Just Imagine

Of course we feel helpless. The train of seasons has jumped its track and is hurtling into the unknown. Our parks, trails and plazas are cloaked in smoke. We huddle indoors, breathing filtered air.

Where is our careening climate taking us? We don’t want to think about it. All we know for sure is that help is not on the way. The pronouncements of our Commander in Chief are sick jokes. The leaders of our state are mostly silent.

But we are not really helpless. Adaptation starts at home. Community organizations like the Ashland Chamber and Oregon Shakespeare Festival are already orchestrating local initiatives that will make a difference. We will be hearing more from them.

We can do more. To respond effectively to the climatic crisis, we need to better understand the natural functions of our ecosphere and the impacts of human activity. That’s why some of us are working to build a research station on the Green Springs, with the aim of supporting academic studies in our Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Let’s imagine some of the topics that might attract scientific attention to our Monument. Consider rewilding plantations, for example.

Industrial forestry has left us with thousands of acres of same-age same-species stands scattered through our Monument and across the forests of the Northwest. Corporate clear cutters are required to replant in the wake of mechanized logging operations, and they do. Often they subsequently go bankrupt, dissolve or depart the state. Orphan plantations are never thinned or maintained. Saplings grow to a height of 20 or 30 feet, crowd each other to a standstill and create a perfect mixture of air and fuel. When fire comes, they explode like bombs. A hundred acre plantation can create an impressive fire tornado.

Preliminary studies indicate that sterile plantations can be opened up to colonization by other plants and animals. Thinning unlocks trees to grow and clearings make way for other species to establish footholds. Bundles of poles can create nesting opportunities. Piles of branches become habitat for rodents. Eventually natural processes will rebuild healthy ecosystems. Our role is to open the door and allow wilderness to take over. We can learn to do that more effectively.

Then there is hydrology. Centuries ago our mountains and forests were swarming with beavers. Trappers reduced them to remnants and our government declared them to be vermin, eligible for summary execution when sighted.

Now, thanks to a warming climate, mountain snow packs are diminishing rapidly. The gradual snowmelt that we depend on to fill our reservoirs and supply fresh drinking water through summer now ends in late spring. How can we hold water at high elevations to create natural firebreaks, replenish aquifers and slow down desiccation of lowlands? Part of the answer comes with a flat tail.

Science can guide us in understanding the value of beavers and in assessing techniques for reestablishing beaver populations. Our Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is a perfect laboratory for this sort of work and research stations are known to be effective for luring scientists.

How can you help fertilize plantations and mate scientists with beavers? Stay tuned.