Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Wrath of Mother Nature, Freak Accidents, "Biological Functionality" and Trees that are Giving Up

Let's follow the most recent trail of destruction of trees that are being rapidly decimated by exposure to the inexorably rising levels of toxic tropospheric ozone...because...why not?  Over this past weekend I saw several videos of massive, disruptive storm damage from huge trees in Chicago.
I took screen shots of some that split or toppled over from their base.
The power company spokesman, Benny Murry, blamed the resulting lost power and smashed houses on the "wrath of Mother Nature".   I'm not so sure about that.
Where it is possible to actually see where the trees broke, it's patently obvious, even in a blurry screenshot, that the interiors are black and rotted.
Some of those still standing have thin leaf coverage, or bare branches.
On Saturday headlines declared that due to wildfires raging across 29 counties, which have destroyed more than 70,000 acres so far, there is now a state of emergency in North Carolina.
These screenshots are from videos of those fires.   There were road closures because of reduced visibility.
Even far off in Raleigh, which was warned of a Code Red air quality alert, trees with bare branches can be seen through the dense smoke.
Some fires have been burning since May, when firefighters flooded the ground.
The narration says that vegetation is dry from drought - but the pines in these views started dying long before this dry spring.  Trees retain significant stored energy - they can withstand one season of drought, or even several.
The film crew followed this woman as she frantically inspected her property, all of them oblivious to the condition of the trees.
It's pretty obvious to me that the distant treeline is nothing but tinder waiting for a spark.
Here the reporter is talking about wind, without a word about the trees behind him.
While watching those news videos, I noticed that the local station has been running a series, featuring forests and rivers for recreation in the area.
They call it "Nooks and Crannies" and have inadvertently recorded the death throes of the ecosystem.
Tree crowns are thin, and branches without any leaves often protrude from the canopy.
One segment was shot at Haws River, where the trees lack density.
If you know what to look for, these transparent profiles are symptoms of serious internal impairment.
Most people don't recognize the implications of lost leaves, splitting, oozing bark, and cankers spreading like cancerous tumors.
In a visit to Johnston Forest outside Raleigh which aired June 3, the reporter recommends a trip to take in the natural beauty, not realizing that a pine tree like this is in silent agony.
It mystifies me when the sight of a badly broken trunk doesn't raise the same sort of alarm that seeing a person missing an arm or leg would.
They actually presented this vertical vantage as a testimony to how magnificent and tall this tree is, without realizing there is something terribly out of proportion in the height to the width of the crown...and the alarming amount of sky that shouldn't be seen - not to mention, some of the surrounding trees have not a single leaf at all!
This jogging enthusiast extolled the joys of running in the cool of the shade - perhaps he's too young to remember all that hot speckled sunlight reaching the forest floor should be completely blocked in an undisturbed habitat by a seamless leaf cover.
In a closeup of maple leaves, the tips are singed.
These leaves have holes and tattered edges.
I can't find any pictures of pine trees where they look intact.
It is as though the more they tried to show how splendid the woods are, the more damage emerged.
When sunlight penetrates through gaps in the canopy, it destroys the fauna that should flourish in the understory.
Meanwhile, fires have begun destroying homes in Oklahoma where a state of emergency was declared in 33 counties, and another new wildfire is causing evacuations in Los Alamos as well as alarm about the security of the nuclear laboratory.  There too, trees already thin are silhouetted against the flames:
As vegetation dies back and the roots rot, it would be surprising if we DIDN'T see more landslides, one of which just severely disrupted a lovely mountain retreat in Kamikochi, Japan.  Over a thousand tourists and employees at the resort were stranded when massive mudslides closed road access.
These photos of the area are from a series taken in 2009.
It looks very beautiful - I would love to go soak in this steamy pool!
But in another photo, a pond in Ozenuma is framed by pines that are lacking needles.
Naturally I'm not suggesting that every wildfire, landslide, or fallen tree in a storm is due to exposure to ozone.  All I'm saying is that IF trees are damaged, and vegetation is dying back, we would certainly expect to see more of all indeed we are.
The black raspberries are ripening around Wit's End.  I love to collect them to make a thick jam, which is excellent poured on a round brie dipped in ground almonds and fried in butter.  Yum!  The catalpa sapling is blooming on the hill overlooking the berry patch.
With trees dying you would also expect to see more of them randomly falling on people, cars and buildings - and in fact the past few years it has become more common to find examples - like the one about the young woman jogging in a Philadelphia city park; the family in a car driving along the Garden State Parkway; or the baby in Central Park...all of whom died - something that used to be so unlikely as to be virtually unheard of.  And so when I woke up this morning I was grieved but not surprised to read this headline:  "Father killed when tree falls on tent in campsite", which occurred in a park not far from Wit's End.
What follows is the news report of the unlucky man and his family whose tent was crushed by a sycamore, and some photos of a few flowers from the garden.

"A man camping with his family was killed and his wife injured when a sycamore tree weighing several thousands pounds crashed onto their tent in a New Jersey campground early on Tuesday morning, authorities said.
The couple, from Bound Brook, New Jersey, were camping with their 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, along with a 9-year-old nephew, when the freak accident occurred around 6 a.m."
"Elcetia Arias, 42, was extricated from the debris and flown to a Trenton hospital, where her condition was upgraded from critical to guarded, said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Abbie Tang-Smith.
William Arias, 46, died at the scene.
None of the children was injured. Tang-Smith said the family had a single tent at the site, but did not know whether the children had slept inside."
"The family had been camping at the Bull's Island Campground at Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park in Hunterdon County, near the Delaware Water Gap recreation area.
Tang-Smith said there was no extreme weather reported in the area at the time, and the cause was under investigation. [italics added]  The area near the campsite had been closed but the campground remained open, she said."
This little bug on the daylily possesses an amazing feat of nature - his feelers are so much bigger than his body!
These earnestly blooming orange daylilies were dug from wild clumps deep in the woods.  They have spread nicely under the Concord grape arbor that covers the kitchen porch.
The season started well, with lots of little green clusters of fruit.
But about a week ago, they started turning prematurely purple, and now they are shriveling up.  No grapes this fall.
Update:  As I write this, more information is emerging about the fallen sycamore, which has provided some more indespensable and delightful forester technical terminology - that ranks right up there with the euphemism "decline" they use for "dying"  - our special new words are in RED so you can't miss them!
"Officials said the sycamore snapped at the root, but had passed an inspection of trees earlier this year.
Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the tree was "fully leafed and seemingly in decent shape." [This is a lie, by the way.  There hasn't been a fully leafed sycamore in decent shape in this area for at least 3 years!]
"We have inspectors go out and assess for bad trees or dead trees," Ragonese said. "Foresters check through. It’s a bit of science and a bit of common sense."
Regional forester David Johnson also examined the tree and said it was 'biologically functioning.'
'But there’s a difference between biologically functioning and structurally sound,' Johnson said."

Ya think??

"We have millions of acres of federal state and local parks and trees in all of them," Ragonese said. "Unfortunately this was a tragic accident."

""There’s no way to pinpoint exactly what caused this," said John Trontis, assistant director of the state park service. 'It just happened. It’s a sad, unfortunate tragedy. This tree, which may have been here 100 years, gave up.'"

As documented on this blog in May just over a year ago and often before then, sycamores are one of the first tree species to become functionally extinct from exposure to poisonous fuel emissions, having developed a total loss of immunity to the anthracnose fungus.
It took exactly no time to illustrate the veracity of that assertion.  Here I was this morning at Metropark, waiting for an Amtrak train to take me to Washington - and across the street was a sycamore that is precisely representative of what all sycamores in this region look like right now.
It doesn't require a degree in forestry or botany to figure out that when the branches are missing leaves, and the leaves that are there are stunted, it means the interior of the trunk and branches are rotting, and the roots are similarly lacking those fine little capillaries that anchor them to the ground.  For that matter look at other species of huge dead and dying trees in this view from the parking deck!
Am I bothered?? Yeah!!! You bet I am! These lying foresters should be arrested for dereliction of duty.  "Biologically functioning", my ass.

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