Sunday, August 26, 2018

Fires in Our Forests – Why Old Growth And Sustainable Tree Farming Can Save Us From Fires

I realize the causes of the forest fires are many and complicated. However, we are focusing on symptoms just as we do in health care. As always there are underlying causes that can not be ignored. 

Monocropping Trees (Industrialized Tree Farming)

It is my opinion that the main issue that has turned our forests into tinder boxes is monocropping of our forests. This is the underlying issue that creates a sick forest. This type of industrialized forest practice grows trees that are prone to stress from lack of nutrients and water. This in turn results in infestation of insects, that in turn leads to dead trees, which are tinder waiting to burn. To understand what I am talking about, I need to share a little bit more information with you.

Commercially trees are monocropped for lumber. It is often conifers that are grown in these forests, generally fir or pine. Growing large swaths of one tree species is similar to growing big fields of one type of vegetable, fruit or herb. These plants usually do not do well unless they are coddled by the farmer. They lack community and protection. The environment lacks the soil biology that supports their ability to receive nourishment and moisture from the soil. This sets them up for poor health and eventually they attract insects that see the large monocrop area as a smorgasbord of their favorite food. The lack of health and vitality of these monocropped plants/trees makes them more susceptible to the insects, drought and disease. Monocropping of plants/trees additionally leads to greater use of insecticides and herbicides by the industrialized farmer.

Trees like to grow in tight groups. They grow their branches away from each other but their roots are intertwined in a loving embrace. Groups of trees grow together from the time they are young. Scientists have found that mother trees support their young and many trees share resources.  Older, mother trees are the most important to the network. When mother trees are removed this social network collapses and it is a disaster for the trees left. They will most likely die. When trees in a forest are harvested and the older mother trees are removed, bushes, fungi, and other plants, lichens, bacteria, and other commensal soil critters that keep a forest healthy all disappear or at least have a very hard time trying to eek out an existence.

In contrast to a natural forest where trees grow together, and share resources, monocrop trees are a vast group of loners who do not communicate and support each other. They don’t receive help from the others as takes place in an older interconnected forest and are more susceptible to any type of environmental stress. 

The fungal web

Trees have an amazing fungal, world wide web under the soil that interconnects them. This underground fungal mycelium network allows them to communicate and share resources. All of the forest, both under and above the ground are interdependent on one another. For details on how this works see Suzanne Simard’s Ted Talk on how trees talk to each other.

How trees share resources through this underground network is interesting. The mass of fungal micorrhiza connect to the trees and network the trees together. This fungal mycelium connects to similar species as well as disparate species. They move things like nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, water, defense signals, and hormones form one tree to another. This shows a mutualistic symbiosis between many trees.

These micorrhizal fungi associate with  trees all over the world. The fungi help the trees take up minerals and water, while the trees provide sugars from photosynthesis to the fungi. This relationship protects the trees from stress and drought. Under the soil, the fungi create a vast network that links the trees. The network becomes a hi-way for the trees to send messages or nutrients to each other.

Mother Trees and Tree Networking

Older mother trees tend to share their resources more with their young than they do with the other trees. They favor their children. They assist them in their growth to help them get established when young, and continue to communicate more with them than other non-related trees. Mother trees feed their young with a carbon solution. The biggest mother trees have the most links to others. When the mother tree dies they send out carbon and defense signals to their children.

The trees nourish each other and warn each other of impending threats. Trees under attack, tell the others of the issue by using the fungal network. 

Trees need other trees and need a variety of trees and other plants, fungi, and critters to be healthy. Like us, they need community to be healthy and productive.

When you take out too many mother trees, the forests networking system collapses. Trees become stressed and sickly. They are unable to share nutrients, water, and information. They are more susceptible to stress. Insects can more easily devastate a monocrop forest. This has been happening to the beetle infested evergreen forests in the United States for years. Beetles are leaving dead trees all over the place. These dead trees are perfect fire tinder.

Old growth forests have a lot to share with us, as do sustainable forests. The mother trees, the underground world of micorrhizal fungi, and other beneficial organisms are all important, and they all need to be nurtured, and remain as a unified system, or the whole system collapses and the forest dies. This sets the ground-work for unlimited fires, that will continue until all the monocrop forests are burnt to the ground.

Horse Logging, A Sustainable Future

How should we be harvesting trees? Currently, very large machines are removing trees in the forests. They are heavy and damage the micorrhizal fungi under the soil, and they decrease pore size in the soil which in turn decreases the water available. Less water available in the soil leads to stressed and dying trees.

Horse logging is safe to the soil and would not cause the damage to the soil pores and mycorrhiza. Selective cutting with horse logging will protect the forest as an organism. It will also provide additional jobs sorely needed in logging communities.  We need to be thinking about growing and logging families of trees in methods that add to the forest's health or at least does not detract from its health. We don’t want to monocrop rows of trees, we want to selectively remove trees in a radiant forest, and only to the point where the forest can still remain intact and healthy.

Additionally, we need to reduce consumption, reuse and recycle what we are able to, as well as reduce population growth on the planet. 

I suggest you watch a 45-minute movie from Amazon called "Intelligent Trees"


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Research Shows DDT Causes Increased Risk of Autism

New research published August 16, 2018 shows elevated levels of a dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) metabolite called p,p′-dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE) in pregnant women, as the first biomarker implicated in autism in children. This research shows  a significant increased risk for autism when a pregnant mother is exposed to DDT. The odds of autism were nearly one third higher among offspring of mother's with DDE levels that were in the highest 75th percentile, after adjusting for maternal age, prior offspring, and history of psychiatric disorders. The research writers said, the findings "provide the first biomarker-based evidence that maternal exposure to insecticides is associated with autism among offspring." The scientists controlled for many other risk factors and had a large group of 1500 women.

Although banned in many countries DDT is still present in the environment and found in blood and tissues.  It persists in tissues and pregnant women pass it along to their baby.

DDT was banned in the United States, but there are sites contaminated with this pollutant that pregnant woman may be living in proximity to. Additionally, there are countries still using it in agriculture and to kill vectors of disease such as mosquitoes. It has a 1/2 life of 15 years. This means as much as 50% can remain in the soil 15 years after application. DDT can concentrate in the food chain. It persists in the environment and accumulates in fatty tissues. Its metabolite DDE is found  in the blood, semen, bones, brains, fat tissue and fatty organs, and other organs of the body. It has been found in the Arctic air, Arctic water and Arctic organisms. It has been linked to the development of breast cancer, Alzheimers, infertility, sperm abnormalities, impairment of neurodevelopment in children, and even obesity. The countries that have banned DDT include Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia,Cyprus, Ethiopia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Lebanon, Mozambique, Norway, Switzerland, and the USA. Countries that have severely restricted its use include Belize, Ecuador, the EU, India, Israel, Kenya, Mexico, Panama, and Thailand. In 2004, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants restricted the use of DDT. 170 countries ratified the convention.

Why are we still using it? In 2015 there were over 200 million new cases of malaria in India, with over 400,000 registered deaths. Most of these cases occur in the rural areas. Today, India and sub-Saharan African countries account for over 80% of the malaria cases globally.  Although many countries had restricted the use of DDT, in 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) supported the indoor use of DDT in African countries where malaria remained a major challenge. WHO stated that the benefits of the pesticides to African countries outweighed the adverse effects it had on the environment. India and North Korea have continued the use of the pesticides for agricultural use despite the agricultural ban. DDT and its metabolites have been detected in food from all over the world and this route is likely the greatest source of exposure for the general population.  

Approximately 4,000 tons of DDT are produced annually to control vectors of disease - largely mosquitoes. It is legal to manufacture DDT in the U.S., though it can only be exported for use in foreign nations. DDT can only be used in the U.S. for public health emergencies, such as controlling mosquito born disease. Today, DDT is manufactured in North Korea, India, and China. India remains the largest consumer of the product for vector (mostly mosquito) control and agricultural use. China produces 4,500 metric tons of the product of which 80–90% is used to produce Dicofol, an acaricide (kills arachnids - ticks and mites mostly). African countries do not use the product for agricultural purposes but countries such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda, and Swaziland use it to control malaria. If you eat non-organic food from a country that still uses DDT, you could be ingesting it. Some people have reported it being sprayed on planes in India also.

More data on DDT can be found at EWG 

Additional notes:

There are other insecticides and herbicides that may be implicated in autism.  Certainly there appears to be a correlation between the increased use of glyphosate (RoundUp®) since the 1990's and the increased rates of autism that we see in the United States. I would like to see thorough research on the possible relationship between glyphosate and autism.

The research showed no association between total maternal levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and autism.