Stewardship of Forest and Water Resources

Sharon’s guest for the September 27th, 2010 show was Jerry Barnes, the President of TIE, Inc., and a forest geneticist.

Sharon noted that millions of women around the world spend most of their day carrying water and that with a water faucet near every door, society could be transformed. She then introduced Jerry Barnes, global forest genetics expert who has been a frequent guest.

Jerry talked about conifer cone harvesting and genetic tree improvement. Cones are harvested to obtain seed for reforestation. In basic genetic improvement, if you cross pollinate two grown from seed in a seed orchard, that are especially fast growing and apparently drought, insect or disease resistant, you can plant the resulting seeds (or seedlings) back in the woods and obtain a far greater yield of wood volume per acre.

Cones are harvested by selecting a superior looking tree, climbing it and picking the cones. These are then either stored for the owner or planted to obtain pollen and seeds for genetic improvement. Trees may be owned by corporations, small woodland owners or various government agencies.

New Zealand is of special interest to Mr. Barnes because it initially had very few trees but has a climate similar to the Pacific Northwest. There has been vast forestation and timber is now an important component of their economy. Healthy forests also enhance water quality and retention and slow runoff.

Forest growing and harvesting is similar to agriculture except the cycle takes much longer. But the presence of green plant cover improves air and water quality.  Scientists in recent decades have reduced the rotation schedule from 50 to 60 years to 30 to 40 years and are producing better wood with higher survival and less insect damage.

An important factor is the environment of the seed source. This takes into consideration, geographic region, soil type, aspect (which direction the slope faces), elevation and annual rainfall. Soil is affected by sunlight, rainfall, microorganisms, macro-organisms and parent rocks.

There was discussion of desertification, which can have multiple causes but which is increasing with global warming. Good forest management can slow or reverse the process. Trees are able to adjust to climate change (as witness the “pine island” near Christmas Valley Oregon, where ponderosa pines survive in sand on less than 10 inches of rain annually whereas everywhere else, they require 15 to 20 inches).

Certain hybrid can be used to stabilize the soil and create an initial layer of mulch and duff. And example is a tree called “KMX” (knobcone-Monterrey pine crossbreed), planted extensively on the Oregon coast. These trees grow very fast and can survive just about anywhere but they do not make good wood and are very short lived.

Forests can be planted but to improve the environment, we need to change people.

2010 was a poor cone year.

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