Hillary Rosner, writing at the New York Times, talked to Craig Allen and captured the essence of the angst as the west burns:
“These forests did not evolve with this type of fire,” said Dr. Allen. “Fire was a big deal in New Mexico, but it was a different kind of fire.” The result, he said, is that the species that now live there — ponderosa pines, piñon, juniper — cannot regenerate, and new species are moving in to take their place.
“Ecosystems are already resetting themselves in ways big and small,” Dr. Allen said. The challenge for managing these ecosystems, he said, is to try to help them adapt.
Seeking to preserve existing systems is futile, he said.
More over at the work blog on Craig Allen and the voice in the wilderness.
I’ve heard it several times but at the moment can’t remember who said it, but a good phrase for man’s actions is ‘the pauperization of ecosystems’. Might have been Ehrlich.
Would the ecosystem regenerate to what it was 400 years ago if man left the system? Would it become something else? Essentially, what part of changes are driven by the presence of humans and what part are temporary, non-human related changes that will go away over time, like Yellowstone’s slow reversion to climax forest where it will stay until another fire comes through.
Eric, humans WERE in the system 400 years ago – in a very huge way, especially when it relates to fire. People were setting fires as a land management tool (among other things) all across most of North America. We could look back before humans – 13000 years ago or more – but the climate was dramatically different back then.
As Dano mentioned, we need to work against the ‘pauperization’ – that’s a good way to put it – work to keep ecosystems diverse as possible and functioning on as wide and broad a scale as possible. It doesn’t mean removing humans, though, just defining their role.
If all the humans did leave… well, it’s hard to say what would happen. It would be very different from now, but very different from 400 years ago as well.
John, how does what’s happening to the Southwest stack up against past regional “business as usual” projections of climate change consequences? Worse than projected, about the same, or better?
Anna – Are you asking specifically about fire, or more generally about climate?