Letter Re: Times Article by Justin Gillis, published October 1, With Deaths of Forest, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors

January 12, 2012   ·   0 Comments

Source: NYTX


From: Gail Zawacki
Monday, November 14, 2011 11:00 AM
Subject: Article in New York Times by Justin Gillis, published October 1, With Deaths of Forest, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors

Dear Dr. Swetnam, Dr. Field, Dr. Phillips, Mr. Anderegg, Dr. Munger, Dr. Six, Dr. Running, Dr. Crabtree, Dr. Kurz, Dr. Cleaves, Mr. Werden, Mr. Gillis and Editors of the New York Times,

Several quotes from the article mentioned in the subject, and a follow-up blog post by Mr. Gillis raise a question that none of you appear to have addressed; and I would greatly appreciate your consideration.  Here are the relevant quotes:

1.  “If this were happening in just a few places, it would be easier to deny and write off,” said David A. Cleaves, senior adviser for the United States Forest Service. “But it’s not. It’s happening all over the place. You’ve got to say, gee, what is the common element?”

2.  “A lot of ecologists like me are starting to think all these agents, like insects and fires, are just the proximate cause, and the real culprit is water stress caused by climate change,” said Robert L. Crabtree, head of a center studying the Yellowstone region. “It doesn’t really matter what kills the trees — they’re on their way out. The big question is, Are they going to regrow? If they don’t, we could very well catastrophically lose our forests.”

3.  Aside from the satellite record, what kind of evidence do we have of recent forest loss? Mainly this: a flood of reports about forest die-offs and die-backs are appearing in the scientific literature.

4.  A count of such reports by Craig D. Allen of the United States Geological Survey shows a relentless increase in recent years. In principle, that could simply reflect rising interest in the subject on the part of scientists, but most of the experts I talked to suspected that it represented a change in the reality on the ground.

5.  “It seems to be just too widespread to ignore,” said Steven W. Running, the University of Montana scientist…”

6.  “That doesn’t mean that every forest on earth is going to fall over dead,” Dr. Running continued. “But it means we’re seeing an accelerated mortality pattern that we can’t explain by the normal processes….”

I agree completely that we are seeing a dangerous and accelerating trend in forest mortality, and when I originally realized it was underway (in 2008) I assumed that long-term water stress from climate change was the cause underlying opportunistic disease, insects and fungus, as postulated in the two articles.

However, I would like you to consider that climate change is not (YET) the primary culprit, because it does not adequately account for all the empirical, easily verifiable facts, which are:

1.  Young trees that are  being sheltered, watered and irrigated in nurseries are in the exact same poor condition as older trees growing in the ground.

2.  All trees of every age, species and habitat exhibit classic and worsening symptoms of exposure to air pollution – and background tropospheric ozone is inexorably rising, as precursors are traveling across oceans and continents.

3.  Annual agricultural crops and even ornamental summer flowers grown in enriched soil being watered in pots have the same stunted growth, reduced yield and injured foliage as long-lived trees now uniformly exhibit.  For that matter, even aquatic plants that are always in water have marginal leaf burn, chlorosis and necrosis.

4.  It has been well-established in extensive scientific research going back decades that ozone is extremely harmful to vegetation, by causing both foliar and internal, physiological changes, such as reduced allocation of carbohydrates to root development.  It has been demonstrated by many investigations that plants exposed to ozone are more likely to succumb to attacks from insects, disease and fungus; as well as be more vulnerable to wind-throw and drought.  Occam’s razor would seem to apply.

I would go so far as to beg each of you to investigate the above four points, which I have personally observed up and down both East and and Western US coasts, and even in Costa Rica.  Ozone is the giant elephant in the room; the Nitrogen Cascade has been called the worst environmental disaster you’ve never heard of.  The “acidification” of the atmosphere is eroding trees in perfect parallel with the concurrent bleaching of corals in the ocean.  Frankly I do not understand why neither of the articles in the Times mentioned ozone even once, since there is a staggering amount of information on the topic.

Foresters and atmospheric physicists and ecologists need to confront this existential threat before we don’t even have any more viable seeds, the quality, viability and quantity of which is waning.  The public needs to understand that a drastic curtailment of burning fuels is essential.

Thank you so much for your attention.  I would be most interested in any responses, and delighted to answer any questions.  Here is a link to a video of tree dieback in New Jersey from the vantage of a hot air balloon, with a radio interview about the cause.


Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, New Jersey




Readers Comments (0)


Reload Image

More in NYT LETTERS (53 of 60 articles)
Arthur Sulzberger Jr.