This month I have considered the following: present land management decisions based on past measures that are best for the future. Differing opinions and politics surface because of the predictive requirements of land management decisions. The Arcata field office handles these expertly, respectfully addressing and discussing different points of view both amongst the public and within the office. However, these decisions are complex and intricate, and the best ones are often obscured, demonstrating that predicting the future, indeed, is a difficult feat.
The first scenario where I was exposed to the tension of past and future management decisions was during a field day with geologist Sam and fisheries biologist AJ at Baker Creek, a small tributary that feeds into the Mattole River. Baker Creek serves as important spawning habitat for coho salmon, which are facing extirpation from the Mattole Watershed. In the late 1970s, BLMers removed fallen redwood logs from the tributary to increase water flow. Our reaction, today, to that decision: What were they thinking?! The logs are crucial for creating salmon habitat because the wood dams up water, creating pools that are banquets of aquatic invertebrates for coho to feast on and fills the groundwater in the surrounding floodplain, which is a crucial water source for the tributary during the dry season. Last year, the Arcata BLM felled and dragged small trees into the creek to correct the management decision of the 70s.
The second scenario is an on-going discussion in the office about how to respond to Sudden Oak Death, a rapidly-spreading phytophthora that destroys the tanoak populations and threatens the forest ecosystems in Northern California and much of the west coast. It is difficult to gauge the threat of SOD, recalling the predictive nature of land management decisions. Some argue that the BLM should aggressively eradicate the disease through pesticide application and removal of whole infected tree stands. Others argue that we should proceed cautiously, focusing efforts on forest health by selective thinning and monitoring. Since “heavy-handed approaches” have not been effective in the past and the office wants to avoid future errors, we currently implement a cautious approach. The conversation continues.
Whether its building coho salmon habitat or planning a SOD response, the BLM is both assertively correcting past mistakes and cautiously preparing for future scenarios. Of course, predicting the future and criticizing the past are futile. Instead, we focus on making careful decisions based on current information learned from past mistakes so that, in the future, the phrase “what were they thinking!?” is uttered even less frequently then it is now.
Baker Creek after the logs were removed and before restoration. Notice the channelization of the stream. (Curtesy of the Sanoma Land Trust)
Baker Creek after restoration, logs in place.
Did you catch my Bill Nye reference?