Sunday, September 22, 2013


Many of the news stories about the flooding in Colorado had headlines like the one that featured this photograph and read, "Scars Left By Wildfires Worsen Flooding in Colorado".
A satellite spied the burned-out scar left by Colorado's Waldo Canyon fire on July 4 ~ NASA
Unless you are a professional snarky fundamentalist preacher proclaiming "God Drenches Colorado With Floodwater, Weed Smokers To Blame" so that stupid people on the internet can get all agitated actually thinking you're serious, it is beyond obvious that climate change underlies the extreme precipitation.  But the wildfires that contributed to the flooding and mudslides, well, any self-respecting Ozonista can blame on air pollution, as well as all the dead trees that were captured in photos.
Generally the wildfires are blamed on pine bark beetle damage due to increasing temperatures, but as can be seen, other species of trees are dying as well.
The other popular explanation for dying trees is drought even though, as can be seen in this NASA satellite graphic, vegetation is declining in places where it has become wetter.

It is the purpose of this post to demolish the notion that drought underlies widespread premature mortality, in a rather interesting way which I'll get to at my usual meandering length.

Yesterday I received a familiar accusation from a Facebook friend that I am in denial that other things besides ozone are damaging to forests.  This is just silly, but it happens a lot so let me set the record straight.

Of course I know that other things are killing trees.  Invasives like the Dutch Elm disease, drought, and logging are high on the list.  My point is, ozone is the only globally pervasive influence and even if there was no climate change and there were no invasive species, forests would still be in decline all around the world, from pollution.

Just about every one of the hundreds of research papers about ozone and vegetation starts off by stating that ozone is the most pervasive air pollutant that is toxic to plants.  Dismissing me as an Ozonista (although funny) is simply a way of deflecting the real question - why is ozone almost universally ignored?

It's precisely because it is so ubiquitous, and because it is a byproduct of our numbers and our consumption.  Unlike a limited threat that is localized geographically, or is a species-specific pathogen, ozone alone poses a fundamental challenge to our entire lifestyle and growth paradigm and ultimately our very existence.

It's a profoundly, deeply frightening challenge so it's no wonder the topic is a taboo.
Video screenshot of Colorado flood
Let's not forget the the USDA Forest Service is conducting studies in the Rocky Mountain Research Station because "Ozone Threatens Remote Forests".
Flooding drilling site Colorado
There is much concern that fracking fluid has contaminated the water, but I never saw a single person wonder why there are huge standing dead trees.  They must represent a hazard if they fall on the tanks but likely they are dying too fast for the companies to keep up with their removal.  Plus given that these corporations are releasing toxic chemicals and flaring in the first place they are probably in such an insane frenzy that the least concern is falling branches.
Flooded drilling site Colorado
The Conversation from Australia leads a story with the insightful title:  Across the World, Trees Are Dropping Dead accompanied by the evocative photo below.  Yes indeed they are!  But it ends with the preposterous statement:  "In particular, because drought increases tree mortality, this increases the dry fuel load accumulated in a forest. Increasing the frequency and extent of hazard reduction, or fuel-reduction burns will decrease the intensity (severity) and extent of forest fires.  For Australia, at least, where ecology is tightly linked to fire, this may prove beneficial both to humans and the ecology of Australian woodlands and forests."

Well...the author of both the article and the study gets funding from the mining industry so that shouldn't be too surprising.  Once those pesky forests are out of the way it is much easier to extract minerals and whatnot from the ground!

The study claims drought, and not temperature, is the primary driver of forest decline.
An article from the UC Berkeley News Center - Got calcium?  Mineral key to restoring acid rain-damaged forests - starts off with a big lie right in the title.   The research that the article reports on has an equally preposterous title:  "Restoring Soil Calcium Reverses Forest Decline".  Just because forests "can be" restored doesn't mean they "will be". The experiment - adding calcium to soils and waiting a long time - demonstrates that damage from acid rain does not reverse itself, but continues to impact at ecosystem scales.

Below is the article which reveals just how distorted and misleading the title actually is.
Acid deposition has altered the calcium cycle in watersheds in the Northeastern United States in ways that are similar to changes observed at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. The bar graphs in the photos show the differences in calcium (Ca) levels between 1950, bars on the left, and 1995. (Graphic courtesy of Hubbard Brook Research Foundation)
The paper reports on 15 years of data from an ongoing field experiment in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire led by study co-author Charles Driscoll Jr., professor of environmental systems engineering at Syracuse University.

“It is generally accepted that acid rain harms trees, but the value of our study is that it proves the causal link between the chronic loss of soil calcium caused by decades of acid rain and its impact on tree growth,” said Battles. “The temporal and spatial scope of the study – 15 years and entire watersheds – is unique and makes the results convincing.” 
The researchers reported that trees in the calcium-treated watershed produced 21 percent more wood and 11 percent more leaves than their counterparts in an adjacent control site. The iconic sugar maple – the source of maple syrup – was the tree species that responded most strongly to the restoration of calcium in the soil. 
The research site, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, was targeted because of the declining growth rates and unexpected death of trees in the area. Previous measurements of the forest soil showed a 50 percent depletion of calcium. 
Acid rain forms when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides – gases produced from the burning of fossil fuels – react with water molecules in the air. The mountainous regions in the Northeast have thin soils that are already acidic, so they have limited ability to withstand the assaults of nutrient-dissolving acid rain. Moreover, watersheds along the eastern corridor of the United States had been exposed to more acid rain because of the greater number of coal-burning power plants in the region. 
The Clean Air Act of 1970 significantly reduced sulfur dioxide emissions, but decades of acid rain already had changed the soil chemistry of many sensitive regions, including the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Adirondacks of New York. 
For the Hubbard Brook study, a helicopter spread 40 tons of dry calcium pellets over a 29-acre watershed over several days in October 1999. The calcium was designed to slowly work its way into the watershed over many years. 
“This was restoration, not fertilization,” said Battles. “We were only replacing what was lost.” 
Researchers monitored the forest over the next 15 years, comparing the treatment area with an adjacent watershed that had the same characteristics, but did not get the added calcium. 
“This study has important implications that go well beyond the forests of the northeastern United States,” said Dave Schindler, a professor of ecology at the University of Alberta in Canada who was not part of this research. “Similar depletion of soil nutrients by acid precipitation has occurred in much of eastern Canada and Europe. This long-term study indicates that the calcium problem can be reversed, and that is heartening.”
No, that is not heartening, it is sheer nonsense, because nobody is going to add calcium to the soils!  Even the scientists admit this:
“Both Schindler and Battles noted that the high cost of adding calcium to the soil would likely limit its use to targeted watersheds rather than as a treatment for vast areas of affected forests.” 
“Prevention is always preferable, and with our study’s clear evidence that acid rain is hurting forests, other countries will hopefully be motivated to intervene sooner by implementing air pollution standards to reduce emissions,” said Battles.
In fact, far from heartening as presented in the article, it's actually terrifying.  What they are saying is that in the past fifteen years, the untreated forests have CONTINUED to deteriorate compared to those that had calcium added.  It is DREADFUL news, that they have not recuperated!  Because there is no way in hell that entire forests can be treated, or even that individual trees in parks or yards will be, AND all those emissions causing acid rain are continuing to rise in "other countries".  To say nothing, of course, of tropospheric ozone.  Within the paper, there is further extremely disturbing information:

Air pollution can stress forest health and productivity both directly by damaging sensitive tree species and indirectly through the cumulative effects on soil fertility.  Air pollutants derived mostly from burning fossil fuels are precursors to acid deposition, which has contributed to the acidification of soils and surface waters in industrialized regions.  Since the late 20th Century, environmental regulations in North America and Europe have reduced acid deposition, resulting in the gradual recovery of surface waters; however, severe depletion of soil nutrient cations, for example, calcium (Ca) and magnesium
(Mg), may cause persistent acidification effects on sensitive forests.  Moreover, acid deposition is projected to increase in regions undergoing rapid economic expansion, and more of the world’s forests are likely to experience acidification in the near future. Understanding the consequences of acid deposition and developing strategies to restore the health of acid-stressed ecosystems are therefore research priorities.

Naturally - MORE RESEARCH IS NEEDED!!  Developing strategies to restore the health is a ludicrous proposition.  If we can't afford to NOT emit dangerous gases and chemicals, how could we afford to remove them once disbursed into the air, soil and water?

and in the conclusion:

Despite emission controls and decreased acid deposition, the recovery of soil base status on these sites has been slow because of the severe depletion of soil available Ca and the slow process of its natural restoration by mineral weathering.  Recent efforts in the United States have focused on critical loads of acidity for aquatic ecosystems. A quantitative understanding of air pollution effects on forests is fundamental to extend these efforts and ultimately establish a Secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standard for oxides of nitrogen and sulfur to protect aquatic, forest, and other vulnerable ecosystems (details
in the Supporting Information). 
Rapid recovery of forest health on these acidified soils seems unlikely, and the economic costs of reduced productivity are undoubtedly very high. Continued vigilance in the control of acid rain precursors will be needed to correct these problems, and aggressive options to reduce pollution in rapidly industrializing regions of Latin America, Asia, and Africa are warranted.

How is it possible to talk about nitrous oxide air pollution and NOT mention ozone?  Well of course, they couldn't remove ozone in either the treated or non-treated areas they studied - both have ambient levels of ozone that are unhealthy, so there is no control to compare them with.  Oh wait.  What about the trees that lived for centuries in the past?  Let's look at some - especially maples, since they dominate the area of reasearh, because why not!  It's important to ask, where have all the big old trees gone?  As they die off, why aren't they being replaced?  (hint - young trees are dying prematurely too.)
As reported by the Bangor Daily News, John Nutting found a beloved silver maple tree toppled following rain in June 2012.  The tree is believed to have begun life sometime between 1620 and 1650, making it close to 400 years old.  The tree grew on the banks of the Androscoggin River in Leeds, Maine.

“We’d make a trip once a day, when we were done milking the cows,” said John Nutting, who grew up on a farm along Campbell Road. “Sometimes, it was one of us kids. Sometimes it was my father. People would gather to see that tree, and they’d all wait until we were done, and we’d all walk down in a big group.”
His stepfather, Gerald McNear, had discovered the silver maple back behind hay fields he rented in the late summer of 1980. It took two measuring tapes to wrap go around the massive, twisted trunk — 26 feet, 4 inches.
A call to state foresters in November that year brought the experts out it droves, followed by Maine TV stations and reporters from Boston.
The trunk was a record for Maine, the largest in the state.
It was much wider than any single tree in Maine, with a good 6 feet on Herbie, the record setting Yarmouth American elm that was cut down two years ago.

The story of another ancient elm being removed was reported in the Bangor Daily News in 2011:

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — A nearly 200-year-old elm tree affectionately dubbed Elsa has been cut down.  The tree along busy Route 1 in Scarborough was taken down Saturday because the threat of falling limbs was becoming a danger to drivers and pedestrians.
Meanwhile, around the same time, July 2011, a historic tree was removed across the continent in Oregon.  The Oregonian reported:
History buffs will salvage a piece of the state's past after transportation workers on Tuesday cut down the decaying main trunk of a 128-year-old bigleaf maple heritage tree on Barlow Road, the part of the Oregon Trail that crosses Mount Hood.
The Cascade Geographic Society and the state's Heritage Tree Program both plan to use large chunks of the fallen tree to commemorate the area's history, said Michael P. Jones, curator of the Cascade society.
The tree was one of two bigleaf maple trees near the Barlow Road Tollgate, which is just east of Rhododendron and has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places for being the westernmost tollgate on the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail.
Oregon transportation officials deemed one of the trees a danger to nearby U.S. 26 because of its decay; the other is still standing.
For Jones, the sentiment goes beyond Oregon Trail connections. Celebrating the tree means celebrating a quirky love story, he said.
Many believe tollgate operator Daniel Parker planted the two trees as a wedding present to his wife, Della Elliston, said Jones. One represented Walker, and the other represented his young partner.

This is known as the Comfort Maple.  The black-and-white photos were taken in March, 2013, with the description:
"It is found in the countryside of North Pelham, Ontario tucked away down a bumpy dirt road. It's a perfect location for picnics or just to sit and read, and lovely in the fall, when the leaves all change from green to a vibrant yellow, orange or red. It draws many people each year, especially at this time, from photographers to nature lovers to dog walkers. The thick layer of fallen leaves in the fall also makes for fun for children. The Comfort Maple is an enormous and strangely shaped sugar maple tree which is believed to be at least 500 years old, the oldest sugar maple in Canada (Acer saccharum). This beautiful tree stands at nearly 100 feet tall with a trunk circumference of 20 feet and it's branches stretch far out to the sky."
It even has a wiki page, with this photo taken October 15, 2008.  The sign says, "O Lord, How Glorious Are Thou Works".  
In this undated photo with people in proximity, you can see how large it is.
It was still standing when this image was posted on September 1, but it has clearly gone into a steep decline, with fewer leaves that are a chlorotic yellow, and a widening split trunk.
Below, a maple in Kentucky snapped in May of 2011, revealing a rotted interior.
This maple tree at Barret's Hill Conservation Lands in Bolton, MA looks healthy - and green for October 1...But then, it was taken in 2007.  And in spite of foresters who ought to know better who say that autumn colors arrive later because of climate change, in fact the leaves fall off earlier because of pollution.  (But don't worry, "peak" color season will be soon upon us and we will have plenty to track about that ominous trend).
A blogger near Knoxville, TN posted a series of photos about the maple in her front yard, which is pictured here some years ago.
After seeing this happen to a neighbor's tree (where are the roots?), she became concerned about the health of hers.
She wrote:  ...the past couple of years, the old tree had been putting out fewer and fewer leaves.  Renaissance Man and I kept an eye on it ... not so much for its beauty anymore, but with concern for its health.
This year there were just too many dead branches falling from the tree...
We had to face the sad reality:  the tree had to come down.  We couldn't risk being the house with the exposed root ball in the front yard -- or, worse, the house with the mangled porch ... or hole in the roof.
Sounds like quite a few homes were damaged in her locale!
This hollow maple fell and was subsequently cut up in Ashford, Connecticut, this picture posted on the 12th of October, 2011.  (Just so no one will think I never have fun doing this, the photo led to a gallery of amazing kinetic sculpture, WoodThatWorks.  I never would have known about if I weren't looking for evidence of dying trees on teh interwebs.  So before we move on to the next dead tree, here's a quick video of one of the pieces):

Caption for the above photo, taken July 30, 2007 at Tuen Die Weis State Park in West Virginia:  This is the trunk of a water maple that is 18 ft in circumference and was the largest one in the state. The tree was used in building several local houses

Notice, how solid the tree was when it was felled prior to 2007, compared to similarly big old trees that weren't cut, and have in just a few years become universally rotten and hollow - from absorbing "highly toxic" air pollution (according to the research linked to above).

One of the best collections of maple tree photos I found belongs to a genial blogger who, upon his retirement in 2003, began to proudly inhabit a house known as "Brayton Cottege".  It is situated to take advantage of spectacular views of the surrounding mountains in New Hampshire.  This photo dates from 1910 when the building was a golf pavilion, part of a large summer resort, most of which was demolished in the 1970's.  The neighboring Annex was also preserved and remains an active destination, the Sunset Hill House in case you want to visit and finances are not a consideration.  I think it is so sad when beautiful architectural gems are destroyed, especially because it was partially attributed to the advent of air conditioning, so that people no longer had the motivation to escape heat in the cities.
According to the owner, the property came with some magnificent maple trees, of which this is one.
Below is a snow-capped Mt. Washington in the distance.
These photos are undated so I do not know the current condition of these trees.
What is clear however is that as time goes on he begins to record their demise on the blog.
Of the photo above and below, he writes:  Very old maple trees are like old people. They tend to become fragile and diseased. [but remember the one that was cut prior to 2007 in West Virginia - it was solid!]
The above tree lost a very big limb in the Summer of 2012.  It was not due to wind or heavy ice, both of which it endured for nearly 200 years.  The limb simply fell down on a calm day summer day...
This big maple tree shown below split down the middle three years ago and had to be cut up for firewood:
Three years ago a neighbor a half mile down Sunset Hill Road lost this big maple tree.  This illustrates how many of these historic old trees are hollowed out in the middle.

On his blog I found this quote: taken from "Autumnal Tints":

These bright leaves which I have mentioned are not the exception, but the rule; for I believe that all leaves, even grasses and mosses, acquire brighter colors just before their fall. When you come to observe faithfully the changes of each humblest plant, you find that each has, sooner or later, its peculiar autumnal tint; and if you undertake to make a complete list of the bright tints, it will be nearly as long as a catalogue of the plants in your vicinity.

~ Henry David Thoreau, The Atlantic Monthly (October 1862)

Soon, it will be time to do more comparisons of autumn foliage with prior years.  I can assure you it will be a dismal exercise, because no longer do the leaves acquire brighter colors just before their fall.  They turn brown and wither while still on the branch, and it gets worse and worse, every passing season.  It appears we are not going to end this epic failed experiment of human civilization with even a modicum of dignity.  It just gets uglier and uglier, and causes me unutterable anguish.  Try as I might (and I try not to try!), I can't find a glimmer of hope.

There is a long list of links on that blog to a bewildering number of other hiking enthusiasts from the Granite State, so I could sit for days retrieving photos they have posted, but for now I have confined myself to a few.
These come from the HappyHiker who gives no indication that he has noticed something is amiss along the trails he traversed on the 16th of September.
These photos were from his hike on the Cannon-Mittersill Loop.
This view of Mt. Monadnock looks almost healthy except for the darned bare branches in the foreground, but worth perusing is the description:

September 9, 2013

A Roadside View of Mt. Monadnock

"Although Mt. Monadnock's summit is mostly bare rock, it was wooded up until the early 1800s, when local farmers set the mountain afire to clear the lower slopes for pasture.  Over the years, there were other fires, as well as hurricane damage, which left the forests a tangle of fallen timber.  When it was believed that predators such as wolves and bears were denning in the fallen trees, the farmers once again set fire to the mountain.  This fire raged for weeks, destroyed the topsoil, and denuded the mountain above 2,000 feet."

It's astonishing how ruthlessly the land was stripped, permanently, long before we had machines.
These pictures come from the RamblingsBlog, and were taken August 24, around Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park, in Maine.
 I understand what a thrill it is to reach a peak with a view like that.
Even so, I cannot understand how anyone can look at all those dead trees and not remark upon it.  I often see people write that a solution to environmental destruction is to get people out of cities to appreciate nature.  And yet even the people who obviously are devoted to the outdoors seem no more aware of ecosystem collapse that those who spend most of their time in an office.
Here was the caption for this seen of terrifying carnage:
Meadow?  Bog?  ???  At the end of the boulder field we saw on the way in
Dog walk at dusk, Point Isabel, Richmond, California
Just for fun, let's look at some beautiful photographs, many of which were featured in National Geographic, and ask ourselves, WHEN did dead trees become subjects for arty photography?
Arches National Park
Maybe it's because it's virtually impossible to take a landscape shot without them?
Nove Mlyny, Czech Republic
Because they are EVERYWHERE?

Hanuman Temple, India


Pantanal Birds, Brazil
I can't remember where I saw this picture, but here it is anyway, because revenge is sweet.
In any contemporary movie, advertisement, television show, or news report, if there are trees in the picture, some of them will be visibly in decline.
These screen shots came from the coverage of the shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington on Monday, September 16.  There's a rather large tree, above, and also a dying very young tree, below.

But why should we be surprised that no one notices?  Baselines have shifted, and what remains now is so degraded, for the most part we don't realize or remember what we had in the past:
Bering Sea, 1911 - Walrus killed for their tusks
Logs in Oregon
Oak Tree in Louisiana, 1930
Codfish, 1915 (the entire fishery has collapsed and will never recover)
Lobsters caught February, 1915 off New Jersey
Fig pruning, Managua, Nicaragua, 1944
California, spring 1938 - Prairie Creek Park, natural swimming hole
Caption:  "Victoria amazonica water lilies can reach 20 feet in circumference and support up to 300 pounds each. Perching children atop the massive leaves was all the rage in water gardens of the time. Salem, North Carolina, c. 1892."
Martha's Vineyard, Oak, 1969, by Alfred Eisenstaedt
I love the self-satisfaction of these guys - Not a thought spared about limits on a finite world!
Salmon, 1943

I purchased this book - A Land Imperiled, by John Nolt - a while ago, and it slipped unnoticed under the pile until I retrieved it yesterday.  Subtitled, "The Declining Health of the Southern Appalachian Bioregion", it was published in 2005.  Dammit, why didn't I have it handy last time I got into an argument with climate scientists about whether there is any corroboration for the entire premise of Wit's End - that air pollution is killing trees?  This should matter to climate scientists, because without forests to absorb CO2, global warming is going to accelerate in a rather vicious manner.

Well, one of the reasons I set it aside is because it is (obviously) focused on one relatively small area of the world, and all indications are that trees are dying prematurely everywhere.  But I shouldn't have let that deter me, because everything he writes about Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia is equally valid and applicable to the rest of the world.  And although there are many stressors in the environment, including acid deposition, UV radiation, climate change and invasive species, ozone has overtaken and usurped every other influence.

And, I discovered that due to the generosity of the author, Professor John Nolt of the University of Tennessee, you can even read it yourself online for free, by clicking here.  It's a volume that covers far more than just pollution, beginning with prehistory through all aspects of humanity's impacts on the region, from road building to agriculture.  But of course, Wit's End is devoted to Ozonists and Ozonistas, so without further ado, following are some pertinent excerpts along with racy photos showing some of the obvious results of dying forests - wildfires and floods:
p. 20  As oaks, hickories and American chestnuts became established beginning the the early Holocene, about 10,000 years ago, nuts from these trees would become and important autumn food source for the people, and for the deer and other game they hunted."

p.  22  "…the climate of the Southeast from 8,000 to 6,000 years ago was warmer and dryer than the last 2,000 years have been…  Deciduous forest trees, especially oaks, became more abundant than in previous millennia, but dry conditions, and aural and human fires, may have fostered an open canopy in many areas..  Because of the low rainfall, the Tennessee River and its tributaries were lower than today….About 6,000 years ago temperatures began to decrease in the valley, and rainfall increased.  Forests took on a more modern composition and character."

[...this is important because these are all the same genetic species that are growing now.  In other words, trees survived in much warmer and dryer conditions.]

p.  26 "Between about 1,100 and 800 years ago, Mississippian societies in the Southern Appalachians developed a series of statelike chiefdoms centered in large valley villages.  Smaller villages were politically connected and paid tribute to the rulers of one or more larger villages.  Chiefdoms were hierarchical…Tributary alliances were dynamic, shifting as the power of different leaders and village waxed and waned, and were established and maintained by warfare.  Villages, often palisaded, were centered on a large platform mound that held the residence of the principal ruler of the village".

[..."palisaded" means "fortified against attack" much for the peaceful, sustainable population!]

The people maintained "…semi-cultivated orchards of mulberries, walnuts, and butternuts...By about seven hundred years ago, on the eve of the period of European contact, Southern Appalachian Mississippian civilization was at its height."
Then the Europeans arrived:

"Disease decimated populations in the region.  What follows is the increasingly sordid history of conquest, of native peoples, extirpation of the native fauna both through hunting and competition from foraging livestock, and of course the deforestation, which began by girdling the girth of the tree, severing the cambium, which would kill it in a season."

Chapter Two - "Air" - begins on page 49 and describes how air quality in the region "plummeted" following WWII, and how even after improvements from legislation, pollutants "…contribute to asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and other lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and neurological disorders - sometimes with lethal results - and their effects on the environment are multiple and profound".

These are passages from the section about tropospheric ozone, some of which is basic chemistry oft repeated at Wit's End, but useful for a refresher.  It begins with what ozone IS, and then we will get to what ozone DOES.

"Ozone (O3) is a highly reactive form of oxygen the molecules of which consist of three oxygen atoms instead of the usual two.  Because of its reactivity, it can oxidize, (that is, sear or burn) sensitive respiratory tissues - plants, animals, and humans.  Small amounts of ozone occur naturally in the troposphere, but human activities, especially in the summer months, may increase ozone concentrations to harmful levels.  Though some electrical equipment creates ozone directly, nearly all humanly generated ozone pollution is formed indirectly in the air by reactions between two other pollutants, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (BOCCs) in the presence of sunlight.  Ozone is therefore a secondary pollutant, derived from these two primary pollutants, which we do produce directly."
"The nitrogen oxides, chiefly NO and NO2, are collectively designated, using the variable "x", by the chemical formula NOx.  In conversation, this formula is pronounced like the name "Knox" - prompting the wry suggestion that, in view of its bad air, Knoxvile should be renamed "NOxville."  But NOx pollution extends all across Southern Appalachia."

"NOx is a byproduct of burning created when the heat of combustion causes oxygen and nitrogen molecules that occur naturally in the air to combine.  Its main sources are power plants, industrial processes, and internal-combustion engines….though a considerable quantity of NOx is also released by the application of nitrogen fertilizers."

"VOCs, which react with NOx to produce ozone, are an extremely broad class of chemicals that consist of millions of different hydrocarbon gases and vapors.  Many VOCs, such as those responsible for the scent of pine trees, occur naturally.  But others are released by the b urning of fossil fuels or the evaporation of solvents in paints, adhesives, cleaning fluids, and many other chemical products.  Some VOCs are in themselves relatively benign; others (such as gasoline or asphalt fumes) are toxic or carcinogenic."

"During summer months when sunlight is most intense, the ozone-forming reaction of VOCs with NOx is at its peak.  Ozone levels in the Tennessee valley are highest on late summer afternoons, as sunlight and traffic combine to maximize ozone production, and lowest at night, when ozone formed during the day breaks down again into ordinary oxygen.  But ozone levels in the Smokies are not so directly tied to traffic patterns.  In the summer they remain constantly high for long periods, so that hikers and mountain vegetation receive unhealthy exposures both day and night."

"Ozone can irritate eyes and sear lung tissue even at low levels in sensitive populations.  It scars lungs, promoting asthma, chronic bronchitis, and other respiratory problems - some of this can be fatal, especially to the weak and elderly.  Its effects are greatest among children, asthma sufferers, athletes, outdoor enthusiasts, and the elderly.  Some recent studies even linked ozone exposure to cardiovascular disease, strokes, and lung cancer."

"…Often Smoky Mountain air is more dangerous to breathe than the air of the cites from which visitors come.  The National Park Service has recently begun posting health risk warnings for visitors and employees on days when ozone exceeds the peak health standard."

"Health risk warnings may help people, but they cannot help plants.  Ninety plant species in the park show signs of ozone-like damage, ranging from leaf injury and loss to reduced growth.  The visible symptoms include flecking (small colored areas, metallic or brown, fading to tan, gray, or white); stippling (tiny white, black, red, or red-purple spots); pigmentation (bronzing), in which the entire leaf turns brown or reddish-brown; chlorosis, a total death of tissue which turns leaves yellow or white; and early loss of leaves or fruit.  Over 50 percent of the black cherry, yellow poplar, and sassafras trees sampled near park ozone monitors in recent years have exhibited visible ozone damage - 70 percent at the highest monitoring station…Continued exposure could extirpate some sensitive species, such as white pine or clack cherry, from the mountains."

[note:  these visible symptoms are now found on virtually every leaf and every species.  THAT - and the even distribution of decline - is why it isn't primarily acid rain, but ozone, that is undermining the health and resilience of trees.]
"Ozone also damages crops.  The EPA has estimated that crop losses due to current ozone levels range on average from 10 to 15 percent.  For some crops grown in the Southern Appalachian region - particularly spinach and tobacco - losses may exceed 15 percent."

"It was once believed that the best way to reduce ozone formation was to lessen emissions of VOCs.  More recently, however, it has become clear that because of the inevitable presence of natural VOCs, limiting human-produced VOC-emissions would improve the ozone levels only slightly.  Therefore, the only practical way to address the ozone problem is to significantly reduce emissions of NOx.

Although the book winds up, after exhaustively examining all the nefarious influences and damage inflicted in myriad ways on the region by humans (starting with the Indigenous people burning the forest for agriculture 1,000 years ago, right up to acid rain weakening the shells of the wood thrush today) the book of course ends with some hopeful stories of efforts towards sustainability.  Unfortunately, the section beginning on page 332, "Future Scenario of 'Business as Usual" begins with a more accurately prophetic scenario:

"In this scenario of business as usual, the influence of current drivers of environmental change as described above is assumed to accelerate unabated.  As the human population grows and climate changes, the influence of the drivers of environmental change will likely increase exponentially [emphasis in the original!], primarily due to their collective adverse effects on the environment."

I did write to Prof. Nolt and said,  "I realize there are other stressors on trees such as acid deposition, climate, invasive species, and UV radiation.  However, none of those influences is as well-distributed and wide-spread as ozone, the background level of which (thanks to increased emissions of precursors from Asian development, fires both wild and intentional, and massive flaring of gas) appears to have achieved a concentration that is intolerable to vegetation."

I base this opinion on observations of plants being grown in circumstances that are shielded from the other factors - such as tropical ornamental plants bring grown in pots of enriched soil that are being watered.  In the past few years they have injured foliage to the same degree as trees growing in remote forests.  I wondered what you think of that and if you have noticed a precipitous decline in forest health and/or agricultural crops."

He never answered me, possibly because he prefered not to answer the following:

"I also am curious if you are willing to share whether you received any negative feedback for writing that section of the book.  I read "An Appalachian Tragedy" and cannot account for why those authors and other experts in forestry, botany and agriculture aren't sounding the alarm as our biosphere unravels."
It's no wonder that scientists are unwilling to take policy stands when you look at the vicious hatchet job being done on herpetologist Tyrone Hayes of UC Berkeley for his stance on hormone-altering herbicides.

Well, that was the ozone primer for the day, and now we have finally arrived at the demolishment of the drought theory.  Okay maybe not demolishment - of course plants can't live without water.  But a dent in it, anyway.

I began by looking up the Dust Bowl, and watched the film, Stinging Dust & Forgotten Lives - which you can skip for the moment because I have screen shots and notes below:

At 19 minutes in the narrator describes the Dust Bowl of the 1930's in the Plains as not having historical precedence since the "...major, major megadroughts of the 1600's".  So I asked myself how trees survived that major megadrought 400 years ago, and how for that matter, they survived the Dust Bowl.  What I found surprised me.

Of course, that historical episode is so vast and monumental it is easy to get carried away with tangential information... such as how the fine dust permeated the tiniest crack that houses were sealed so tightly with paraffin-soaked linen that people died of carbon monoxide poisoning from kerosene lamps.  Many more died of "dust pneumonia" as did herds of cattle, from inhaling so much dust their lungs were compacted with mud.  

"Most of the topsoil ended up in Eastern cities.   In Chicago it was reported that approximately four pounds of dust fell per person over the city.  In extremely gusty conditions there were reports that ships in the Atlantic Ocean covered with a light blanket of dust...The Great Plains situation didn't concern Washington until dust filled the air throughout the city."
Liberal, Kansas, March 1936
Even though it was produced in 2008 - certainly before I was aware of impending disasters - the film was clearly produced as a stark warning that there is an ominous lesson still from that long-ago misery.  The narrator speaks:

"You might be asking, 'what was the purpose behind creating the film?' The answer is the future. The stories and expressions recorded on disc and film provide us with the warnings we need to heed. The natural environment is fragile and if we do not heed the warnings left by those before us, the future will be difficult for our children's children."

Of course now it should be clear to any sentient being (I realize that's very few) that it isn't just our children's children that will face famine, it is most certainly our children and quite likely, us, anyone old enough to read this.
Not much has changed, really:

"What made this event so significant was twofold:  humanity's desire for wealth amplified by Nature's natural the planet is faced with soil degradation and dwindling water resources….the Dust Bowl was not an isolated situation in the past but a situation that has reappeared again."

Humanity's desire for wealth and growth is coming squarely into conflict with Nature, this time on a global, not regional, scale.
A Deserted Kitchen
I also watched an old film produced in 1936 by the government, much of which is utilized in Stinging Dust.  It was called, The Plow That Broke The Plains, and was meant to be instructive to farmers about the causes of the Dust Bowl.

The doleful voiceover intones repeatedly, "...high winds and sun, high winds and sun...without rivers, or creeks, and little rain...".  It follows the path of destruction - first the Indians were driven off, then the buffalo, then came the cattle, then horses, and then mechanized plows - flanks of them.  In the videos I saw you can sense how ecstatically empowered the operators felt driving combines, plows and cultivators with the ease of oil...imagine what magic that would be over physical labor and horses!
High prices of wheat encouraged farmers to plant every nook and cranny, and in response to decreasing rainfall they just dug deeper.  That was a mistake.
Cland, New Mexico, 1938
Earlier urgings to plant trees as far back as the 1890's had been rebuffed.  This is the caption to the above photo of a farmer that illustrates the stubbornness with which they clung to straightline plowing:

"I left cotton growing east of Wichita Falls to come out here to get to grow wheat. (The superior status of wheat over cotton farmers is traditional.) I guess I've made 1000 miles right up and down this field in the dust when you couldn't see that car on the road, and had to use headlights. This soil is the best there is anywhere, but it sure does blow when it's right. If you stay in the house and wait for the dust to stop you won't make a crop. But I've seen only one year since I came here in 1920 that I didn't make something."

The Dust Bowl encompassed 625,000 miles - 400 million acres.

1931 - Severe drought hits the Midwestern and Southern Plains. As the crops die, the “black blizzards” begin. Dust from the over-plowed and over-grazed land begins to blow.

1932 - The number of dust storms is increasing. Fourteen are reported this year; next year there will be 38.

1933 - from wiki On November 11, 1933, a very strong dust storm stripped topsoil from desiccated South Dakota farmlands in just one of a series of bad dust storms that year. Then, beginning on May 9, 1934, a strong, two-day dust storm removed massive amounts of Great Plains topsoil in one of the worst such storms of the Dust Bowl.  The dust clouds blew all the way to Chicago, where they deposited 12 million pounds of dust. Two days later, the same storm reached cities in the east, such as BuffaloBostonClevelandNew York City, and Washington, D.C. That winter (1934–1935), red snow fell on New England...Migrants left farms in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico.
May 1934 - Great dust storms spread from the Dust Bowl area. The drought is the worst ever in U.S. history, covering more than 75 percent of the country and affecting 27 states severely.

December 1934 - The “Yearbook of Agriculture” for 1934 announces, “Approximately 35 million acres of formerly cultivated land have essentially been destroyed for crop production…. 100 million acres now in crops have lost all or most of the topsoil; 125 million acres of land now in crops are rapidly losing topsoil….”

April 1935 - Black Sunday . The worst “black blizzard” of the Dust Bowl occurs, causing extensive damage.
Black Sunday, screenshot from video Stinging Dust
April 14, 1935, dawned clear across the plains. After weeks of dust storms, one near the end of March destroying five million acres of wheat, people grateful to see the sun went outside to do chores, go to church, or to picnic and sun themselves under the blue skies. In mid-afternoon, the temperature dropped and birds began chattering nervously. Suddenly, a huge black cloud appeared on the horizon, approaching fast.
Dust bowl refugee from Chickasaw, Oklahoma. Imperial Valley, CA, 1937 "Black Sunday, that was the awfullest dust we ever did see"
"Those on the road had to try to beat the storm home. Some, like Ed and Ada Phillips of Boise City, and their six-year-old daughter, had to stop on their way to seek shelter in an abandoned adobe hut. There they joined ten other people already huddled in the two-room ruin, sitting for four hours in the dark, fearing that they would be smothered. Cattle dealer Raymond Ellsaesser tells how he almost lost his wife when her car was shorted out by electricity and she decided to walk the three-quarters of a mile home. As her daughter ran ahead to get help, Ellsaesser’s wife wandered off the road in the blinding dust. The moving headlights of her husband’s truck, visible as he frantically drove back and forth along the road, eventually led her back."
"The storm on Black Sunday was the last major dust storm of the year, and the damage it caused was not calculated for months. Coming on the heels of a stormy season, the April 14 storm hit as many others had, only harder. 'The impact is like a shovelful of fine sand flung against the face,' Avis D. Carlson wrote in a New Republic article. 'People caught in their own yards grope for the doorstep. Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk…. The nightmare is deepest during the storms. But on the occasional bright day and the usual gray day we cannot shake from it. We live with the dust, eat it, sleep with it, watch it strip us of possessions and the hope of possessions. It is becoming Real. The poetic uplift of spring fades into a phantom of the storied past. The nightmare is becoming life.'”

I haven't seen the program but I did take some information from the website for Ken Burn's Dust Bowl:
"In the 1910s and 1920s the southern Plains was "the last frontier of agriculture" according to the government, when rising wheat prices, a war in Europe, a series of unusually wet years, and generous federal farm policies created a land boom – the Great Plow-Up that turned 5.2 million acres of thick native grassland into wheat fields. Newcomers rushed in and towns sprang up overnight."

"As the nation sank into the Depression and wheat prices plummeted from $2 a bushel to 40 cents, farmers responded by tearing up even more prairie sod in hopes of harvesting bumper crops. When prices fell even further, the 'suitcase farmers' who had moved in for quick profits simply abandoned their fields. Huge swaths of eight states, from the Dakotas to Texas and New Mexico, where native grasses had evolved over thousands of years to create a delicate equilibrium with the wild weather swings of the Plains, now lay naked and exposed."
The Dirty Thirties

"Then the drought began. It would last eight straight years. Dust storms, at first considered freaks of nature, became commonplace. Static charges in the air shorted-out automobiles on the road; men avoided shaking hands for fear of shocks that could knock a person to the ground. Huge drifts of dirt buried pastures and barnyards, piled up in front of homesteaders' doors, came in through window cracks and sifted down from ceilings."

"Some 850 million tons of topsoil blew away in 1935 alone. 'Unless something is done,' a government report predicted, 'the western plains will be as arid as the Arabian desert.' The government's response included deploying Civilian Conservation Corps workers to plant shelter belts; encouraging farmers to try new techniques like contour plowing to minimize erosion; establishing conservation districts; and using federal money in the Plains for everything from grasshopper control to outright purchases of failed farms."

**Whoa** did you see that?  A "Civilian Conservation Corps" was deployed to plant shelter belts - in the middle of the worst drought ever?  How was that supposed to work?  That sent me off on a whole new direction!

One of the first things I found is a book called Nature's New Deal, by Neil M. Maher, who happens to be a professor right here in New Jersey.
So I promptly wrote him a note:

Dear Dr. Maher,

In trying to find information about Roosevelt's tree-planting army during the Dust Bowl years I have come across your book, Nature's New Deal which looks extremely interesting and which I have ordered.

In the meanwhile however I have a question which perhaps you can answer.  I want to know to what extent the new tree seedlings were watered, if at all.  I can't find anything about that aspect of the program.  Any information or links would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you so much for your attention.


Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

And he wrote back:


That is a very interesting question. The only watering I ever read about was in the tree nurseries that the CCC had, all over the country, to grow seedlings for it's planting program.  They had these tree nurseries all over the country, and grew the trees from seeds.  I've seen pictures of CCC enrollees watering these seedlings. But I never came across records of enrollees watering the trees once planted.

Hope this helps.

Neil Maher
Associate Professor
Federated History Department
NJIT—Rutgers University, Newark

This is a terrific book which traces the roots and conflicts of the conservation and environmental movement in this country right back to the controversial formation of the CCC, also known as Roosevelt's Tree Army - although they undertook many projects.  The author notes that during the period of time they were active - before they were disbanded mainly due to WWII, but also political opposition, they accomplished much but also made mistakes - such as draining swamps, building roads into wilderness, eradicating wildlife and, way up on the no-no list, introducing kudzu to retard erosion.  Whoops!

But since Dr. Maher couldn't answer my question about watering the trees I was forced to embark on several days of exploring federal and state archives, as well as the Park Service and anything else that might give me a clue.  I watched several boring silent films from the era that demonstrated the activities, and just so you won't have to watch them (unless you want to) I've taken some screenshots as well as copied pictures from the historical archives.  The saga of the CCC is an amazing story overall, that made a powerful impression on the people involved.  Imagine, legions of young men with no prospects for employment were sent into the woods, to live first in tents and then build cabins, to restore the plains and create the infrastructure we still use in National and 800 State Parks.  Along the way they were educated and given health care.

Another version of the history - the sources are endless, with so many lives impacted:

"They came from all over America—from the big cities, from the small towns, from the farms—tens of thousands of young men, to serve in the vanguard of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the spring of 1933."

"They were the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. They opted for long days and hard, dirty work, living in quasi-military camps often far from home in the nation's publicly owned forests and parks. But they earned money to send back to their needy families, received three square meals a day, and escaped from idle purposelessness by contributing to the renewal and beautification of the country."

"By the time the CCC program ended as the nation was entering World War II, more than 2.5 million men had served in more than 4,500 camps across the country. The men had planted over 3 billion trees, combated soil erosion and forest fires, and occasionally dealt with natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts."

"In office only a few days in early March 1933, Roosevelt began to tackle the crisis threatening the nation with this unprecedented experiment in federal work relief. More than any other New Deal program, the CCC was Roosevelt's brainchild and often referred to as his 'pet.' He had a long-standing interest in conservation, and in a 1931 speech he had articulated the conservationist critique that had been animating the American movement for a half century."

"The green slopes of our forested hills lured our first settlers and furnished them the materials of a happy life," he said. "They and their descendants were a little careless with that asset."

(I imagine he said that last a bit wryly.)
Enrollees gather in Breen Burney Camp in Lassen National Forest, CA

From the archives at the Oklahoma State Library

"In response to the devastating droughts of the 1930s, on July 21, 1934, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt instructed the U.S. Forest Service to initiate the Prairie States Forestry Project. The project's mandate was to plant shelterbelts in six Great Plains states to protect crops and wildlife from wind, intercept blowing snow and sand, and provide wood products. Roosevelt secured the funds by executive order through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). On March 18, 1935, the program's first shelterbelt was planted on the H. E. Curtis farm near Mangum."

"Each project was a cooperative venture between the farmer and the federal government. Farmers desiring a shelterbelt made application, after which sites were evaluated for suitability. If admitted to the program, the cooperating farmer agreed to furnish land and fencing material, prepare the site for planting, cultivate the trees, and control rodents. Cultivation reduced competition from weeds and grasses until the trees were able to shade them out. The federal government used WPA crews to build fences, plant trees, and provide technical advice and materials for rodent control."

CCC boys chopping stones for use in building charcoal burners at picnic grounds Ross County, OH 1940
"Shelterbelts varied in length and ranged from 100 to 165 feet wide. Rows were planted ten feet apart, with tall trees in the center rows, flanked by rows of short trees along the sides, and shrubs in the outside rows. Black locust, catalpa, Chinese elm, cottonwood, green ash, hackberry, honey locust, mulberry, Osage orange, pecan, plum, Russian olive, red cedar, and walnut were commonly planted. Maximum protection was afforded when trees reached twelve to twenty feet in height."
"Some shelterbelts failed and were subsequently plowed up by farmers. Failure resulted from drought, grasshopper infestations, and improper cultivation. In 1935 tree survival was 71.5 percent and in 1936, 73.5 percent. When maintenance was turned over to farmers in 1937, survival rates dropped to 62 percent and to 61.3 percent in the following year. By the time the project closed on June 30, 1942, 145 million trees had been planted in 18,600 miles of shelterbelts in a one-hundred-mile-wide zone from Canada to the Brazos River."
Wiki Map of the Shelterbelt
"The Great Plains Shelterbelt was a project to create windbreaks in the Great Plains states of the United States, that began in 1934.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the project in response to the severe dust storms of the Dust Bowl, which resulted in significant soil erosion and drought. The United States Forest Service believed that planting trees on the perimeters of farms would reduce wind velocity and lessen evaporation of moisture from the soil. By 1942, 220 million trees had been planted, stretching out 18,600 miles (29,900 km) in a 100-mile-wide zone from Canada to the Brazos River. Even as of 2007, "the federal response to the Dust Bowl, including the PSFP [Prairie States Forestry Program which planted the Great Plains Shelterbelt] and creation of the Soil Erosion Service, represents the largest and most-focused effort of the [U.S.] government to address an environmental problem."

Here's a little tree that looks reasonably robust in West Texas in 1937 even at the peak of the drought:
West Texas June, 1937
Meanwhile this tree in California today looks terrible.  Go figure.
Recent photo of an original cabin at the former Weedpatch refugee camp, south of Bakersfield, CA
Here's an old government map of the extent of the drought:
“The Drought of 1934", a Report of the Federal Government’s Assistance to Agriculture as of July, 1935
So what I'd like to know is how these trees are still looking so fine six years later?
Lions Park, Laramie County, WY, 1941
It's miraculous, but not even as miraculous as the way they were planted in the first place, which is coming up.
Lions Park, Laramie County, WY, 1941
Another video about the Great Depression compiles photographs, songs, and wrenching first-person accounts of suffering at the time.  I think every school child should be shown these videos as a cautionary tale.
The following is from an account of the tree program by R. Douglas Hurt of Iowa State:

"In the Dust Bowl states the survival rate averaged as high as 70 percent. In 1936, the Forest Service estimated that nearly 1,278 miles of shelterbelts had been planted on 876 farms and that 51 percent survived by September, despite the worst drought year on record. The Forest Service estimated the survival rate for the 1937 plantings at 90 percent by the autumn. This success encouraged the Forest Service to report that the Shelterbelt Project 'constitutes complete refutation of the theory that trees will not grow on the Plains.'"
"By that time, some of the shelterbelts planted in 1935 allegedly had made a "marked influence" on nearby cropland making production possible where it had been hazardous or impossible before the shelterbelts had been established, a solid indication of the "entire feasibility" of the project. It was a modest but important beginning."
"…Because of the expansion of the project and increased precipitation, the Forest Service planted 4,266 miles of shelterbelts during 1938, the peak year for the project. Plantings in the Dust Bowl states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas totaled 1,050, 1,535, and 1,176 miles respectively, and the per acre cost for the six states only averaged $20.35, about ten dollars less than originally projected."
"Officials now estimated that one acre of shelterbelt would protect twenty acres of cropland for fifty years. With the survival rate of the trees reaching 80 percent in some of the most drought-stricken and wind-eroded sections of the Great Plains, the foresters believed that the agency had begun to gain control of the environment, and farmers now requested increased plantings."
Despite losses, that is an amazing survival rate considering they were, as far as I can tell, planted without benefit of added water.
The Tree Army
And it appears that the prairie was rescued, if this lush garden is any indication:
Mr. and Mrs. Schoenfeldt pulling beets from their tile garden, Sheridan County, Kansas. Tile gardens are a part of the FSA (Farm Security Administration) program in the former dust bowl, 1939

One last account, from the National Park Service Online History Book:
CCC enrollees planting trees on the Nebraska National Forest
"Civilian Conservation Corps work in the Nebraska National Forest was accomplished by a single camp in the Bessey Ranger District near Halsey, NE. Through enrollee efforts, more than 20,000 acres of drifting sand hills were successfully planted with ponderosa pine, jackpine, and red juniper (picture above). Enrollees from the Nebraska camp also expanded the Bessey Forest Nursery and produced nearly 30 million young trees. All phases of work, from seed collection to planting, thinning, and protection, were put into practice."
CCC enrollees seed spotting on Harney National Forest, SD
"In the Harney and Black Hills National Forests of South Dakota, CCC camps also worked on fire suppression and forest protection. The years 1933-40 were among the driest in the area's history...
Large reforestation projects resulted from the relentless fires (photo above). Bushels of ponderosa pine cones were collected for reseeding purposes. Thinning dead and useless wood from pine stands reduced fire hazards and increased growth of more valuable timber.  Favorable growth conditions for seed germination in the Black Hills and Harney Forests made tree density unusually high, thereby necessitating thinning to insure healthy tree growth. According to Harney Forest Supervisor J.F. Connor in 1934, it was not uncommon to find "dense young stands averaging 40,000 trees per acre and 15 inches tall." Connor indicated that 500 to 1,200 trees per acre would produce a healthy stand. Measurements taken in 1939 showed diameter growth of trees in thinned areas had increased 400 percent and volume growth increased 800 percent."

Note:  this increase in growth despite the worst drought in the area's history!

Following are screen shots from historical footage, Part I and Part II of "Prairie States Forestry Project in Kansas."
As I indicated, they are silent so they're not terrible interesting to watch.
They appear to perhaps share a combined purpose of instructing in the preferred methods being used to plant seedlings, and a bit of promotional propaganda for the CCC program.
There are shots of men gathering bare-root seedlings in the nursery plots, being tightly tied into bundles and then piled into boxes on trucks for distribution.  They are casually rough with them when they pull them up, bundle them, toss them on the truck and smack them down to make room for more.
Then they workers fan out on bare dusty fields and dig them in, stomping around the seedling with their boots to settle them into the dirt.
Next there are pictures of their growth with a lot of cheery guys in fedoras looking well pleased.
In Part Two we are treated to scenes of the maturing trees, and the methods for cultivating between the rows.

In the entire series of films and in everything I read, I found not a single reference to or image of water, other than one brief shot at the very tail end of Part I which looks like it was, as Prof. Maher suggested, spraying in a nursery.  In all the panoramas of the fields where they were carried and planted, I saw not one bucket, hose, or watering can.

If low levels of water are so damaging to trees, how could those millions of young seedlings have such an exceptional survival rate and even thrive - when now, today, according to all the experts trees are succumbing to much lesser droughts than the Dust Bowl, (have you seen many dust storms lately?)  Hold on, I know why!!  Because trees are incredibly tough when it comes to precipitation.  Look at these pines growing out of a sheer rock cliff for example:
Catamount, Adirondacks, undated
Consider these brilliant hardwoods growing on steep slopes where, even if there is soil, it must be very thin and unable to hold much water (remember what happened to the top of Mt. Monadnock?)
Michael Melford, undated photo
Trees are not fragile and susceptible to drought - they are, as the caption to this photo says, tenacious:
It reads:  "With its tenacious trees and rebounding wildlife, Adirondack Park is a miracle of regeneration. On the trail to Goodnow Mountain, a yellow birch appears to be ingesting a boulder left behind by a glacier."

Those foresters who tell us that trees are dying from lack of water are doing a far better species than ours a disservice - and they are deflecting the true problem away from our culpability, because toxic poison in the air from our pollution is far, far more threatening to most trees than a lack of water.

It gets better.  While looking for information about the shelterbelt, I came across a story on NPR that aired this month.  Called, Dust Bowl Worries Swirl Up As Shelterbelt Buckles, it is claimed that drought and age are leading the trees planted by the CCC to die off.  Yet it can't possibly be a worse drought now than the one when they started life.

"Farmer Jimmy Piercey has lived in western Oklahoma all his life. He pointed to a line of trees as he drove along the shelterbelt trees that flank his farmhouse. 'You see the tops of those trees?' he asked. 'You see how they're dying? You can see how it's almost deteriorated to nothing.'"

Yep, I see the tops of those trees.  I see that they're dying.  And guess what?  The tree tops look EXACTLY THE SAME in New Jersey!  Imagine that.  I would go outside right now and take a picture to prove it but it's too depressing, so here is one my friend Susan sent me from New Hampshire on September 15.

Finally, let's dispense with the ridiculous defamation that the trees are dying from old age.  We already know that many species can live to several hundreds of years of age - and those in the shelterbelts can't be more than eighty.  In an engaging and informative video interview, where Dr. Neil Maher discusses the environmental component to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, he praises Roosevelt's vision for the benefits of planting the shelterbelts:

"The idea that the Corps could plant these trees and then a hundred years later we could harvest them efficiently, or go recreate in them, that's a long-term vision that I think he had that he was very, very aware of."

Apparently, Dr. Maher has every expectation that those trees should still be around a hundred years after planting, so that people can enjoy recreation in the parks without having branches fall on their heads from old age.

That's almost all.  I thought I would end with some incredible photographs by Mishka Henner.  These are somehow created from satellite images.  Yes, they are feedlots.
Tascosa Feedyard, Texas
Tascosa Feedyard, Texas, detail
Randall County Feedyard, Amarillo, Texas
Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas, detail
In a world where it's almost impossible anymore to get a dozen people together to demand the government take action - on anything, whether it's climate or Wall Street, or holding the Bush war criminals accountable  - just imagine, thousands not only attend, but the are PAYing hundreds of dollars to go to a music festival in Georgia.  When I saw the promotional video (embedded below) I had to ask myself how anyone can expect the 7 billion idiots on this earth to do anything substantive to avert the great convulsion that will rend the earth as so many disparate catastrophes converge.
 I guess it is like the Burning Man event, another attraction I don't understand.  What is the appeal of such wanton deliberate destruction?  It seems so pathetic that a tiny, tiny minority of people talk and write and strategize endlessly over how to avert disaster, when incalculably many more are oblivious, don't want to know, and moreover will never want to know...even as their homes are swept away by fire or floods or landslides.

Hold on, I was just about to publish when this news item appeared:  Leith, North Dakota is trying to prevent a White Supremacist from taking over their town.  See the trees?  People are going insane, and it will only intensify as they work harder and harder not to see that the ecosystem - everything we need and love - is crashing before our eyes.

There are so few who seem to care enough to see, and I for one feel just as trapped and desperate and helpless as the plight of the black race described by Paul Laurence Dunbar in his poem published in 1899:


    I KNOW what the caged bird feels, alas!

        When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;

    When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,

    And the river flows like a stream of glass;

        When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,

    And the faint perfume from its chalice steals —

    I know what the caged bird feels!

    I know why the caged bird beats his wing

        Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

    For he must fly back to his perch and cling

    When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

        And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars

    And they pulse again with a keener sting —

    I know why he beats his wing!

    I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

        When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—

    When he beats his bars and he would be free;

    It is not a carol of joy or glee,

        But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,

    But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —

    I know why the caged bird sings!


  1. This is terrific Gail... thanks for the text and images.

    How is it that the entire nation forgot about the Civilian Conservation Corps??

  2. I do not get the inclusion at the end of the youtube video for the Atlanta, Chattahoochee Hills, GA, music festival:TomorrowWorld 2013 Discover the Madness - Official Trailer What is the connection?

  3. Great essay/expose Gail. The counterpoint of the end video clips of people having fun (TomorrowWorld) and blowing crap up for the hell of it (Burning Man) was striking. I was thinking about our predicament and taking it to the logical conclusion - that warm showers, brushing one's teeth and drinking a glass of clean, clear water are all going to become long lost experiences like the giant healthy old trees so prevalent in your old photos. I see the collapse coming and can't even talk about it with anyone - nobody wants to believe it or hear it, yet it's happening just the same. I see so many women now who are pregnant with smiling happy little kids in tow who have no idea how brutal it's going to get before long. This soul crushing realization haunts me every waking hour. We're going to watch it all happen and be part of this destructive end to humanity - willing or not. It's just a matter of time (and I think the 2020's is going to be IT). Watching it all dissolve little by little, more and faster each year - the evidence clear as day - and humanity cannot stop what they're doing. I'm going out to play in the dirt while I still can, taking my wonderful dog with me to sleep in the grass while I work. It's all a waste of time, so enjoy it.


  4. Thank you so much for your comments everyone. Tom, I'm glad you understood why the post ends the way it did. It is such a painful cognitive dissonance. I have been thinking all day how miserable it is to have no tribe. I think humans are meant to be part of a like-minded tribe but just like you I have (almost) no one to talk to about it. I'm headed outside too - it's a gorgeous afternoon. Take care.

  5. Brilliant post Gail! Thank you for your hard work. Historical content like this really places our current state into context. Did you ever see how the dustbowl communities would all get together to surround, pen in, and subsequently bludgeon to death the 'plagues' of rabbits? The horror. There is a wikipedia commons image of two men, one at the bottom and one standing on top of a three story pyramid of buffalo skulls which reminded me of the walrus image you posted. The last of those poor guys are hauling out as we sit here; climate refugees. Great way to end the post as well. I instantly thought of the song 'Feeling Good' performed by Nina Simone. How Ironic are the lyrics!

  6. In case you missed this story about the fall foliage in Vermont. Someone will tell you that it is the drought that makes the leaves spotted. They just can't get it in their heads that air pollution is killing our trees and plants.

  7. Thanks Catman - I am compiling links about the autumn foliage and I'll add that one in. This year, assuming we avoid an early snowstorm or hurricane, they're going to blame too much rain for a lack of color, because it's been extraordinarily wet in New England.


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