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Taking the Pulse of Our Forests

March 10, 2017

Taking the Pulse of Our Forests
By Dr. Angel De La Cruz

Forest dieback is a phrase taking hold in global environmental circles. Put simply, it describes the trend of declining acreage needed to support groupings of trees vital to the Earth and humankind’s survival. Forests globally are experiencing mortalities among their constituent trees. These mortalities universally are attributed to climate-related factors. How those factors are described and the negative affect upon the environment can be and, unfortunately, are sources of controversy. Some of these factors, however, are simply undeniable. Fully one third of the earth’s land surface cannot sustain trees. Areas that experience chronic drought cannot sustain trees. Certain insect infestations also spell the death of trees. They are facts that cannot be denied. Each in some way is related to climate factors.

Among scientists, the concepts of “climate change” and “global warming,” depending upon how they are defined, cause tremendous controversy and vehemently differing opinions. Advocates warn of human-caused temperature increases generated by industrial excesses that in turn portent calamitous environmental alterations. Opponents suggest politics, not science, underpin climate change rhetoric. Both sides may share equally in scientific fact or pseudoscience fiction. It’s a controversy as yet unresolved.

The one thing that is certain is that trees are dying and that is not a good thing for anyone or anything.

Trees, any green plant for that matter including grasses, are key factors in eliminating carbon in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is the breath of life for trees and other plant life. In turn, their “breath” converts carbon dioxide into the oxygen in the air earth’s animals’ “breath.”

One factor influencing global climate and too often left out of on-going discussions is ENSO (El Nińo – Southern Oscillation). One suspects in this very secular and politically correct world, ENSO is a term coined to eliminate the religious connotation associated with the El Nińo climate effect. El Nińo, the weather condition, was first observed as recurring during the Christmas season and dubbed El Nińo, the traditional Hispanic name for the Christ child. ENSO incorporates the alternating warming/chilling ocean-atmosphere temperature changes associated with El Nińo and La Nińa. The former warms. The latter cools. Both affect ocean and atmospheric temperatures. They combine to form a recurring cycle affecting the Earth for thousands of years. Since 1900, 28-30 such occurrences have been logged by environmental scientists.

ENSO turns traditional weather patterns topsy turvy. Rain in the desert. Dry conditions over rainforests. One suspects recurring conditions of harsh dryness most like maybe one contributing cause of tree mortality particularly in forests bordering marginal tree-friendly areas.

Deforestation is a reality that demands attention and human intervention at every level. Clearing mangrove forests for luxury coastal resort development and shrimp farms. Clear-cutting rainforests to plant cash crops. Urban sprawl in first, second and third world countries. Draining wetlands. Each is dangerously myopic and ignores the long range damage to haunt present and future generation.

For centuries, poets expounded upon the beauty of trees. As laudable as that endeavor may be today, politicians, the press, scientists, educators, farmers, and parents need to melt the aesthetics of our forests with recognition of, appreciation for and protection of the vital service they provide all of us.

How do we repopulate the earth with more trees? How do we halt the decline of forests? How do we provide antidotes for what ails our forests? These are problems that demand nations, communities and individuals to join together in seeking and implementing solutions.

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