Thursday, April 19, 2007

Seared Ground

I'm in Lake Chelan, Washington, at a business meeting. Through a variety of odd linkages, that resulted in my visiting with two cowboy poets in the bar last night. They're real cowboys, the kind of men that lead strings of horses and mules up into the roadless North Cascades.

I asked them about global warming and climate change. First, they didn't question it at all. These are men that know the land and the trees and the snow pack and the migration of animals like I know stop signs and walking trails and urban dog parks.

So I asked them, "All right, what's the biggest danger for you? What do you see up there in the wild?"

They worried most about fire. There are a bark-beetle killed trees (bark-beetle habitat is changing - I think spruce worms is the other term I've heard) which they say will burn like torches. Combine that with the way the forest has been managed for people instead of for the sake of the forest itself; we have too much underbrush, too many years fire hasn't neatly scored out the deadfall. They said the fires are so hot now they sterilize the ground. They told me a tale of a government-sponsored program to truck in straw - bales and bales and bales of pale-yellow straw - and use helicopters to spread it across the seared earth in hopes that it will slow erosion and decompose enough to allow grass to grow again in a few years. They said that without the straw, all of the places touched by the too-hot fire wouldn't grow anything for a decade or more.

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