Sunday, July 03, 2011

Historic Patterns of Vegetation & Enviro Bankrolls

Fuchs’ Findings and a lost Bird
Historic Patterns of Vegetation
 Tedium from the Extractive Funding Front
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

      On my wall are two panoramic pictures of brandings from 1931.  The first picture shows Lee Rice “holding rodear” on Rain Creek Mesa.  The second is a similar scene three or four miles south in Mogollon Creek at the 916 headquarters. 
     There are a number of the cowboys in the pictures that are dear to me and mine.  There is also a treasured family heirloom seen in both pictures.  That saddle sits on a stand across the room from me.
      Look at the Evidence
     Nearly every time someone stops by those pictures are discussed.  I like the discussion and it gives me a chance to re-inspect them myself.  It has occurred to me, though, the interest that is generated from the two scenes with all those horned Hereford cattle is only part of the historical significance.  Perhaps more importantly is the backdrop. 
     In the picture from Rain Creek Mesa, the mesa itself is paired with 74 Mountain as a backdrop.  In the 916 picture, the interest is Mogollon Creek with the drainages of Davis and Rough Canyons extending eastward toward Watson Mountain.  What the casual observer would not comprehend is the scarcity of trees relative to today. 
    On the hillside just south from the 916 corral are mature alligator and one seeded junipers in a density of perhaps 10-15 trees per acre.  Across the creek to the east in a stretch of hillside of some 250 yards, a total of 12 trees can be counted.
     Looking closely at the ridges at higher elevations, the absence of mature juniper trees is obvious.  Apache plume, mountain mahogany, and oak are abundant, but not junipers.  Likewise, the creek bottom itself is void of most trees except oaks and at least one visible sycamore.  The under story is open and filled with grass, especially in the picture at the 916. Remember the year was 1931.  Cattle had been on those ranges under the same brands since 1888 and 1884, respectively. 
     As to any suggestion of logging, there was only isolated pine trees at this elevation and not many junipers would have been cut off the hillsides.  Posts would have been cut where fences were built.
     To the Esoterics
     Since branding was being done, it was likely June when the pictures were taken.  The monsoons had not started, and, yet, cattle body scores were very comparable to modern conditions.  That meant the quality and abundance of grass must be good since cattle would not be supplemented in those days. 
     The source and quantity of water were also factors of interest.  There was no construction of “tanks” being done at that early date.  Cattle had to be watering either in Mogollon Creek or at a handful of hand dug wells that may or may not have been equipped with windmills. 
      The concentration of cattle would have been high along the creek and near the edges of the mesa.  We know that from verbal history.  It would have been there, in the confined areas around limited water, that, indeed, cattle impact would have been most extreme.  The pressure from cattle further from water would have been proportionally less.  Cattle are not going to be where they cannot drink within a reasonable walking distance . . . they never have . . . they never will. The incessant premise of universal overgrazing on western ranges is an unmitigated distortion of fact.
     The Fuchs work
I met Hollis Fuchs in the summer of 2002.  Hollis has a very interesting hobby.  For years, he has sought historic pictures of his native surroundings in Lincoln County, New Mexico and has taken his camera and gear to those exact spots to recapture the scene in a modern setting.  The results are astounding. 
     If the question is asked today of the historical abundance of forests, the invariable response is historical forest growth and footprint exceeds that of today.  The Fuchs work upends that general assumption. 
     In fact, if Lincoln County is anything like the other counties in the state, the bigger question should be, “Why are we not logging New Mexico forests?”  The bulk of the Fuchs historic pictures range from just after 1900 to about 1915.  The pictures predate extensive logging.  The work represents a broad spectrum of historic timber growth. 
    In his book, Historic Increases in Woody Vegetation in Lincoln County, New Mexico, there are many pictures that negate what we have been erroneously taught, but the picture of Sierra Blanca taken from Lookout Mountain in 1914 compared to the picture taken from the same spot in 1998 is simply amazing.  There is timber today that didn’t even exist in 1914 and long before equipment was available to log those high ridges.  The comparison is stunning.
     The Message from the Script
     In a recent Albuquerque newspaper op-ed, the obligatory green wave rebuttal discounting the need to log in order to reduce fuel in southwestern forests was all too familiar.    The first order of business was to remind the masses that the health of the modern forests was the fault of early day loggers and ranchers.  It seems that “dry pine forests of the west were severely logged over, leaving a nearly uniform mass of small trees.  Domestic livestock grazing, which suppresses the grasses that normally carry low intensity fire fostered the proliferation of pine seedlings and aggravated conditions.”
    The article went on to ding the logging industry itself because it “cut itself out of business, the lumber business is mostly gone and the market for lumber is at record low.”  The fact finder went on to relate, “Supposing we threw aside all environmental concerns and opened our public forestlands to logging on a historic scale . . . there would be no use for logs.”
    As to the accusation that the green wave has exacerbated the danger of western fires by litigating every effort to address the dangerous fuel loads, the scribe had an answer to that as well when he noted “as an atmosphere of litigation and acrimony surrounding resources has given way to a spirit of cooperation.”
    The final dagger, however, was that time tested treasure of the same crowd when their wilderness warrior surreptitiously noted that “cost-effective fuel reduction is accomplished with other tools including: wildland fire use, prescribed fire, thinning, and removal of livestock grazing pressure.”
     Political Science and the modern scandal, the Extractive Funding Front
     Productive Americans are tired of the environmental conflagration in every form.  The tedious reminders of historic stewardship condemnations are wearing thin.  There are too many examples of science being seen for what they are . . . pure political junk with enough pseudoscience to redirect our entire societal framework to accomplish some perverted goal.
     Those efforts could not have occurred if they had not been supported by institutions within our midst that exist on extractive funding.  For too long the blame of western environmental wrongs has been directed without recourse to the so called extractive industries.  The truth is becoming clearly focused . . . the real dilemma has been created by the ambitions of the environmental robbers . . . the Extractive Funding Front.
     The components of the Extractive Funding Front are various.  They are both public and private.  What they share in common is reliance on funding that comes from a source external from their legal framework.  It doesn’t come from their primary production of goods and services.  It comes from somebody else’s wealth creation.  It is, therefore, technically parasitic and science suggests parasites that cannot exist in a symbiotic relationship with their host . . . eventually destroy themselves.
     The Objective Realizations
     The work of Hollis Fuchs stemming from historical pictures like those on my tack room wall offers hope and creates a degree of optimism for our future.  There are real world implications addressed from those photos.
     The expanse of forest growth, the condition of cattle in full drought, the affects of watershed health, the fantastic natural adjustments to constraints and changing conditions, and the evolutionary acceptance of man when he is exposed to risk and failure as an integral cooperator with nature all have positive implications for our future.  That is where the real science exists.  That is where the positive direction lays . . . and that is where the real environmental revolution beckons. 

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico.  “The Extractive Funding Front has robbed us of the real environmental relationship with our dynamic natural world. Their tedious condescension of our existence and cattle on our western ranges reminds me of them brushing their teeth.  If the last time they brushed their teeth was 50 years ago, there would be a bit of uncontrolled undergrowth in their oral cavities.  The rest of us know that a little maintenance has therapeutic benefits, and that includes the advancement of our management skills through our stewardship responsibilities.”  June, 2011.


Anonymous said...

Can't help it. Just can't help it. The flooding story along with the Wilmeth reference to the Extractive Funding Front. EFF? Does this elevate an all new meaning to the modern form of EFF'ing?

Frank DuBois said...

I can see how you connected the to speak. A good sense of humor goes a long way during these times.

Anonymous said...

Great article and good job bringing attention to Hollis’ book.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade (as it’s currently raining on Cloudcroft’s 4th of July parade, thank God), but I assume he meant to say “Why are we not thinning New Mexico forests?” Logging is not the answer, restoration and ecosystem resiliency are the answer. I seriously doubt “logging” ever occurred in the piñon-juniper type featured in most of Hollis’ book and were wide spread logging to return to the Southwest, where would that material go? A quick look at regional, national and world markets for wood products should extinguish any fire behind “bring logging back”.

That being said and before I get labeled an enviro, no one’s arguing that tree densities haven’t increased (by an order of magnitude no less) and our forested and woodland systems are severely out of whack. Quite to the contrary, but in the (mostly) woodland systems featured in Hollis’ book, what we’re looking at are examples of woody tree invasions into what were historically grasslands and/or savannahs maintained by frequent, low severity fires. This is drastically different form the scenario we see in Ponderosa pine-dominated or mixed conifer-dominated ecosystems. Not to mention that the then “huge” communities like Lincoln and White Oaks would have had quite the fuel wood appetite, thus potentially contributing to the “openness” of the historical photos. And for the record, I’m just saying repeat photos require some salt with digestion.

In these clear cases of grassland invasions, large scale woody tree eradication is the clear path necessary. If the soils and system dictate that it was historically grassland, then remove them all, if site potential dictates It was savannah, then leave an appropriate number of large trees per unit area, and if it was historically woodlands (as observed on the eastern side of the Sacramento Mountains, throughout Mesa Verde, etc) then leave a woodland… Either way, there won’t be much more than biomass or fuel wood coming off of it, but you’ll reap benefits (increased water yield, decreased catastrophic fire risk, increased production and diversity, etc.) that far outweighs rebooting a dying (strictly speaking) logging industry.

Lastly, I’ll end with this question – who’s responsibility is it to reduce woody vegetation and tree density on private lands, especially the large continuous blocks found throughout southern New Mexico?

SLWilmeth said...

Nobody suggested that logging took place on pinon/ juniper woodlands. The fact is not all of Hollis' work supports your misdirection, Anonymous, that the shrubby invasion was all confined to and reduced grasslands. The point remains that increases in fuel loads in the absence of any means of reducing those fuel loads brings us to the point we are at today . . . burning the countryside. The point is made on the basis of the first and third largest fire in Arizona history are burning simultaneously with the largest fire in New Mexico history. As to the undertone of desparaging private holdings in the matter of woody growth holdings, when nearly 90% of the ownership of the fuel buildup problem in the county relates to federal ownership that is the proper place to reserve the substantive points. As a matter of fact, though, any project work with funds being used today would have to have federal arts clearance at a minimum for the work due to the status of dominion under the grazing guidelines. Finally, in a area where timber cycles reach the 70 year level timber management strategies still remain viable if there is positive intent. That being said your suggestion of concern of being labeled an enviro . . . you said it not I.

SRMLee said...

Yup, sounds to me like we have a "reader from the script" with Mr. Anomymus. His "restoration and resiliency" are just too profound. Let's break that code down first. It is double speak for full funding of some EarthFirst! backed busy work that has to be funded by the taxpayers. It would also entail somebody getting paid off to do some mitigation trade for the allowance to go in and do the work. Next, who is kidding who on the "large continuous blocks" of privately owned pinon juniper woodlands in southern NM. Are you kidding, Anonymous? Why don't you come out of the closet and inform us mere mortals where those fairytale blocks exist.

APS of California said...

Greetings from the Left Coast! I must confess I read Wilmeth because I know him. He and I have thinned a few peaches together and we probably could teach AA a bit about biomass. Mr. AA you can grow six boxes of peaches on a tree of say, size 1000, and they would weigh 138 pounds. You could send a crew and in thin the tree to size 500s and the six boxes would weigh 138 pounds. Nobody would still buy them, but hey they would produce the same mass. Next we could send the crew in and thin to size 100s. It would have cost us a fortune to pick them but we could have sold them for the cost of packing into the East LA or El Paso market (where you hve indicated you live) and one of those Lebanese brokers would have taken them and hauled them to the store nearest you for your breakfast. Or, we could have done like the productive world and thinned them to size 48 and sold them for full price and sent them to any market in the world. Still they would have weighed 138 pounds packed. The moral of this story Mr. AA is that we know the same thing works with tree density. You can grow 2000 trees and acre in a philosophical European meadow planting or you could plant them 14 X12 in a California density and get the same total biomass. Same with pines and the same resulting useable biomass would have been produced. Maybe you just don't understand anything but theoretical, though. Maybe you should just stick with talking from the script. The words just sound more intelligent.