Saturday, April 22, 2006

Forest "Management"

A friend of mine posted this on the YAMBA website concerning "forest management" and the recent logging of Kain Park. Duane Close of The York Water Company which owns the land was kind enough to meet with members of YAMBA to discuss this matter, this is my friends opinion...............

In recognition and celebration of Earth Day (and that YAMBA has
officially sanctioned recruiting new members from the
environmentalist community), I offer this critique of the recent
meeting between YAMBA, the York County Parks, and the York Water

Whether due to ignorance of modern environmental practices, or from
inadvertantly perpetuating outdated misinformation, or from
intentionally disseminating disinformation, there were
several "errors" in the presentation given to YAMBA by the Parks and
the York Water Company on April 12th.

Thus, circumstances thrust upon us a timely "teachable moment"...

1) Did you notice how many times "monitoring non-native species"
appeared on slides following the various forest management (logging)
events? And that "spraying" was generally mentioned in conjunction
with this "monitoring"?

There are no species-specific, systemic herbicides for mile-a-
minute, garlic mustard, Chinese rice grass, privet, Russian olive,
asian bittersweet, multi-flora rose, or any of the myriad other non-
native species that already inhabit the park. "Spraying", in this
case, invariably means using a broad-spectrum, broad-leaf herbicide,
along with a (hopefully) biodegradable, systemic herbicide, such as

The spraying is necessitated by the clear-cutting to allow the new
pines to get a firm head start over the invasive species. The clear-
cutting is necessitated by the age of the old pines, and the
monoculture they created, suppressing other species from succession
(at least in the shorter term). Eventually the pines would die off,
and fall over, and oaks and other hardwoods would try to take hold.
The old pine forest could not sustain itself - it is not the natural
climax forest for this region.

Broad-leaf herbicides will generally kill everything with broad
(flat) leaves with which they come into contact. The spraying is
neccesary because of the threat/presence of non-native invasives
over-running the clear-cut area. And, one of the reasons to
reforest a clear-cut area with pines is that pines are inherently
resistant to (less affected by) these types of herbicides, since
their leaves (needles) have a much lower surface area to cross
section ratio than those of broad leaf plants.

However, spraying of herbicides indiscriminantly affects much of the
remaining plant life - natives, and non-natives alike. In addition,
it will also negatively impact the indigenous animal life: a host of
insect species, salamanders, skinks, snakes, various small mammalian
inhabitants, many species of birds. Any animal that is in the food
chain that feeds on anything that ingests plants from the sprayed
area, (as well as areas that are indirectly impacted by overspray
due to wind and/or from water runoff of the sprayed areas) will be

This is the same mechanism that almost wiped out the California
Condor, the Bald Eagle, the Golden Eagle, the Osprey, and many other
birds of prey. Heavy and indiscriminant use of DDT (a pesticide) in
the 1960's to control crop pests worked its way up the food chain to
the top of the order (the raptors), and had a deliterious affect on
their eggs - thinning the shells, and causing the eggs to break
before they hatched.

Whatever spraying is conducted will only be conducted until the new
pines have taken good root, and had a chance to get ahead of the
invasives. After that, the spraying will cease, and the invasives
will take over the ground, and will remain for our foreseeable
future. Invasives are on a perpetual march forward - once they are
established in an area, there is little that can be done to remove
them. They advance, they don't retreat. Perhaps, in 25 years, when
the Loblollies have grown tall, and shaded the floor, those
invasives will be gone - but, it's doubtful. Look at the T3
hillside above the development along George Street, or the area on
the other side of George St. Both areas are covered in invasives -
and will remain so for the rest of our lives - unless the land is
sold for development, in which case, the ground will be covered in
houses, asphalt, and grass (which is just a managed, monocultural,
non-native invasive).

An oak forest, once started, can sustain itself - it is the natural
climax forest in this area. However, it takes a long time, and a
lot of effort (in the face of the relatively recent invasion of so
many non-native species) to recreate (regenerate) oak forest. You
generally can't use spraying techniques when regenerating an oak
forest from clear-cutting, because the spraying will wipe out the
oak seedlings - so time-intensive manual management of the invasives
is necessary. Also, the deer population will eat the oak saplings -
so the deer herd needs to be managed (or the regenerating area
fenced off).

2) Wasn't anyone else concerned that the York Water Company was so
willing to repeatedly spray herbicides so close to their own water

3) Regardless of what Duane Close had to say, grass is not the best
control for erosion and run-off - a leaf-littered, deep humus forest
floor is. The decomposing leaf-litter, porous humus layer, and top
soil act as a natural sponge and soak up the rain. The large tree
roots and fine nutrient roots act to reinforce the hillside and
prevent mudslides and landslides. You don't see mud running across
Water Street off the hillside after a heavy rainfall - that's
because of the intact forest floor. The only place you can usually
see evidence of erosion in the forest is where there are fall-line
trails or steeply cut embankments (both of which remove the sponge-
like affect of the leaf-litter, humus, and topsoil.

What Duane meant was that growing grass is the fastest and cheapest
way to cover an area to control EROSION once it's been denuded and
graded. Grass certainly won't control RUNOFF, since it creates a
thick carpet of knotted, shallow roots that prevent the water from
rapidly soaking into the ground. We've all seen water pouring out
of grass fields after a heavy rain, or when snow is melting.

Interestingly, Duane mentioned that the Lake Williams dam will have
to be "armored" to withstand the new 100-year flood guidelines. And
the significant increase in the 100-year flood criteria is the
direct result of additional, 100% human-generated water runoff. The
unabated creation and planting of grass lawns, from which heavy
rains run off onto driveways and side streets, which all generate
their own runoff and then funnel it all into the creeks, and
streams, and tributaries of the Codorus, has actually become a
significant threat to life and property.

4) In talking with Duane after the meeting, he mentioned that
herbicide technology had not kept up with the non-native invasive
species. For instance, he mentioned that nothing had been created
to replace the effectiveness of DDT. Well, this came as quite a
surprise and shock to me, since DDT is a PESTICIDE, not a
HERBICIDE. Shouldn't we be a little concerned that Duane doesn't
know the difference?

5) Regardless of what Duane had to say about the area of T2 around
the Log Trail, oak forest maintains, sustains, and manages itself.
It doesn't need our help. Pennsylvania is covered with climax oak
forest - who manages all of that? How did it manage to regenerate
itself after the entire state was clear cut in the 1800's and early
1900's? How has it managed to sustain itself without our help since
then? How did it manage to fill in for the loss of the American
chestnut in the first half of the 20th century?

The trees are constantly giving off seeds (acorns).
Squirrels "plant" the acorns when burying them for the winter. Some
of these acorns remain "unfound", and sprout. Some of these plants
are eaten by deer. Some actually succeed in growing into young
trees. If there is not sufficient sunlight and available moisture,
the young trees will eventually die off. If the canopy opens up due
to a dying or fallen tree, any young oaks in the area will have
sufficient sunlight and water uptake to continue growing and will
eventually fill the canopy.

It's a random statistical process that ultimately "drifts" toward
the optimal solution due to natural environmental influences. The
forest doesn't "know" where or when it will need a new tree - it
just grows them all over the place. If the conditions are right for
the tree to continue growing, the tree grows and fills a void. If
the forest is mature, and has no "need" for the new tree, at that
location, the new tree will eventually die off because there are not
enough resources left over to sustain it. A healhy climax forest
will consist mostly of mature trees, a few dying mature trees, and
some healthy young trees, and more dying young trees. There is no
need to open the canopy to allow the young trees to grow. They will
naturally succeed where they are needed, and die off where they
aren't. It is a natural, self-balancing, self-regulating, negative
feedback loop. The only "help" that an oak forest might need in
this geographic area is that of deer herd management, since deer can
wipe out all of the oak tree regeneration - but that requires
planting and protecting the new trees, while limiting the deer
population, not cutting down mature trees so that new trees can grow

The understory of a healthy climax forest is populated by plants
that have evolved to survive and thrive in that climate - shade,
rich soil, cooler temps, etc... Non-natives will generally not
thrive in the understory for exactly that reason, they didn't evolve
in that climate.

I can not think of a (good) reason why the YWC would insist on
logging in the area of the Log Trail. If it's not for profit, then
it must be due to some type of self-perpetuated, old-school, forest
management practices. And remember that "forest management"
typically refers to treating the forest as a crop - to be harvested.

6) As to Duane's insistance on the necessity for removing fallen
trees - fallen trees renew the forest floor with nutrients that were
removed as the tree grew up. Fallen trees are essential as habitat
for many of the animals that inhabit the forest and contribute to
the symbiosis of the ecosystem. Removing these fallen trees en
masse weakens the forest's ability to regenerate itself - it does
not strengthen it. There is no need for this removal - the forest
will slowly decompose these trees at a natural rate, and consume the
nutrients that they provide, as needed.

7) In tromping through the woods with logging equipment, and opening
up the canopy to ostensibly let more light reach the floor,
and "encourage growth", what really happens is that the heavy
machinery crushes the existing native plants, and drags non-native
seeds into the woods, "plants" them in the ground, and the logging
provides the light these invasives thrive upon, thus encouraging
their growth, which then discourages the growth of the native
understory flora.

Given the end results of all of the aforementioned issues, this
collection of practices would more appropriately be described
as "forest mismanagement".....

While you, the reader of this blog might agree or not agree with the above statement, I thought it was a very well written piece and thought it deserved wider exposure.

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