There are times when Congress acts in a visionary manner. (Is it less so today, or is it just me?) Such was the case in 1968 when it enacted into law the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.Read More
The Hammonds, Mr. President, are not persons of generally good character. “Devoted family men” do not abuse minor children in their family.Read More
This is the second part of a two-part series. Part 1 examined the ecosystem and watershed joys of beavers. Part 2 examines the economics of using beavers to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Beaver Potential for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation
Humans must address human-caused climate change through both mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation means eliminating human-caused emissions into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases. It also means removing excess CO2from the air and putting it safely back into vegetation and soil. Beavers (Figure 8), by creating wet meadows that have lots of organic material, help sequester carbon in the ecosystem. As one example, in the Rocky Mountains a study found that dried-out beaver-created meadows contained 8 percent of total organic material in the landscape, while wet meadows—still wet because beavers were on the job—contained 23 percent of the total organic material.
The other side of climate change is adaptation. Western North America is losing its glaciers (Figure 9) and snowpacks due to a warming climate. Late-season stream flows in autumn—the most important flows of the year because they are scarce—will get scarcer. To provide for more late-season stream flows, some will propose engineering solutions of primarily concrete dams (Figure 10). Instead, we should rely on another kind of engineering solution. Yes, it still involves dams—many, many more than those that might be made of concrete—but these dams would be made by beavers, using locally sourced materials.
Figure 9. From the cover of the Oregon Global Warming Commission Biennial Report to the Legislature 2017. The late great Oregon photographer Gary Braaschtook these photos of Oregon’s Mount Hood in the late summers of 1984 (bottom) and 2013 (top). It’s not a case of a bad snow year but rather a bad glacier century. Original source: Braasch Environmental Photography.
We Need Millions of New Dams!
That’s right, the best way to adapt to less instream water due to climate change is to build new dams—millions of new dams! However, to keep the fiscal and economic costs down and the coincidental environmental and social benefits up, every one of these new dams needs to be made by beavers. A few of these dams may be quite large (Figure 11), but most will be modestly sized (Figure 12) and strategically placed, as beavers know best.
Can Beaver Dams Replace the Lost Runoff from Melting Glaciers and Snowpacks?
Professor Joe Wheaton of Utah State University has developed a Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool (BRAT) in which watersheds at any scale can be modeled as to their potential for beaver restoration and all of the benefits that go with it. Macfarlane, Wheaton, et al. (2015) identified the following parameters that are important for successful beaver dams:
(1) reliable water source,
(2) riparian vegetation conducive to foraging and dam building,
(3) vegetation within 100 m of edge of stream to support expansion of dam complexes and maintain large colonies,
(4) the likelihood that channel-spanning dams could be built during low flows,
(5) the likelihood that a beaver dam can withstand typical floods,
(6) a suitable stream gradient that is neither too low to limit dam density nor too high to preclude the building or persistence of dams, and
(7) a suitable river that is not too large to restrict dam building or persistence.
Can enough beaver dams offset all the loss of runoff from melted glaciers and missing snowpacks? In some places yes, in some places no. In all places, somewhat to a lot. It’s worth doing in any case because whatever the increment of downstream flow, it’s a very cheap way to obtain/regain such flows and it also provides all those onsite ecosystem and watershed services.
Where beavers cannot totally offset the upstream losses of water (and even where they can), it is time to dial back the downstream wastes of water. Most municipal, industrial, and agricultural water users all waste water because it is too cheap to the consumer. Do we really need to grow cotton and rice in a desert? How about lining those irrigation ditches? How about drip irrigation? How about banning overhead sprinklers? How about fully recycling sewage effluent? How about dialing back on those lawns appropriate in the British Isles but not in arid climates? How about water-efficient domestic water fixtures? None are a silver bullet, but all (and more) are silver buckshot.
Goodbye Cows and Loggers, Hello Beavers
Throughout much of the arid American West, if beavers are to be brought back in a big way, domestic livestock will have to give way. A native species, beavers are known as nature’s engineers for their ability to positively affect ecosystems and watersheds. An alien species, domestic livestock are known as nature’s annihilators for their ability to negatively affect ecosystems and watersheds.
The damage to streams from the loss of beavers has been exacerbated by the introduction of domestic livestock. For beavers to do their job and make their best dams, there must be adequate large vegetation in the landscape. A cow-bombed stream has little riparian (streamside) vegetation due to heavy livestock use, and no large shrubs and trees out of which to make a proper dam.
On public lands, livestock grazing could be equitably ended. On private lands, grazing rights could be obtained to welcome back beavers. Better yet, such private lands could be acquired from willing sellers and reconverted to public lands so as to provide a full suite of ecosystem, watershed, and recreational services.
The best beaver dams have lots of large woody debris, which often comes from beavers converting large wood (a.k.a. trees) into debris. Willows and cottonwoods, both deciduous riparian species, make good beaver dam material, but so do conifers (Figure 13). Conifers can be valuable for commercial logging; thus there is an inherent conflict. Given the massive watershed, ecosystem, and climate adaptation benefits, and the climate mitigation benefits of bringing back beavers, and give the massive ecosystem, watershed, and climate damage of continuing logging, human loggers must give way to beaver loggers.
The Solution: Leaving It to Beavers
An ever-expanding human population demanding more water combined with the loss of glaciers and snowpack due to a warming climate means that the further damnation of the American West is inevitable—unless society favors beaver dams and eschews more concrete dams. The State of Washington has identified six new “large storage” dams in the Columbia River basin that would cost (assuming no construction overruns) $2,184–$3,600 per acre-foot of storage, or $1 billion–$8 billion per dam for the largest four projects. Water reuse (drinking our treated effluent) costs $300–$1,300 per acre-foot, while desalination comes in at $2,000–$3,000 per acre-foot.
The estimated cost of one highly planned experiment to reintroduce beaver at three to five sites is $70,000 (or $14,000–$23,000 per reintroduction). Assuming each reintroduction results in 17.5 to 35 acre-feet of “storage,” this pencils out to a weighted average of ~$800/acre-foot. Doing this reintroduction at a large scale will result in significant cost reductions, so it is reasonable to assume ~$200–~$300/acre-foot of storage.
On top of providing relatively inexpensive new water storage, beaver dams, unlike human dams, create wetlands. Wetlands provide critical ecosystem services, which can be measured monetarily. Ecosystem services include flood attenuation, increase in water quality and quantity, recreational and commercial fishing, bird watching and hunting, wildlife habitat, storm amelioration, and other amenities. Economists have valued these services to society at $2,400–$4,800 per acre of wetland per year, which, capitalized at a conservative 3 percent interest rate, results in a net present value of between $80,000 and $160,000 per acre. To mitigate for wetland destruction due to development, a market in wetland credits has arisen, trading at as little as $4,000 to as much as $125,000 per acre.
Beaver reintroduction is increasingly being used at a local level to address water quantity, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and other issues, including micro-level adaptation to climate change. However, for a macro-level response—to actually move the needle on the continental water gauge—beaver reintroduction needs to scale up big time. It needs to be a national priority, comparable to creating the Interstate Highway System. However, in this case, it won’t be gray infrastructure but rather green infrastructure. All we need is enough beaver families spread across enough watersheds.
For More Information
Here are a few documents to start with:
• Beaver and Climate Change Adaptation in North America: A Simple, Cost-Effective Strategy. 2011. WildEarth Guardians, Grand Canyon Trust, and The Lands Council.
• Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. 2018. Ben Goldfarb. Island Press.
Beavers, by damming streams and creating wetlands, greatly enrich their ecosystem and watershed far out of proportion to their numbers.Read More
The EPA administrator has declared that biomass energy carbon neutral, which will pump more carbon per kilowatt-hour into the air than coal-fired electricity.Read More
Despite its imperfections, the Wilderness Act is a wonderful law, worth defending against all attacks and attackers.Read More
There are many reasons the National Wilderness Preservation System is not expanding on the scale of times past. Here are six major ones.Read More
The passage of the Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964, is an extraordinary landmark in the history of American conservation and law.Read More
The authors of Ecological Forest Managementhave thrown down the gauntlet. The battle between traditional production forestry (PF) and ecological forest management (EFM) for the hearts and minds of forestry students everywhere, for the profession of forestry itself, and for the acceptance of the public has been joined. EFM offers a constructive alternative to landowners, foresters, forestry students, and the public suffering disillusionment with the agronomic simplification and reductionism of PF.
Ecological Forest Managementdeconstructs—nay, pantses—PF by both critique and example. It exposes the limits—ecological, social, and (somewhat) economic—of PF. “We decided to adopt ecological concepts as the foundation of our forest management text, upon which we would build economic and social considerations,” say the authors. Of course, this is very rational, but it’s also quite radical in the profession of forestry.
The book reflects the radical evolution happening in forestry, a profession that is part science, part art, and part craft. Production forestry (PF) has held sway since forestry’s beginnings in America before the turn of the twentieth century. PF is about maximum sustainable production of wood. Foresters trained in PF were taught that they alone knew best how to manage forests. But over the decades, scientific understanding, public disdain of clearcutting and appreciation of forests, and federal judges have undermined that cherished tenet.
About the Authors
In the world of Pacific Northwest forests, “Norm and Jerry” has a couple of different meanings. First, it refers to the people, Jerry F. Franklin and K. Norman Johnson, who had quite distinguished careers in forestry (with the emphasis on forest science) before they became legends of forest policy and forest politics after the northern spotted owl hit the fan in the late 1980s. As politicians sought to address and/or survive the Pacific Northwest timber wars, they often turned to Norm and Jerry for policy advice, which was always sincerely and thoughtfully given, though not always similarly utilized.
“Norm and Jerry,” as in “to Norm and Jerry the stand,” also refers to variable retention harvest (Figure 1), a silvicultural prescription the two pioneered as an alternative to the total clear-cutting prescribed by PF. When the stand is a native natural forest, the term’s application is derogatory, but less so if the stand is already a plantation.
The (mostly very good) mark left by Norm and Jerry on Pacific Northwest forests can also be found on other forests in the United States and the world. I could go on and intend to later in a “preremembrance” of Norm and Jerry. My problem is that my previous preremembrances feature people still living, but with their great contributions to conservation behind them. Norm told me that he and Jerry are retired, yet in the same email string he mentioned two additional book projects. Ecological Forest Management is neither the last word on ecological forest management, nor the last word from Norm and Jerry. EFM may be Norm and Jerry’s magnum opus, but it is not their last opus.
The other Johnson, Debora, is a highly competent forester and GIS jockey extraordinaire with long experience in inventory, planning, and analysis. Debbie and Norm are married.
About the Book
The book is a weighty read, not only in the hands at four pounds but also in the mind. Though Norm and Jerry kindly sent me an autographed copy, that version will rest prominently and proudly, but unread, on my bookshelf. My Kindle® version is well marked up in yellow and is also digitally searchable. (Paper is so twentieth century and electrons weigh almost nothing.) I confess to not having read every word, for some of the book is quite esoteric and not central to my interests. However, the book is well organized and categorized, with an eight-page table of contents detailing five parts containing twenty-one chapters; 127 subchapters are further broken out into 279 topic areas. One can dip in and out to satisfy one’s interests and curiosities and one’s need to refer to chapter and verse.
There are also lots of pictures, alas more in black and white than in color, and not all are pretty. To be honest, if not kind, EFM is often not pretty—though not as butt-ugly as a clear-cut. A particularly positive aesthetic highlight are the line drawings of twenty-one species of old-growth trees by Robert Van Pelt.
The Evolution of Forest Textbooks and Forestry
Before dropping out of Oregon State University in 1976, I hung around the College of Forestry. Most of the “FM” (forest management) students were destined to careers in production forestry: liquidate by clear-cut, plant, spray, thin, clear-cut; repeat (Figure 2). All had their little red book—not Mao’s, but the introductory textbook in McGraw-Hill’s American Forestry Series. The first edition of Forest Management: Regulation and Valuation, authored by Kenneth P. Davis, came out in 1951 with a distinctive dark red cover. The subtitle is code for production forestry.
The second edition of the book, published in 1966, was authored by Lawrence S. Davis (son of Kenneth P.). For the third edition, published in 1987, the subtitle was dropped and K. Norman Johnson added as a co-author. (Norm is the first Johnson in Franklin, Johnson, and Johnson.) The fourth edition, published in 2001, had two additional co-authors, Pete Bettinger and Theodore E. Howard, and a new subtitle: Forest Management: To Sustain Ecological, Economic, and Social Values. The fourth edition started with McGraw-Hill’s red cover, but when the book was acquired by Waveland Press it gained a cover picture of a managed (but at least not clear-cut) forest. The new subtitle is an acknowledgment that forests are more than just standing logs. The evolution of subtitles parallels the evolution of forestry in America.
Norm and Jerry, along with Larry Davis, were slotted to produce the fifth edition of Forest Management but the found the effort “too limiting.” In addition, Davis was unable to continue. The result is Ecological Forest Management, part memoir and all textbook. EFM is an existential challenge to PF. Continuing to bear the flag of PF (albeit a bit less intense than previously), Pete Bettinger (once a grad student of Norm’s) and three other authors have published Forest Management and Planning, an updated and shortened successor to the fourth edition of Forest Management.(As for the cover, it’s about one-half pretty forest canopy with the remainder a pastoral setting and large bodies of water; do not judge a book by its cover.)
Seeing the Forest Beyond/Below the Trees
PF generally sees a natural stand as needing to be regulated by clear-cutting and then planting it with one species of conifer, thus truncating the forest cycle either as soon as financially possible (maximum economic value [aka net present value]) or when the annual rate of board-feet gain starts to diminish (maximum timber volume). The practice of EFM starts with the premise of both understanding and appreciating the natural functions of the forest, conserving them if possible or at least mimicking them as wood is extracted from the stand.
Chapters 2 and 3 of Ecological Forest Management describe and explain natural forests as ecosystems and detail their developmental stages. These two chapters are worth the price of the book alone. The authors contribute to our understanding of forests by describing six developmental stages:
1. disturbance and legacy creation event (DLC)
2. preforest stage (PFS)
3. forest canopy closure event (FCC)
4. young forest stage (YFS)
5. mature forest stage (MFS)
6. old forest stage (OFS)
The book presents three archetypical forests, distinguished by disturbance regimes and the dominant tree species:
1. conifer-dominated forests initiated by infrequent (episodic) severe wildlife
2. hardwood-dominated forests initiated by infrequent (episodic) severe windstorms
3. conifer-dominated forests characterized by frequent (chronic) wildfire
Earlier, the authors were bifurcating conifer forests into either moist or dry conifer forests but have dropped those descriptors in this book. While the three archetypes aid understanding, numerous variations exist within and between this trifurcated categorization. For example, hardwood forests sometimes burn, moist conifer forests sometimes blow down, and dry conifer forests tend to have all developmental stages simultaneously.
On the Ecological Forest Management Bus
There is much good to be said about the practice of EFM.
Every view has a reference point. Not just aesthetically but also ecologically and hydrologically, EFM is a vast improvement over PF with its clear-cuts and short rotations with their straight rows of same-spaced, same-age, same-size, same species of trees.
A subpart of EFM is scientifically sound ecological restoration thinning—judicious logging that can put moist-forest plantations on a track to achieve older forest character and also can restore grazed-off, fire-excluded, high-graded dry forest stands so they can again become structurally and functionally diverse older forests.
Practiced on lands where the landowner requires some return on investment—if only to at least to pay the taxes if not the kids’ college tuition or their health care expenses down the road—EFM makes much more sense than PF.
While EFM is also the most responsible way to manage corporate industrial timberlands, any serious application of EFM cuts into the net present value goal of profit maximization to the chagrin of investors. Government regulation is in order.
Off the Ecological Forest Management Bus
The practice of EFM has a lot going for it, but it’s not a fat-free hot-fudge sundae (something universally desired with no downsides that doesn’t exist). There is some (very important) bad to be said about EFM.
Every view has a reference point. Compared to the natural forest, EFM is degradation, not just aesthetic but also ecological and hydrological.
Franklin, Johnson, and Johnson tout EFM as an ecologically, economically, and socially acceptable way to manage forests of all ownerships. While they acknowledge and genuinely appreciate the importance of permanently conserved areas (where no roading and logging is allowed) as a vital part of the forest landscape, they generally believe that EFM can sustain forests across the landscape. Many scientists recommend that much more of our forests needs to be in permanent reserves.
Although EFM is very useful to inform the ecological restoration of degraded federal forests—be they moist-forest plantations or fire-excluded, cow-bombed, and high-graded dry conifer forests—it’s general practice, which still is somewhat timber volume-driven, is most appropriate on nonfederal lands.
For the Next Edition
The authors say that “we view this volume as a first approximation of ecological forest management and most certainly not the final word, which we do not expect ever to be written!” In anticipation of a second edition, here are a few major comments and suggestions, offered with respect and admiration, but also with insistence.
• Acknowledge the enormous and important difference between a natural complex preforest stage and an unnatural simplied preforest stage.
With regard to the preforest stage (PFS)—formerly called “early-successional ecosystems on forest sites”—that develops after a disturbance and legacy creation event (DLC; fire, wind, insects, or volcano), there is a huge difference in the biological legacies of a DLC’d old-growth stand and the DLCing of an already disturbed, degraded, and simplified plantation. The biological legacy (consisting of live and dead trees, both standing and fallen; coarse woody detritus; and/or undisturbed understory) of a complex natural PFS dwarfs that of an unnatural simplified PFS. For more, please see the peer-reviewed journal article of which Jerry is the second author.
• For natural stands on federal public lands, advise no logging.
The social license, to which the authors give great weight, has expired for logging of older (mature and old-growth) forests, save for limited and scientifically sound restoration of some hammered dry forest conifer stands. Even if the authors still do not consider it harmful to log perfectly natural stands, albeit more sensitively but still in pursuit of timber volume, the public isn’t going there. The highest and best use of natural forests is not a less harmful form of logging. Even on the Bureau of Land Management’s O&C lands in western Oregon, any timber-first! emphasis of the O&C Lands Act of 1937 has been superseded by the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, other federal statutes, and—most importantly—public opinion.
• Tell readers how much of the forest landscape should be in no-cut (with a limited exception for ecological restoration) reserves.
Legendary Harvard naturalist E. O. Wilson, in his book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, recommended that to avoid massive species extinction (a fair criterion for minimum sustainability), at least half of our planet, meaning at least half of its forests of all ownerships, needs to be fully set aside for nature. This is backed up by the peer-reviewed science, including the journal editorial Bolder Thinking for Conservation by Reed Noss and eleven other distinguished ecologists, which opens by asking:
Should conservation targets, such as the proportion of a region to be placed in protected areas, be socially acceptable from the start? Or should they be based unapologetically on the best available science and expert opinion, then address issues of practicality later?
These researchers reviewed the science and answered that at least 50 percent of Earth should be in protected areas.
For Earth’s forests to remove enough excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to actually move the needle on climate change, half is not enough.
• For natural stands on federal public lands, advise no logging.
The federal public lands in the American West should form the ecological and geographic basis for that half of the forests in the United States that need to be in permanent reserves. (As for the American East, the existing national forests need to be filled in by acquiring unoccupied private inholdings, and a whole lot of additional national forests need to be established.) Any logging on national forests should be a by-product of ecological restoration, not a product of ecological forest management. The science of species conservation, as well as the wishes of the public, demands it.
• Insist upon more fire.
A major reason that the authors recommend variable retention harvest in unlogged natural stands is to provide more preforest stage (PFS). The authors are quite right that this highly important stage of forest development and biological diversity is far more scarce than old-growth forests, due to routine salvage logging after natural events such as fire and windstorms. Of course, some commercial logs make their way to the mill, which raises suspicion in the minds of many as to motive. We’d have plenty of PFS—and complex PFS at that—if the federal agencies would fully eschew salvage logging, and even more if these federal agencies would embrace forest fire as both generally desirable and always inevitable. I believe that the authors are not uncomfortable with fires in forests, but they recognize the extreme discomfort (due to brainwashing) of the public (finish this six-word sentence: “Only. . . ”) and the hegemony of the fire-industrial complex (federal forest agencies, state fire agencies, Congress, private contractors, and more). This fire-fighting juggernaut is as hugely expensive as it is ineffective, and it arose from and is part and parcel of production forestry. Speaking truth to production forestry needs to include speaking truth to its ancillary fire-industrial complex.
On the Whole
The forests of the world will be better off for the publication and utlitization of Ecological Forest Management.
May ecological forest management deliver the death blow to production forestry. May EFM become the norm for nonfederal forestlands. May EFM not become the norm on federal forestlands, where instead the norm should be the full conservation of intact forests and the restoration of damaged forests.
Public lands need people enjoying them, because to know them is to value them. So pull yourself—and just as important, other people—away from that damn screen and go outside for a walk.Read More
It won’t work, and is rather patronizing besides, to make rural people a protected class in our politics.Read More
There is a dominant narrative of the rural-urban divide in Oregon that often frames our politics, including that of public land management. Like most things in life, it’s not that simple.Read More
If recent population trends continue, Oregon will get a sixth seat in Congress starting with the 2022 election.Read More
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) recently issued its annual report on Oregon wolves. It contains great, good, bad, ugly and troubling news.Read More
The sovereign State of California generally doesn’t like it when the sovereign United States of America conveys federal public lands with public values out of federal public ownership. Neither do I. But....Read More
Counties in Oregon that excessively rely on federal timber dollars to fund basic services for their residents (timber-addicted counties or TACs) need to become more efficient at using the money they have.Read More
The decline in the number of hunters, who pay license fees to state fish and wildlife agencies, is causing a funding crisis, which—we can hope—should cause a crisis of conscience for those agencies.Read More
A nuclear power plant never befouled Cape Kiwanda, and off-road vehicles do not befoul many miles of Oregon beaches today, because of Norma Paulus.Read More
In early January 2018, the National Park Service instituted a new parking reservation system for Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco. Actually, it is more accurate to say “for Muir Woods National Monument in the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area (CSA).” The 554-acre national monument includes 240 acres of magnificent old-growth coast redwood forest. An estimated 1.2 million people visit each year, drawing mainly from the ~8.8 million and increasing humans of greater San Francisco. The mere 232 parking spaces just cannot handle the crowds anymore. It will now cost $8 per vehicle, along with the $10 entrance fee, to park your car if you want to take in Muir Woods. If you don’t plan far enough ahead, you might be able to catch a shuttle ($3) from downtown Sausalito, but those require reservations as well. Farewell, dear spontaneity.
Though four presidents expanded Muir Woods National Monument after Theodore Roosevelt set aside the first 295 acres in 1908, the expansion of the monument has not kept up with the expansion of the nearby population. It’s not like there are adjacent stands of majestic old-growth coast redwoods next door just waiting for inclusion in the monument. Naturally, the coast redwood has a very limited range on Earth (about two million acres in a narrow strip from just south of Big Sur to just north of the Oregon-California border, with 95 percent having been clear-cut).
The National Park Service is doing similar rationing in Yosemite and Haleakala National Parks and is considering the same for Zion and Arches National Parks.
There are two overarching reasons to conserve, restore, and increase the acreage of public lands:
· to provide for the adequate functioning of ecosystems and watersheds across the landscape (and seascape) and over time so as to provide the vital goods and services that only nature can provide to this and future generations
· to allow this and future generations adequate opportunities to directly and indirectly engage in recreational (pronounced “re-creational”) pursuits that support and renew the mind, body, and soul
The former—the provision of adequate nature for ecosystem functioning—is extremely difficult but not impossible. The latter—the provision of adequate nature for recreation—is not only extremely difficult but also may be impossible if the human population continues to grow like cancer.
Providing Adequate Nature: Supply and Demand Problems
As to the amount of land and water humans need to conserve and restore in order to provide for nature and her vital goods and services, Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson makes a compelling case in his greatest book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Wilson’s recommendations come through the lens of species requirements. To exist, species need what they need. It’s not negotiable.
Regarding the provision of adequate nature for recreation, it’s not so much a supply problem as a demand problem. Increasingly, there are too many humans seeking to recreate in the same places at the same time. To a degree, more public lands could be reclaimed for recreational purposes, but, hopefully, not at the expense of the first overarching reason. More national recreation areas should be established on public lands (here is a list of some that and could be established in Oregon) and more private lands should be reconverted to public lands upon which to put more recreation areas. However, demand for natural recreation areas outstrips supply both because demand is out of control and because supply is inherently limited.
In general, there are too many people on Earth for our own collective good, and it’s getting worse. Human population continues to further outstrip the long-term carrying capacity of air, water, and land—and even the human requirement for elbow room. Unless this growth is soon stopped and then reversed, all bets are off.
The supply of natural recreation areas is inherently limited by considerations of both proximity and uniqueness. Most humans live in cities, and there is only so much land and water that can be used for human recreation. While I benefit greatly from knowing that the vast Brooks Range in northern Alaska is there, I—and most others—won’t be visiting it. Instead we mostly tend to visit natural recreation areas closer to home. With regard to uniqueness, there is only one Mount Hood near the Portland-Vancouver-Salem, OR-WA CSA and only one Mount Rainier near the Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia, WA CSA. Conjuring up another Cascade peak to satisfy the demand for natural recreation is not possible.
Negotiating Increasingly Crowded Spaces
The Oregon I grew up in and am growing old in used to be a lot less crowded. Over the decades my enjoyment of natural recreation areas has been a negotiation, mainly in the form of strategic retreat and lowered expectations. For example, in my youth, one could reasonably expect a hot spring in the western Cascades, and certainly in Oregon’s Sagebrush Sea, to be uncrowded. Today, a visit to a forested hot spring near the Willamette Valley will be an overcrowded experience.
To get the solitude that to me and many others is a vital part of natural recreation, I started shifting my recreation in both time and space. For a while, if I went to hot springs during the week, and then late at night (or even better, early in the morning), and then finally in the dead of winter during heavy rains or snow, I could obtain the requisite solitude. There were also hot springs that were an eight- to ten-hour drive from the Willamette Valley, accessible by relatively poor roads, where I could find solitude. That worked for a while, but the crowds from LaBendmondville (aka the Bend-Pineville CSA)—which is nothing more or less than the present easternmost demographic extent of the Willamette Valley—discovered not only those hot springs but also those lava caves, fault-block ranges, post-Pleistocene lakes and other recreational attractants of Oregon’s Sagebrush Sea.
In response to increasing overpopulation, what came to Muir Woods will eventually be coming to a natural recreation area near and/or dear to you. But actually, reversing overpopulation is not that hard. If all those who wanted children would limit themselves to two, what is now out of control could soon be back in control.