 9:23am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Houston.
In Michigan, the rifle season is said to kill about 300,000. Include poachers and the endless car-deer accidents, and the deer population is barely kept in check by being culled at the rate of about 400,000 a year.
If you're not going to fence to an astonishing height, you have no business trying to garden in the country, which could include being two blocks from the business section of a small town.
I've seen more wild turkeys in the last year than in my first forty. Six or seven here, a dozen there.
One suggestion is that agribusiness, while keeping the same amount of land in production, more or less, does away with the farm house every mile, containing a farmer, his family, his dogs, and his guns.
Talked to a conservation officer who said it was worth his job to be quoted talking about cougars. He may be exaggerating, but I suspect you could shoot one without any trouble because they Do Not Exist. Fortunately, I haven't seen any cougar tracks around our place in a couple of years. They were pretty clear before that, for about a year.
Instapundit sometimes refers to "The Beast in The Garden" about large predators coming back and coming close.
2.2.2009 9:33am
Al Maviva:
It seems to me most commenters here have never lived any substantial portion of their lives in a rural area. The idea that a replacement forest is mature and permanent after 20 or 30 years, and you're stuck with the softwoods growing there, is sort of funny. Forests aren't static.

When you leave an agricultural field fallow, after a year or two it turns into a meadow with grasses and weeds. The birds and various plant eaters like deer help with the re-seeding process. Slower growing, more durable weeds like blackberry bushes then fill in, along with fast growing trees that have a lot in common with weeds, like sumac and aspen. These short, low density trees reach maturity and crowd out a lot of the weeds; slower growing hardwoods like oak and maple then take advantage of the shade and grow taller. After a while the aspen die off and the taller hardwoods, which make a very dense canopy, blot out all but the tallest of hardwoods, or conifers depending on the soil and where you live. Give it 80 or 100 years and the forest grows back to the extent you wouldn't know it's original; the Adirondacks appear to most observers to be primeval but the area was heavily farmed just a couple hundred years ago, and probably before that by the native Americans. It maybe isn't the aboriginal forest that greeted those who crossed over the Asian land bridge, but the bears and wolves and occasional wild cat wouldn't know the difference.

Wild vines, of course, lay waste to any type of forest if they are left unchecked. They are not picky. I suspect pre-Columbian America, that pastoral idyl, had a lot of untended forests that did little other than provide an arbor for wild grapevines.
2.2.2009 10:19am
Houston Lawyer:
I was telling my uncle, a retired forest ranger, about the practice of keeping a donkey with goats to protect the goats from predators. He told me that one of his neighbors, in the Lost Pines forest near Bastrop Texas, did the same but it wasn't working. My uncle said he personally saw a black cat "about the size of a female lion" near his place. He had seen footprints that would match that beast as well.

Where I hunt in the Texas Hill Country, I have been told that if I see a mountain lion or bobcat, and I don't shoot it, I will never be allowed to hunt that property again. If I am so lucky as to see one, I intend to keep my mouth shut about it.
2.2.2009 11:03am
Michael Peirce (mail):
Also remember that large portions of North America were under ice sheets not that long ago. So it's not like the "old growth forests in those areas has been around "forever". They are actually a fairly recent phenomena.
2.2.2009 12:05pm
Harry O (mail):
"Stereotype? You could start with Iron Eyes Cody and his single tear. Or hear of Indians as the stewards of the land despoiled by white conquerors in various propaganda put out for the chumps."

Interestingly, Old Iron Eyes was not even an Indian. From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Eyes_Cody

"Cody was born Espera de Corti, a son of Antonio de Corti and his wife Francesca Salpietra, immigrants from Sicily. In some of his earliest acting credits Cody was listed as Tony de Corti."
2.2.2009 12:13pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Harry.
I heard he was Jewish. Oh, well.
I think there was something about Chief Seattle, or maybe it was Chief Portland. Something like that. Anyway, the greenies had him lamenting a hundred years ago that he'd seen his last buffalo. Apparently he hadn't seen his first, there being none in and around Sea-Tac.
Wait! Maybe he'd gone to the zoo.
Hard to keep up.
2.2.2009 12:19pm
Nick P.:
It seems to me most commenters here have never lived any substantial portion of their lives in a rural area. The idea that a replacement forest is mature and permanent after 20 or 30 years, and you're stuck with the softwoods growing there, is sort of funny. Forests aren't static.

Yep, our house sits right on the edge of an old abandoned farm. The north side of our house is mature oaks and hickories with sourwood, dogwood understory. The south side, the farmer's old fields is now a mass of loblolly pines, perhaps 30 years old. The pines are starting to shade each other out and die, and they are being replaced by sweetgums and maples. Sadly, the deer density is such oak seedlings are mostly destroyed, so I wonder if the climax forest will actually be mature sweetgums instead of oak/hickory. The deer apparently don't like sweetgum leaves.

The deer are probably a bigger problem than occasional clearcutting if one wants a healthy understory with shrubs and woodland perennials.
2.2.2009 12:21pm
dave zimmerman:

"If you've seen one libertarian, you've seen them all."
2.2.2009 12:35pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Nick.
Can you sneak in a breeding pair of wolves? That would keep the neighbors amused.
Or a couple of cougars?
I gather the Yellowstone ecosystems have benefited greatly from the wolves culling the elk.
2.2.2009 12:35pm
CarLitGuy:
Houston Lawyer,
I am also in the Bastrop area, and our periodic neighborhood news letter continues to have mention of large cat spottings and warnings to keep small animals indoors or otherwise safe from large predators. The local park rangers will also confirm the presence of large cats with habitat on the various parks. Of course, the cats don't seem to care much for park boundaries. Deer are sufficiently plentiful that at certain hours, you must be as cautious of them on the roadway as children playing in the streets.

For those unfamiliar with Batrop's history, in part as a source of lumber for downtown Austin Texas, I've provided a link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastrop,_Texas


Others,
I have had the opportunity to backpack large parts of the Appalachians, the "Florida Trail", and other forests in the SE United States. Many areas once logged are now indistinguishable from "pristine" lands. In some areas, the logging methods used appear to have increased biodiversity by providing new habitats and/or by using methods that resulted in forest regrowth over an extended period of time - the meadow field next to the weed field next to the soft woods next to the harder woods example provided above. ("Fields" here being used to mean plots of many square miles).

On the other hand, if the Bio-diversity crowd wants to pick a species as damaging as humans (in my opinion) on those same forests, might I respectfully suggest "kudzu"? If you prefer the lakes and rivers, "Nile Perch/Tilapia". Here in Texas, the "pine bark beetle" is definitely an issue right now. The first two, of course, are non-native species... A consideration that needs a place in the biodiversity equation.
2.2.2009 12:40pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The allusion above to Edmund Burke is entirely appropriate. If we are ignorant of the exact consequences of changes to social institutions, that ignorance applies even more strongly to the loss of biodiversity that we haven't even had time to properly study yet.

The issue isn't the false dichotomy between human-induced change and "natural" change. The issue is instead rapid change within an ecosystem that we do not properly understand. Tsunamis and volcanic eruptions that devastate natural areas do concern some conservationists but there isn't a whole lot we can do about those.

Instead of playing gotcha, it would be useful to see people who self-identify as conservatives explain why the principles they apply to the political and social realms don't apply to conserving nature.
If I were Sarcastro, I would sum up that last paragraph as, "You can't play gotcha because I want to do so!" Why not turn it around: it would be useful to see people who self-identify as liberals explain why the principles they apply to the political and social realms don't apply to changes to nature. (In any case, as a libertarian I don't feel any conflict between my principles in any of these situations.) I guess a Burkean might say that social institutions evolved because they were useful to society -- to people; there's no reason to think that a forest did so for that reason.
2.2.2009 1:15pm
George Smith:
Maybe tangential, but I'm concerned about the survival of the remaining Amazonian Indian tribes. Reducing the pressures of population expansion on the Amazon basin and on the Brazilian rain forests not only preserves the rain forest but the indiginous tribes as well. Maybe the only thing that will preserve the rain forest is family planning, and an economy that doesn't depend on cutting the forest down.
2.2.2009 1:17pm
Nick P.:
Richard,
Wolves or cougars might try to cull our kids as they toddle out to the sandbox, and we don't breed as rapidly as white-tails. I much prefer that large predators be re-introduced in someone else's backyard!

I have fenced off about an acre with 7.5' high mesh stapled to tree trunks. It will be interesting to see if there are any noticeable differences between the fenced and unfenced area in five or 10 years.
2.2.2009 1:24pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Nick.
I had that concern about our now-gone cougar.
I found tracks where it had been dancing with a deer. Looked like the deer had been doing a mad polka. Not a drop of blood, from which I presumed it was an escaped pet without a clue. Rabbits are too fast and, even if you catch them, it's hardly worth the effort. I figured a four-year old would be just about right.
2.2.2009 1:29pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Re: Temperate succession logically leading to new climax forests.

The current overabundance of deer makes that impossible - deer selectively graze tastier seedling trees so only non-favored species have a chance in the succession race for sunlight. If we want climax forests, we will need to do something about deer-caused environmental damage (if you want to be a self-flagellating human, one can say that the deer damage is indirect human damage - since we have removed deer predators from the food chain). A major critique of the current mentality of tree-hugging environmentalism is that it precludes the managed hunting necessary not that we have so drastically upset the balance.

Pollan's "Second Nature" has a few chapters on this.
2.2.2009 1:50pm
Oren:
Most environmentalist have no problem with hunting down deer in controlled numbers. Many will take you hunting with them.
2.2.2009 2:34pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
James Gibson,

My wife and I visited Mount St. Helens Park last summer. We had just driven past the "Entering Blast Zone" sign when it became obvious we weren't in Kansas anymore.

The surrounding hills changed from normal forest to weird green fractals. What had happened was that the 1980 eruption blast had leveled all the existing trees and vegetation. A few years later the Weyerhauser forest products company owning that land replanted the blast zone with a single species of tree whose branches grow almost precisely at a horizontal to gravity.

So about 24-25 years after the reseeding, all the hills were covered with identical trees of almost exactly the same height, and all with seemingly precision-engineered identically horizontal branches.

It looked like a bad computer graphic.

I urge everyone here to visit Mount St. Helens in Washington state. You'll have a wonderful time.
2.2.2009 2:35pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Thomas. Did you take any pictures? Know anything about the trees?
If it's lumber you're looking for, normal forest progression isn't going to get it.

Oren. Michigan is said to have three quarters of a million hunters each year, more than the number of riflemen on the Eastern Front. There was a report a couple of years ago that two of them had been found to be sober, but I never believed it.
It appears that there is such a massive amount of protein in the woods that large-scale commercial poaching operations thrive in addition to hunting season. So they say. See Heywood's "Woods Cop" series of novels. I've talked to him. He works with conservation officers and claims it's so.
Michigan and other states are so confused between "sustainable" and "managed" that they are occasionally sued by farm groups for the damage deer do to crops. Two-hundred pound rats.
I don't know if we could find more hunters. I think what we need is longer hunting seasons and a much largerkill limit, including anterless deer permits. Still, there's only so much appetite for venison.
In the city of Grand Haven, there was a move to cull the deer in the cemetery. Activists drove around blowing their horns and driving off the deer, temporarily. You can imagine the result if the state started a massive deer kill program.
2.2.2009 3:03pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
Eh, Car Lit Guy:

In terms of other species with an effect on biodiversity similar to human effects: those Nile perch didn't pick up those kudzu seedlings and swim'em across the Atlantic on their own. . .
2.2.2009 3:28pm
James Gibson (mail):
And again, they are all in rows and all the same type of tree. But if you look at the forest floor you will probably see seedlings that are not from these types of trees. Whether dropped by birds, or blown in by the wind, the reclaiming will have begun. It will be the most distinct on the border of the destruction zone as the trees that were left standing have their seeds blown into the blast area. And again, it will be 60 years, not 30, before the area has returned to what is was before hand.

A better example of how this works is Yellowstone. Remember when it burned in 1988 and even the naturalist wanted it to burn. Some types of trees only propagate during a fire (like the Lodgepole pine), while others need a fire to clear out the forest floor. Within two years of the fire Aspens had become the dominate tree in the burn areas, even though they had been scarce before the fire. Conifers however are still growing and are expected to replace the Aspens in a short time. Lodgepole was expected to go crazy after the fire, but studies show that the highest propagation is in areas with a strong ground fire. Thus, nature actually likes a clearing of the land at intervals
2.2.2009 3:44pm
Kent G. Budge (www):

Reducing the pressures of population expansion on the Amazon basin and on the Brazilian rain forests not only preserves the rain forest but the indiginous tribes as well.


Because the indigenous peoples have an inalienable right to live a Stone Age existence with a 30-year life span.


I urge everyone here to visit Mount St. Helens in Washington state. You'll have a wonderful time.


Visiting that area can be a blast.
2.2.2009 4:36pm
Oren:

It appears that there is such a massive amount of protein in the woods that large-scale commercial poaching operations thrive in addition to hunting season.

So long as the regulators aren't captured by the industry, I see no problem with this. Of course, regulators ought not to be captured by bug-eyed environmentalists either, but I trust you won't object on that front.


Because the indigenous peoples have an inalienable right to live a Stone Age existence with a 30-year life span.

They certainly do.
2.2.2009 4:42pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Kent.
If the Amazonian tribes were not a greenie theme park, minus the visitors, of course, their miserable, bug-infested, inbred way of life would be a reproach to all who consider themselves civilized.
Paul Theroux wrote about a trip he'd taken decades ago on a tramp steamer which went a surprising way up the Amazon. One tribe he heard about thought the gods had taken away their cleverness and given it to the white people. The whites found this convenient.
According to Mann, these people are the relicts of a huge, successful agricultural civilization destroyed by disease.
He discusses how the first white guys down the Amazon and Mississippi reported prosperous farming villages cheek by jowl. On both rivers, the next white guy was half a century later. Found practically nobody.
There was a documentary about a tribe which did a bit of tree clearing to get some light for gardening. Trees grow fast, so the guys have to do a lot of chopping. They use ax heads they've found lying around. Never thought of trying to sharpen them. Or make their own. So they're using a previous culture's seconds. One interfering outsider gave a local a steel ax and the poor guy, recalling a life time of chopping at trees with a dull rock poorly hafted onto a stick practically cried.
Yeah. Best thing to do is leave these folks stuck there.
2.2.2009 4:54pm
whit:

I think there was something about Chief Seattle, or maybe it was Chief Portland. Something like that. Anyway, the greenies had him lamenting a hundred years ago that he'd seen his last buffalo. Apparently he hadn't seen his first, there being none in and around Sea-Tac.



we don't have buffalo, but we have geoducks.


urge everyone here to visit Mount St. Helens in Washington state. You'll have a wonderful time.



my wife recently climbed it. the videos and pictures are spectacular.
2.2.2009 6:53pm
George Smith:
Well, I'd just as soon leave them alone, but some people can't leave anybody alone.
2.2.2009 8:00pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

Ah, just like social conservatives then, with their fixation on the pre-1960s virtuous social order, before the feminists and the hippies and the peaceniks supposedly ruined the country.

In fact, the conservationist movement was originally a right-wing movement.

19th century conservatives opposed development and supported protecting wilderness areas to maintain the status quo.

Liberals of that time were supporters of industrialization because they see it as a vehicle to empower the common man. (Unions need industry to exist, and 19th century American factory workers were much better off than medieval European serfs.)
2.2.2009 8:49pm
TokyoTom (mail):
The "stone age" indigenous peoples of the SA tropics are remnants of far greater numbers of developed societies who were wiped out by Western diseases, largely invisibly and before any direct Western contact. Western societies have been similarly disrupted by plagues, but not on the same scale.

Yes, nature is resilient, but the rapidity and scale on which we are converting the Amazon to monoculture soybeans certainly does constitute a stress.

As I noted before, one of the chief dynamics of the problem is that governments "own" most of the tropical forests (and indigenous peoples have little enforceable rights), so those who value them as they are (including wealthy conservationists and enviros) have limited abilities to effectively express their preferences by buying and holding land. Instead, as the government doesn't protect its "title", the forests are a public resource that can be freely consumed. Not surprisingly, local elites are the chief beneficiaries.
2.2.2009 9:17pm

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