Fire mimicry effects on Douglas firs

28 05 2009

As some of you may have observed, it’s not just the oaks that are suffering here in California. Problems are seen in the pines, the bay laurels, the sycamores, and the redwoods. Douglas firs are sick and dying in many places, especially towards the coast. Symptoms such as a thin canopy, a heavy cover of cryptogams (mosses and lichens), and bark deterioration are consistent with problems in soil fertility due to fire suppression and systemic acidification.

Fire mimicry methods were applied to these two sick Douglas fir trees in Woodside, California in May of 2007, with some additional work in 2008. Below are the photos showing the canopy changes after two years. Sorry, no control trees here, the owners rightly want to keep all their trees healthy.20070504.1420070504.15

California Agriculture paper on Sudden Oak Death: Can conclusions of treatment efficacy be made in trials where n = 5?

27 05 2009

Earlier this year pathologists M. Garbelotto and D. Schmidt from the University of California at Berkeley published a paper in California Agriculture (a journal published by the University of California) in which they claim to have tested my holistic methods, and found that the application of “azomite soil amendment and bark lime wash was always ineffective, and did not reduce either growth or infection rates” of Phytophthora ramorum. Conversely, they report that “phosphonate treatments, legally registered in California to control sudden oak death, were effective in slowing both infection and growth rates”. They pretty much make it seem like it’s an open and shut case. But wait, there’s more. Read the rest of this entry »

KQED report on Sudden Oak Death: Fertilizing with minerals could have a “detrimental effect” on sick oaks

11 05 2009

Reporter David Gorn recently wrote on the KQED blog about Sudden Oak Death, relaying claims by UC Berkeley researcher Matteo Garbelotto that the mineral treatments I use are “like giving a glass of orange juice to someone with a terminal disease”. Furthermore, Garbelotto says that fertilizing with minerals could have a “detrimental effect” on sick oaks.

I have two questions:

What is the basis for these claims (no sources are given)? Why did the KQED reporter not do a balanced story?  Why was I not contacted by the reporter about these claims against my work?

I know, that’s three – still if anyone can help provide answers to these questions please leave a comment or email me. Let’s not speculate on motives here, just the facts.

UPDATE (May 27, 2009): David Gorn appears to be responding to my request for sources of the above claims in his KQED science blog comment here. He offers no apology for the glaring lack of balance in his piece. As for the claims I questioned him about, he writes:

“California Agriculture is a peer-reviewed academic journal. The research of Matteo Garbelotto is summarized here:”

The paper he seems to be referring to is “Phosphonate controls sudden oak death pathogen for up to 2 years” [California Agriculture, 63 (1): 10-17].

I’ll discuss this paper with regards to claims of inefficacy in a post following this update.

With regards to the claim that my treatments could have a “detrimental effect” on the oaks, no data or evidence is given in this paper. So I’m still left wondering if the “detrimental effect” claims have any scientific merit or basis.

This is not merely an academic matter. It’s time to resolve these differences. We need to take what we know and start helping the trees and soils. Countless oaks are at stake.

On the origins of fire scars in California redwoods

10 05 2009

Anyone who has spent time with the redwoods has no doubt seen and even ventured inside the giant trees with fire-scarred trunks. Certain trees are so severely scarred that you wonder how they are even able to stand. Some trees contain cavernous fire-carved rooms in their base with multiple entrances and even window-like openings. I’ve marveled at these trees and looked carefully at the orientations and shapes of their scars, and in doing so have found some odd things.

Huge fire scar

Huge fire scar in giant sequoia (photo by Lee Klinger)

Having worked on fire lines in Alaska, Colorado, and California I’ve seen how fire scars are formed. A large quantity of fuel piled at the base of the tree is usually required to ignite a fire hot enough to penetrate the bark and scorch the cambium.

A characteristic burn pattern is seen on slopes where the vast majority of fire scars occur on the uphill face of the trunk (more than 90% in places)[1]. This is due to a couple of factors. First, hot air currents tend to drive ground fires upslope, especially during the day when fires burn hottest. (Keep in mind we’re talking about large ground fires, not large canopy fires which would more likely kill the tree.) The wind-driven fires tend to burn relatively quickly around the lower parts of the trunk, but eddy effects allow the fire to linger on the uphill side. Second, fallen leaves and branches tend to move downhill and accumulate on the uphill side of the trunk. Together these factors seem to account fairly well for the uphill side tendency of fire scars.

So imagine my confusion . . .  Read the rest of this entry »

Sudden Oak Death

3 05 2009

In recent years a whole lot of attention has been paid to Sudden Oak Death, a stem canker disease (Phytophthora ramorum) that has sickened countless oaks in California. I, too, believe that Sudden Oak Death is a particularly aggressive pathogen that requires our careful observation and study. To be sure, I often inspect the sick coast live oaks and tan oaks here in Big Sur and at least half have bleeding stem cankers.

Sudden Oak Death casaulty in Big Sur

Sudden Oak Death casaulty in Big Sur (photo by Lee Klinger)

Still, there are many other problems I am seeing in these forests that cannot be attributed to Sudden Oak Death. Pines are becoming infected with pitch pine canker, sycamores are sick with anthracnose, bays are toppling from a root collar fungus, and redwoods are losing their tops. It seems that something larger is going on . . . Read the rest of this entry »