Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wetlands Value Determination

This is one of the still, hushed, ripe days when we fancy we might hear the beating of nature’s heart.  Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.  There is a love of wild nature in everyone, an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.”  John Muir, 1838-1914.
How do we value wetlands?  Let me count some of the ways.  Instinctively we list the goods and services that wetlands provide: wildlife habitat; cleaner water; recreation; lessened damage from floods and erosion; carbon sequestering; healthy economy-source of income; natural products (medicine, food, fiber, and fuel); culture; education; archeology; art; and ceremony. These are all obvious treasures that we take for granted and that are not easily assigned economic value (dollars).  Economic value is the coin of the realm and what is commonly used in wetlands policy formation and judicial determinations for permitting and compensation in wetlands development and conservation decisions. 
The chain of evidence from perception of a wetland to assignment of economic value is complex.  A common scheme is given in definitions.  We analyze processes which support biological production.  Next we define functions which are interactions of ecosystem processes.  Then we determine benefits which are goods and services derived from functions.  Finally we assign value based on the worth of benefits to society. This conceptual framework is logical and entails significant costs for value determination and risks for wetlands conservation.
Setting market value for wetlands may result in less wetland protection.  Market value of protected wetlands is low and protecting them elevates the costs for nearby developed land, distressing land owners and developers.  Conservation of wetlands distresses politicians and civic leaders because of loss for income, sales, and tax bases.  Developers and courts demand determination of wetland economic value.  Sources for  value determination include 1) estimates by economists based on one or two specific, isolated wetland functions and 2) non-economist estimates of “embodied energy” or replacement costs, neither of which are reproducible or defensible.  Economic estimates are based on willingness to pay (revealed, expressed, or derived).  A difficulty in this approach is that people generally don’t know the values of wetlands and their willingness to pay, making wetland dollar values not readily determined or defensible.  Another problem is that wetland services are generally linked with surrounding watersheds and cannot be isolated for value determination.  As alternatives for determining economic value, the amount that wetland permit seekers have to pay appears to be the most accepted value, followed by costs for attempted wetlands restoration. These alternatives are arbitrary and do not reflect the true costs and benefits of wetlands.  
Economic decisions about wetlands tend to favor wetlands destruction because of market failure, where the true cost of goods and services is not represented.  Wetlands services are generally given a zero price, but are of high value to human well being.  Factors contributing to market failure are 1) distribution of costs and benefits between private landowners and public, 2) tragedy of the commons, 3) missing costs, 4) cumulative effects of wetlands loss, and 5) limited understanding of wetlands science.  These factors must be addressed to ease market failure.  This remedy is expensive and few methods exist. 
The most economically efficient choice for wetlands is not necessarily the most socially and environmentally beneficial choice.  Economic cost/benefit analysis overlooks the multiple interactive benefits that wetlands provide for society.  The key to wetlands conservation appears to be public support of common resources.  To achieve this goal, we need clear explanation of wetlands function, interactions with watersheds, and benefits to society.  There is a need for long-term monitoring of changes in wetlands and their effects on ecosystems and society to expose the hidden costs of incremental degradation and loss through time.  Public involvement could be increased through education, culture, recreation, conservation, and wider economic accounting for the business community.  
Posted by michael

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Garden Color

Ambling around the garden, the color pops and the summer soothes.  Found a bumble bee asleep in the morning dew-soaked Buddleia.  Maybe was too tired to go home, or maybe just gave up and died right there.  Flowers speak to the simplicity of color and scent.  Nothing else to consider when experience blooms in the early morning light.

Posted by michael

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where There's Smoke

Last month I was visiting family in Fairbanks, Alaska.  On the way there, as the plane approached the airport, we were greeted with the haze of forest fire smoke all around the Tanana Valley.  There are many forest fires every year in Alaska.  You’d think at that rate that there would be nothing left to burn.  The first week of June was early for forest fire activity, but they had had a dry winter and spring, and recent rainstorms with thunder and lightning. 

[Photo from here]. 
It reminded me of some accounts of catastrophic wildfires in the early days of Lincoln County noted in the oral history records (the following excerpts are from the Oral History Collections of the Lincoln County Historical Society).  One large fire raged through the area in 1868, shortly after the Siletz Reservation (originally larger than all of Lincoln County) was first opened for white settlement.  Floyd “Bush” Davis describes his family’s experience during that fire at their homestead at the mouth of Beaver Creek.
“My uncle [Lemuel Davis], dad’s oldest brother, came to South Beach in 1866, and built a home there and filed on the mouth of Beaver Creek, which is now Ona Park.  And my father was here in [18]68 with him, when a big fire came through.  The fire had jumped the bay from my Aunt Mary’s place, they were forced to go right down on the ocean beach, next to the breakers, to get away from the smoke and the heat.  And they mixed up with all kinds of wild animals, who were also mixed down there.”
       ----Floyd “Bush” Davis  (1967 Interview)
Another account of the same fire was given by Cliff Phelps.  He heard about the great wildfire from several elderly Siletz Native women’s accounts told to him as a child.  I have seen early photos of homesteads from other parts of the county showing charred trees in the background.
[On stump removal] “But you know, these meadows was just a little patch here and there.  There was dead old snags laying in there when the big fire went through here you know.  God, we sure done a lot of work here.  In them days, why we’d dig out the stumps, you know...well, we dug around there with the team and haul them out someplace and worked them up...My Dad and I done a lot of that kind of work in the wintertime.”
“There was quite a lot of old growth firs in them days.  They were no doubt the same age as the ones that got burnt.  They didn’t do a clean job of burning when this country was all burned you know, that all happened, of course, years before we came here.  When we came here [in 1908] there was real elderly women (I don’t know if there was any men or not), Indians in the Siletz, that could remember when that burn happened.  They said the ocean was just full of all kinds of animals, they were all in there together, you know.  It was so hot and so much smoke, and it just drove them to the ocean, and I suppose a lot of them never did get there.  But it went through this whole country, you know, it was just covered.  There was more so, when we moved here with these big, burnt snags, some of them were solid, any of them that were solid made good wood.  But, oh God, the whole country here for miles in every direction except out over the ocean, had been hit by the fire.  There was an awful lot of talk about it when we came here, but you know, I was just a kid.  I never paid much attention.  But it sure as heck happened all right.  I remember that much about it.” 
    ----Cliff Phelps  (1977 interview)
Bob Zybach wrote about the historic incidences and uses of wildfire in his Ph.D. dissertation in 2003 (entitled, “The Great Fires:  Indian Burning and Catastrophic Forest Fire Patterns of the Oregon Coast Range, 1491-1951”), and in a 1994 interview published in Evergreen magazine (“Voices in the Forest: An interview with Bob Zybach,” Evergreen magazine, March/April 1994).  
Drawing from many sources, such as historic accounts, maps, and analysis of tree growth rings and vegetation distribution, Zybach compiled vast amounts of data to support his conclusions. He argued that the modern view of how forests appeared in the past is flawed.  A popular assumption is that when white settlement began in Western Oregon, the area was covered with a “sea of old growth” (which he defined as stands of Douglas fir trees containing 60-70 % of trees that were 200 or more years old).  Zybach states instead that the 200+ year old Douglas fir trees probably covered more like 5-38 %.  He described the forests of the mid-1800’s as being more open than they are now, and free of the underbrush and woody debris seen in coastal forests today.  “There were islands of even-aged conifers, bounded by prairies, savannas, groves of oak, meadows, ponds, thickets, and berry patches.”  He attributes this to the local Native American use of fire for managing natural resources.  “Indians used fire to create habitat for wildlife, to clear away trees and underbrush, and to shape forest in the image of their own culture.”
Several major catastrophic fires occurred from 1849 to 1951 in the Coast Range region.  Zybach defined catastrophic fires as those extending 100,000 acres or more.  From the historic and scientific evidence he examined, Zybach states that catastrophic fires were rarer before white settlement occurred.  He attributes this to the changes in the use and management of the land and natural resources.  The biggest fires occurred in August or September in years of prolonged drought.
“Between 1840 and 1850 an abrupt transformation took place in western Oregon that resulted in permanent and large-scale changes to the region’s forest and grassland environments.  During that decade dozens of local American Indian nations and tribes were all but replaced by a comparatively homogenous population of European American immigrants.  Many wildlife species were subsequently decimated and extirpated in favor of domesticated plants and animals...Even fire was affected.  Expansive grasslands that were annually fired to produce and harvest food crops were plowed and grazed instead.   Interior forestland trails, prairies, meadows, brakes, and berry patches--created and maintained by fire--were abandoned and began converting to trees.  Near the end of the decade, probably in 1849 or 1850, the first of a century-long series of catastrophic forest fires took place in the region.  These wildfires were so large and notable they became known as the ‘Great Fires’ and acquired individual names:  the Yaquina, the Coos, the Nestucca, the Tillamook.”  
    ----Bob Zybach, 2003 Ph.D. dissertion cited above
In an Appendix to Zybach’s work is an account of the Great Yaquina Fire of 1849.  It is told by William Smith, an Alsi Indian man, who told this story in his native language to anthropologist Leo Frachtenberg in 1910.  Mr. Smith’s family (7 adults, 8 children) was returning to the Alsea River area from a trip to the Siuslaw.  They got as far as Heceta Head when the story begins.  
“Then it seemed to be getting dark all over...We kept going.  Although the sun stood high, nevertheless it threatened to get dark...And then darkness fell all over the world.  The surface of the sun just kept on getting red...The fire seemed to be flying in all directions as soon as darkness enveloped the world...its crackling just seemed to make a roaring noise...All sorts of (animals) were coming to the sea:  elks, black bears, and cougars--the hair of all (of them) was just partially burned...The fire was just terribly hot.  The smell of the smoke made an awful odor all over...For probably ten days it was dark all over.  [Finally they were able to return home].  Nobody was burned:  all the people are well.  Nature (seems to have been) doing its worst thing.  Never (before) did nature act like that.”
It is predicted that the first Yaquina fire of 1849 burned 500,000 acres and the second Yaquina fire in 1868 consumed 300,000 acres, some of the largest of the Great Fires.  (This link describes forest fires and their effects on populated areas of some more recent fires).  I don’t know much about forest management or predictions for that type of catastrophic fire to recur here in the future.  I merely present these stories as vivid historic experiences of the landscape of this region, and as examples of how these and other events have shaped the way the land now appears. 
Posted by jackie.

A Difference Of Perception

On a fine summer morning the fog rolls into the marsh off of the Pacific Ocean.  The air is still and the sun warming.  Bird song echos over the creek and the water is filled with sparkles of sun light on its slightly rippled surface.  Sitting with a kayak in a grass bed beside the marsh bank, everything conspires to a sense of overwhelming bliss, with mind and body gently relaxed on the mirror of awareness.  

Out of the distance a fisherman comes slowly, in a boat pushed by a trolling motor.  We see each other, nod hello and comment on the delightful nature of the morning.  We agree that the morning here does not get more perfect, with the lack of wind and the warm, sweet sense of joy on the water.  Then he says, "It would be even better if I caught a fish".  I note "Ah, the fisherman's dilemma".  He turns and laughs in recognition of his longing.  Perfect moments could only be improved by making them imperfect and then replacing with other perfection.  A dilemma is a choice between two equally undesirable alternatives.  In the fisherman's dilemma, choice between not having caught a fish, and not being able to catch a fish.  The morning remains perfectly joyful when not distracted by imperfect choice.

Given the opportunity, wildness gives the undistracted moments in which we can experience our joy in the perfection of no choice.  Any other distracting choices bind us to less perfect moments of desire and repulsion.  Experiencing nature releases the chains of distraction and wanting.  A breeze through the trees, a flower in full color and scent, bird song echoing, and a bird flight leaving no tracks in the sky; favorite things that bring a sense of ease.  These perceptions do not argue and discuss or make choices.  They do not have opinions and defend their point of view.  They simply give a sense of wonder and fill the morning with joy, warmth, and light. 

Posted by michael 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Osprey Over Beaver Creek

Hung out on the water with the osprey family.  They have a nest in a pole holding high tension electric lines next to Beaver Creek above the marsh.  One of the adults made feeding flights every 20 minutes, landing on the nest and bringing food.  One time the other mate took off and another time the same bird took off.  So the mates vary the order of staying on the nest and making feeding flights.  The bird on the nest fed itself and the chicks from the food brought in.  There was lots of vocalization and excitement about food and flying.

Posted by michael

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Golden And Silver Falls, Coos County, Oregon

Recently we visited Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area.  This state park is a sister park to the Beaver Creek State Natural Area.  The park is located in Coos County, Oregon, in the coast range forest.  There are delightful trails to hike through native coastal forest vegetation in canyons that lead to spectacular waterfalls.  It was refreshing to walk through vegetation that is characteristic of coastal forests, without the usual complement of invasive species that persist along roadsides and cultivated fields.  This falls state natural area is a gentle reminder of the inspiring power of nature in wildness.  The park was established in 1936 to conserve an old growth stand of Douglas fir around the falls.  

Posted by michael

Friday, July 9, 2010

Beaver Creek From The Water

Take a trip through lower Beaver Creek on the water.  A field guide of sights and sounds gives impressions of the creek and its banks, bordering forests, fog banks rolling in off the ocean, osprey, eagle, fish jumping, beaver lodge, watercress, water lily, reflections, marsh, and the wide open space of water and sky.

Posted by michael

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Beaver Creek State Natural Area

Views from Beaver Creek State Natural Area.  This is the featured new Oregon Park for 2010.  The park includes trails around and over a forested hill with vistas over the Pacific Ocean, Beaver Creek marsh, and surrounding forests.  There is also a welcoming center and access to Beaver Creek  and surrounding marsh and swamp.  Opportunities are abundant for hiking, boating, fishing, birding, and wildlife observations.  The natural area is undeveloped and offers a glimpse into the workings of one of the rare remaining freshwater wetlands on the Oregon coast.

Posted by michael