Author Archives: Dave Bonta

Mangroves save one Philippine coastal town from the worst of Typhoon Haiyan

From PRI’s program The World, Michael Holtz reports:

Mangroves form low-lying thickets that hug the shore of coastal areas in tropical regions around the world. They serve as natural barriers that help dissipate swelling storm surges. Mayor Jamie Ty says that protection, combined with a well-executed evacuation plan, meant not one person in MacArthur died in the typhoon.

“We are lucky” Ty says. “We don’t have casualties, although we have a few injuries. But those are just superficial injuries.”

The storm killed at least 64 people in the next town to the north and more than 5,000 across the Philippines. It’s impossible to know how many of those deaths could have been avoided if other places still had the same natural protective barriers as General MacArthur.

Rough estimates show more than 70 percent of the country’s original mangrove forests were destroyed between 1918 and 1994. Many were replaced with fishponds, resorts and other kinds of coastal development.

But at least some of the mangroves near MacArthur were spared.

“Here, here, and here. The storm surge also hits here,” says University of the Philippines professor Rene Rollon, clicking his mouse over a satellite image of MacArthur and the surrounding islands.

Rollon has studied mangroves for more than 20 years, and he says MacArthur residents are right to thank their humble trees.

“That’s a huge amount of mangroves,” he says. “It dissipates a lot of energy. So, actually, it’s protecting the town.”

Read (or listen to) the rest.

“Oldest Buddhist shrine” shows evidence of tree-worship

From the National Geographic, “Oldest Buddhist Shrine Uncovered In Nepal May Push Back the Buddha’s Birth Date“:

Digging beneath a central shrine, the researchers uncovered postholes pointing to a wooden railing surrounding a tree shrine and dating to around 550 B.C., says Coningham. They also found an older brick structure.

The center of the shrine was unroofed, the team found, and contained mineralized tree roots, surrounded by clay floors worn smooth by visitors. It was likely an ancient bodhigara, or tree shrine.

The tree roots appear to have been fertilized, and although bodhigara are found in older Indian traditions, the shrine lacked the signs of sacrifices or offerings found at such sites.

“It was very clean, in fact, which points to the Buddhist tradition of nonviolence and nonofferings,” says Coningham.

[...]

Julia Shaw, a lecturer in South Asian archaeology at University College London, called the claims for a wooden railing surrounding a possible tree shrine convincing but speculative.

She was cautious about the oldest Buddhist shrine claim.

“The worship of trees, often at simple altars, was a ubiquitous feature of ancient Indian religions, and given the degree of overlap between Buddhist ritual and pre-existing traditions, it is also possible that what is being described represents an older tree shrine quite disconnected from the worship of the historical Buddha,” Shaw says.

“Still, it does indeed present some new insights into the archaeology of Indian ritual in general,” she adds.

William Lemke’s tree photographs

Some astonishingly beautiful black-and-white photos of trees by William Lemke, a landscape photographer in the tradition of Ansel Adams, are up at the literary/art zine Escape into Life. Go look.

Suzanne Simard talks about “mother trees” and the plant-fungal network

Good interview with one of the major researchers in the field of plant-fungi interaction. Video by Dan McKinney via the University of British Columbia on Blip.tv.

It kind of surprises me that tree communication is still news to people — witness the breathless post in Treehugger — but I guess it takes years for radical new ideas to get out there. The bit about dying trees transferring information to living trees before they die was new to me, though. And I like Dr. Simard’s use of evocative language throughout. “Mother trees” — absolutely, why not?

Memorializing through reforestation: the Flight 93 National Memorial

Readers from outside the U.S. may or may not remember, but Flight 93 was the one hijacked commercial flight on September 11, 2001 that failed to reach its target (presumably Congress or the White House) due to a passenger revolt, crashing in a field in southwest Pennsylvania. The crash site was subsequently turned over to the National Park Service as an official National Memorial. Though dedicated last year, the tree-planting is not yet complete. I’m struck by the scale of it: not just one tree per passenger, but one grove per passenger, as an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reminds us.

This is the second year of the reforestation effort. The goal is to have 150,900 new trees at the location. The Flight 93 memorial includes 40 groves of trees, one grove for each passenger or crew member who died on Sept. 11, 2001 when the plane crashed as the passengers and crew battled terrorists. The memorial is operated by the National Parks Service.

The seedlings were planted by volunteers—more than 500 of them. The website says only that they are “a mixture of several native species.” (The nursery is a little over 100 miles away, so perhaps the genotypes were fairly local in origin.) The memorial groves themselves have already been planted; this subsequent, three-year effort is to provide a windbreak for the groves.

The impulse to memorialize through afforestation seems especially appropriate given the location in Pennsylvania, the only one of the states named for its forests. However, Pennsylvania also has a long history of industrial exploitation, and the Flight 93 site was no exception. As the website points out:

Part of the architect’s vision for the memorial is that it will be a place of renewal. Reclaiming the land after decades of surface mining has left much of it in open grassland.

“Reclaiming” is of course a far cry from true restoration or healing, whence the need for tree-planting. It’s interesting to me that the national trauma of 9/11 has pointed to another trauma, one we ourselves have inflicted upon the land. By tying them together like this, the memorial gains a meta dimension — a woods re-created in part to memorialize itself.

Indonesia extends its forest moratorium

Hats off to Indonesia’s president for showing the kind of leadership that’s sorely lacking from most nations in the global North. As WRIInsights reports:

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.

Enacted two years ago, Indonesia’s forest moratorium has already made some progress in improving forest management. However, much more can be done. The extension offers Indonesia a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reduce emissions, curb deforestation, and greatly strengthen forest governance in a country that holds some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Do read the rest, which includes suggestions for ways in which the forest moratorium could be strengthened.

How forests fight back against global warming with chemical warfare

A new study finds that the terpenes, isoprenes and other chemicals that trees release into the atmosphere help ameliorate the worst effects of global warming. Climate News Network has the story.

The warmer the weather, the greater the likelihood that gas emissions from plants would create conditions for the formation of clouds, which in turn would reflect more sunlight back into space, and thus help damp down global warming.

That is the good news. The not-so-good news is that these plant gas emissions won’t make a great deal of difference – on a global scale they might counter about 1 percent of global warming.

On a regional scale, however, the effect might be much greater: in heavily forested areas – Finland, Siberia and Canada, for instance – where human emissions of aerosols are anyway relatively slight, plant gas releases might counter as much as 30 percent of warming.

Naked treehugger Julianne Skai Arbor lends support to the protection of old growth on Vancouver Island

TreeGirl:

Tragically, people are not connecting our everyday modern consumptive lifestyle with the true cost we are paying for our wood and paper products: habitat destruction and fragmentation, soil erosion, hydrologic disruption, water siltation, wildfire hazards, and extermination of thousands of forest and riparian plant, animal and fungi species. Clearcutted forests are notorious for not being able to recover to their original structure and composition. This all equals the “uglification” and death of Life. We must change our modern value system and our forestry practices worldwide to focus on ecological system integrity.

Canada’s largest Spruce (Picea sitchensis), is The San Juan Sitka Spruce (and also the second largest Spruce in the world). It was with this tree that I did a photo shoot in the rain around the 38 ft (11.6 m) circumference, gazing up at the 205 ft (62.5 m) top. Although this wasn’t my first Sitka Spruce encounter, this was my first making love with a tree in the rain, and it was cold but magnificent embracing the wet moss!

See also the local newspaper article linked in her post, “The naked tree-hugger makes her way to Port Renfrew,” and the artist statement on TreeGirl’s website.

Madronas in bloom

Fidalgo Island Crossings:

As I drive around the area, I am seeing Madronas blooming profusely everywhere. Along the Highway 20 corridor into Anacortes, the trees are revealed as giant clouds of white blossoms all along the roadway. I had never realized how many Madronas were growing there.

These are special trees to Pacific Northwesterners, and this year, they are really putting on a show for us. The Madrona (also called Madrone and Arbutus) has been correctly described as one of Nature’s works of art. The ‘Lem’s Cameo’ Rhododendron in the foreground of the photo is a Madrona relative.

Sycamore in a road drain

Loose and Leafy:

The tree grew so well, the space available to it became a little congested. At the top of the tree (which, I would guess, is about two feet high) leaves would rise above road level, only to be sheered off by the tyres of cars running over it. It isn’t a busy street so leaves would have time to grow and poke up — but they never lasted.

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