Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Deep in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park in a Very Hot Summer
I am a mountain person. I'm a desert person. I like being in places where I can see vast distances, where I can navigate by prominent landmarks. I'm often spooked by dense forest environments where I can see only a few yards through the gloom and can't navigate well. I'm talking about map and compass orienteering, but I think a thick forest could disrupt GPS signals too. And what happens if the batteries go dead?
The park was born out of controversy. The Olympic Peninsula is a mountainous landscape that captures vast amounts of precipitation from Pacific storms and the western side of the peninsula is especially lush with a temperate rainforest that was a magnet for timber interests. The huge trees were being harvested at a furious rate, and as the loggers worked their way farther into the interior, people became concerned about the wholesale destruction of the unique environment. Grover Cleveland established an Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897, and Theodore Roosevelt upgraded the status to a national monument in 1909. Congress acted in 1938 to designate the forest as a Olympic National Park. There is always a conflict between those who wish to make short-term profits versus those who recognize the need to preserve intact ecosystems with more intangible values such as clean air and water, wildlife diversity, education, recreation, and national pride.
The president says that climate change is not a factor in forest fires, that this is a "management situation", and that we need to "beautifully" remove fallen trees. Secretary of the Interior Zinke says we "have been held hostage by these environmental terrorist groups...that have refused to allow harvest of timber". These statements are highly misleading at best and display ignorance of the science.
Forests have been mismanaged. For more than a century a misunderstanding of how fire interacts with a forest environment has meant that fire suppression at all costs was the method of choice. This has indeed allowed overgrowth of young trees and a buildup of fuel on the forest floors. It is a problem though that has been exacerbated by the effects of drought and warming temperatures.