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Prescribed burns in forests may decrease carbon sequestration in the short term, but they increase the forest’s ability to sequester carbon in the long term.
So says a recent literature review published by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Readers of this blog may recall that almost 3 years ago I published an 8-part series on wildfire in forests, and the role fire can have in promoting the health of the forest. Since then, I have published several updates. In that series, I reported that the Missouri Department of Conservation uses prescribed burning as a forest management tool, and it encourages private landowners to do so, too.
The literature review concludes that, though forests are complex, and general principles will not hold true for every plot within them, in the Missouri Ozarks:
- Fuel-reduction treatment (e.g. prescribed burning) reduces the risk of a large stand-destroying fire. When a whole stand is destroyed, all of the carbon sequestered in the trees is released into the atmosphere. Further, the forest is slow to regrow.
- Thinning using prescribed fire reduces competition among trees and provides additional ground nutrients, resulting in better growth.
- Forests managed with a combination of thinning and prescribed burning have lower carbon emissions than other types of forests. (Yes, they actually get out there and measure the gases emitted by different types of forest land.)
- During a prescribed burn, large trees are generally not killed by the fire, but small sprouts and herbaceous understory are. Burning the leaf litter and herbaceous understory results in a short-term increase in carbon released into the atmosphere. This is more than made-up for, however, by the increased vigor and growth of the remaining forest. The increased growth sequesters more carbon than was released in the prescribed burn.
- The soil in forests consist of a rich mixture of plant roots, moss and other vegetation, bugs, worms, microorganisms, and chemical compounds, including carbon (partially decayed remains of living things that have worked their way into the soil). There has been concern that prescribed burning would release the carbon sequestered in the soil. So far, research indicates that there is no difference in the carbon sequestration of the soil in control plots vs. plots that have had prescribed burns applied. In addition, no difference has been found between plots that are burned annually vs. plots that are burned every 4 years. The concern is understandable, but so far it appears incorrect.
- Soil respiration (the ability of oxygen to penetrate to the roots of plants) is not affected by prescribed burning.
Forests have not traditionally been managed with increased carbon sequestration as a major goal. However, the literature review seems to indicate that prescribed burning may be a technique that can lead to increased carbon sequestration in forest, through increased vigor and growth of the trees in the forest.
Ball, Liz. Undated. “The relationship between prescribed fire management and carbon storage in the Missouri Ozarks.” Missouri Department of Conservation. Downloaded 8/22/2019 from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/acfb/673db5694db7389e7bf7190211fb5ec75885.pdf.
This week I’m sharing with you some land use-land cover (LULC) maps. LULC maps show what is on a given area of land: water, developed cities, forests, pastures, crops, etc. I’ve been looking for recent LULC maps of Missouri for some time, and only just now found them at the website of the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium (MRLC). This is a cooperative project by several branches of the federal government. Modern LULC maps are created by sophisticated imaging systems on satellites. This process allows for new maps to be created every few years, and the source I found has maps for 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2016.
LULC data is used for scientific study and for planning. For the purposes of this blog, what would be most interesting would be data regarding how much land in Missouri has changed use, and whether the changes represent a degradation of environmental carrying capacity. It appears to me that such data is available, either at MRLC or at the U.S. Geological Survey, but that it requires special programs and knowledge to utilize, which I don’t have. The closest I can come is a map provided by MRLC that shows the Land Use Change Index (land that changed use at least once between 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2016).
Figure 1 shows the 2016 LULC map for Missouri and a little bit of neighboring states. Each pixel on the map is 30 x 30 meters, which is close to 100 by 100 feet. Each pixel is coded with a color representing 1 of 21 categories of land use, shown in the legend. The pinks and reds jump out visually; these represent developed land. It is easy to make out the St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Joplin, St. Joseph, Columbia, and Jefferson City areas, as well as other, smaller developed areas. The brown areas represent cultivated crops. The Bootheel is very heavily cultivated, but so is much of northern Missouri, especially the northwestern part. Green stands for forests – dark green for conifer forest and light green for mixed forest. There is a lot of forest in the Ozarks, mostly mixed forest. Yellow stands for pastureland/hay, which is widely distributed throughout the state. Blue stands for water bodies.
Looking at the map and forming overall impressions, I was first struck by how fragmented land use is. Land use varies by small plots in many areas of the state. Second, I was struck by how the forest land in the state is concentrated in the Ozarks. There are small forested regions in the north, but no very large tracts like in the south. Similarly, I was struck by how cultivated crops are almost completely absent from the Ozarks. There may be some farming there, but it looks to be devoted to hay and pasture.
Figure 2 shows a map of the Land Use Change Index in the same area. The resolution of this map is the same, each pixel is 30 x 30 meters. The map codes each pixel according to whether the use changed at least once between the mappings in 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2016. The change could have occurred in either direction. For instance, blue codes water change: what was a body of water became something else, or something else became a body of water. There are orange dots across the top of Missouri: either land became hay/pasture, or hay/pasture became something else. In addition, the change doesn’t have to have been permanent; what was hay/pasture in 2003 could have become cultivated cropland in 2006, but then reverted back in 2008. The map doesn’t tell us, it only tells us that at some point the land changed.
It’s not clear to me why they would construct this index this way. Perhaps these changes are reversible only in theory. For instance, the pink dots represent land that has either either urbanized or “un-urbanized.” I think that in real life, it is nearly impossible for land to “un-urbanize” – streets and buildings don’t go away in a matter of a couple of years. But it would be much more useful to know which changes were permanent, and which represented a degradation of the land.
Dark green represents land that did not change use across the 12-year time period. Most of the state is dark green. However, it is surprising how much land has changed. There are a lot of orange dots across northern and western Missouri, indicating that a lot of land there either became or stopped being hay fields/pastureland. Across southern Missouri, there are a lot of light green dots, indicating lots of change in the forests there.
Pink dots are scattered around the St. Louis, Kansas City, and Columbia regions, indicating land that (probably) urbanized. Given all of the development that has occurred in Springfield and Branson, I’m surprised that there isn’t more pink in that region.
Figure 3 shows the Land Use Change Index for the eastern Continental United States (CONUS). What immediately stands out is the forestland change across the Southeast, the Far North, and Maine. The map shows that change is happening, but not what kind of change. Figure 3 also suggests that, while land use is changing more in Missouri than in some states, it is changing less than in others.
Figure 4 shows the Land Use Change Index for the western CONUS. Across the West, forest change seems to be the most common change, followed by persistent grass and shrub change. One wonders how much of this is due to logging and/or development. However, one also wonders how much of this is due to either the bark beetle infestations that have been killing trees all over the West, or to the huge wildfires that have been ravaging these areas? For instance, using the interactive map on the MLRC website, I can zoom in and identify forest changes inside Glacier National Park. Those are not logging changes, they have to be the result of wildfire. However, there have not been hundreds of wildfires all up and down the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, those are likely to be logging changes.
Maps like these are created using large databases; each pixel is identified and has data coded for it. Theoretically, one should be able to use the database to construct summary statistics. I found a couple of databases, but unfortunately, they required specialized software to use, and/or they were multiple terabytes in size. Further, the agencies that create these maps don’t seem to think that states make useful boundaries. I will continue to keep my eyes open, however, and if I should come across summary data, I will do a future post on it.
Land cover change 2001-2004-2006-2008-2011-2016. Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium. Downloaded 2019-07-02 from https://www.mrlc.gov/viewer.
Screen capture from Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium. 2016 CONUS Land Cover. Downloaded 2019-07-02 from https://www.mrlc.gov/viewer.
After returning from a trip to several national parks in 2016, I wrote a series of posts on wildfire, and the role wildfire has in keeping forests healthy. (See here.) In those posts, I reported that wildfire was essential for regenerating species of conifer that have serotenous cones. The cones of these species are coated with a waxy resin that prevents them from opening and releasing their seeds. Fire must melt the resin, and only then are the seeds released – millions of them. Thus, after a fire, the forest regenerates with thousands-upon-thousands of saplings, all the same age. Figure 1 shows the forest regenerating after the Red Eagle Fire near Glacier National Park. These are lodgepole pine, the dominant species in the forests of that area.
I also wrote that aspen trees require fire to regenerate. After a few decades, stands of aspen are invaded by conifers. Aspens are not shade tolerant, and they are not long-lived. Because the conifers create too much shade, the aspens cannot regenerate, and the stand dies out. Fire clears away the shade, and the aspen rhizomes, which remain beneath the ground, send up new shoots, and the aspen stand can be regenerated.
I just returned from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. In 2006, the Warm Fire (what a name for a wildfire!) burned across Arizona Hwy. 67, the route to the North Rim. Figures 2, 3, and 4 show the scene. The Red Eagle Fire and the Warm Fire both occurred in 2006, but what has happened since is very different. The scene of the Red Eagle Fire is covered in thousands of small lodgepole pines, all the same age. The scene of the Warm Fire has nary a conifer to be seen. These are all aspens. They haven’t leafed-out yet, so they are a little difficult to see. Aspens turn brilliant colors in the fall – imagine what this area will look like when these trees are mature.
To my eye, the area burned by the Warm Fire looks blasted in a way that the area burned by the Red Eagle Fire does not. The reasons might include higher altitude, a more arid climate, and a hotter fire that sterilized the ground. But in addition, this is usually a mixed conifer forest. These species are less tolerant of full sunlight than are the aspens. Thus, the aspens recolonize the burned areas more quickly.
Eventually, an interesting thing will occur: the aspens will provide the light shade that the conifers need, and they will be able to start growing. In time, they will begin to shade out the aspens, which will die out, and there will be no more aspens until once again the area burns in a fire. Nature has her ways.
The Warm Fire was started in the Kaibab National Forest by lightning on 6/6/2006. At first, it was judged to be a small fire of low intensity that could be allowed to burn and would help renew the forest. In its first 10 days, it burned 1,049 acres.
After 2-1/2 weeks, however, suddenly it blew up into a very hot, rapidly-spreading fire. Between 6/23 and 7/4 it burned about 43,000 acres. Figure 5 shows the fire map through 6/27, but the fire wasn’t contained until 7/4.
United States Forest Service. Warm Fire Recovery Project. Viewed online 5/27/2019 at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/kaibab/home/?cid=fsm91_050264.
United States Forest Service. Warm Fire Progression Map. Downloaded 5/27/2019 from https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm91_050152.pdf.
During the last decade, a huge increase in the number of earthquakes striking the Midwest has been reported, especially in Oklahoma. Despite the presence of the New Madrid Fault, historically this part of the country has not been known to produce large numbers of earthquakes. There has been an uptick in earthquakes in Arkansas, and I have been tracking the yearly number of earthquakes in Missouri.
The last time I looked, I looked at data through 2016. This post updates the data through 2018. The U.S. Geological Survey database is not categorized by state, so I have been following earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater in a rectangle that approximates Missouri. The precise boundaries are given in the Sources list.
The data are in Figure 1. It shows that the number of earthquakes has continued to increase. The chart forms a rather dramatic spike, with the average number of earthquakes in 2017-18 slightly more than 10 times the average number from 1980-2012.
The vast majority of these earthquakes are small. In 2017-18, 12 of the earthquakes were magnitude 3.0 or larger, with the largest topping out at 3.64.
The felt intensity of an earthquake depends on several factors, including the type of soil, the distance from your location to the epicenter, the type of ground movement that occurred, and the depth underground at which the earthquake happened. Still, in general, earthquakes below magnitude 2.0 are not commonly felt by people. Earthquakes above magnitude 3.0 are often felt by people, but rarely cause damage. Earthquakes above magnitude 4.0 may cause minor damage. Earthquakes above magnitude 5.0 typically cause moderate damage to vulnerable buildings. It is the earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and greater that cause severe damage. The Richter Scale is logarithmic; that means that every 1.0 increase represents a 10-fold increase in the energy released by the quake. The earthquakes that caused the tsunamis in Indonesia in 2004 and in Japan in 2011 were magnitude 9.1-9.3 and 6.6, respectively.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the famous New Madrid Earthquake was actually a series of 3-5 major quakes of magnitude 7.0 or larger, and many several thousand smaller ones. Major earthquakes are also believed to have occurred in southeastern Missouri in the years 300, 900, and 1400 C.E.
Figure 2 is a map showing the location of the earthquakes counted above in 2017-2018. It is easy to see that they cluster along the New Madrid Fault in southeast Missouri. The second largest group extends across northern Arkansas.
I don’t know why Missouri is experiencing this increase in small earthquakes. The swarm of earthquakes in Oklahoma has been attributed to the deep well injection of wastewater from fracking, but there is virtually no fracking in Missouri, and Missouri has no deep well waste injection sites. There are fracking operations in Arkansas, but they run through the center of the state from Conway west to Oklahoma. They are not particularly close to the New Madrid area.
United States Geological Survey. Search Earthquake Catalog. Data and map retrieved 2/16/2017 from http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/search. I searched for minimum magnitude 2.0, no maximum magnitude, starting date 1980-01-01 and ending date 2016-12-31. I searched for earthquakes in a rectangle defined by the following decimal degree coordinates: 40.964 on the north, 35.729 on the south, -95.999 on the west, and -89.099 on the east.
Wikipedia. April 2011 Fukushima Earthquake. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_2011_Fukushima_earthquake.
Wikipedia. Richter Magnitude Scale. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richter_magnitude_scale.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources. History of Earthquakes in Missouri. Viewed online 2/26/2017 at https://dnr.mo.gov/geology/geosrv/geores/historymoeqs.htm.
Wikipedia. 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_and_tsunami.
Developed land is on the increase, while cropland, pastureland, and rangeland are on the decrease, according to the 2012 Natural Resources Inventory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has conducted the inventory every 5 years since 1982, but it takes several years to put the report together, so the inventory for 2017 is not yet available.
Figure 1 graphs the surface area of the contiguous 48 states by land cover/land use in 2012. The top 3 uses were forest land, rangeland, and federal land, each of which accounted for 21% of the total. When the USA was first settled, forest land and rangeland were much more extensive, but they have been converted into cropland and developed land. In addition, we think of our country as having huge freshwater lakes, but only about 3% of the surface area is water. Freshwater is very precious and special.
Of course, federal land could also be categorized into forest land, rangeland, cropland, and the other categories, but the Natural Resources Inventory does not do so.
Figure 2 shows the change in land cover/land use since 1982. Over that time, cropland decreased and developed land increased by more acres than did any other category. “CRP Land” is land placed in the Conservation Resource Program.
The Natural Resources Inventory grew out of the National Erosion Reconnaissance Survey, conducted in 1934 because of severe dust storms and erosion during the Dust Bowl. Thus, since its inception, the report has been concerned with erosion. Figure 3 shows the estimated erosion rate on cropland in 1982, and Figure 4 shows the same data for 2012. You can see that in 1982, erosion was most severe in a region centered on Iowa’s borders with Illinois, Missouri, and Nebraska, but also extending along the Mississippi River into western Tennessee. In 2012, that region remained the one with the most severe erosion, but the rate had been significantly reduced. Across northern Missouri in 1982, more than 10 tons of soil eroded from each acre of cropland each year! In 2012 that had been reduced by 50% or so.
Figure 5 shows land use in Missouri from 1982 – 2012 in a few broad categories. The green areas of the columns represent federal land, which is not broken-out according to use. The red areas represent water. The two blue areas represent non-federal land, and they are broken into two categories: developed (light blue) and rural (dark blue). You can see that rural land represents by far the largest use of land in Missouri. In 2012, it represented 86.8% of Missouri’s surface area, while federal land, water areas, and developed land represented 4.5%, 2.0%, and 6.7%, respectively. Over the 30-year period, federal land increased slightly, water areas increased slightly, and developed areas increased by a whopping 38%, all being converted from rural land.
Figure 6 looks at Missouri’s non-federal rural land more closely. In 2012, more land was used for crops than for any other purpose (36% of rural land), followed by forest land (32%) and pastureland (27%). Over the 30-year period, the amount used for cropland decreased slightly, pastureland has decreased 17%, and rangeland, which was already such a small portion of the land that you can barely see it on the chart, declined 62%. Forest land and other rural land have increased. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP Land) began after 1982, peaking in 1997, and declining since then.
This report is compiled and published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and from an environmental perspective it may be a bit misleading. Figure 5 shows that developed land represents only 6.7% of all Missouri land. However, Figure 6 shows that almost 1/3 of rural land is cropland, and another 27% of it is pastureland. It is not as if these lands are undeveloped. While they may not be covered in asphalt or highly populated, they are intensively used. They may be subject to high levels of erosion, as shown in Figure 3, or they may be disturbed by tilling and the application of agricultural chemicals. Pig farms and feed lots, for instance, are located in rural areas, but they are highly developed operations, in many cases resembling factories.
Thus, the Natural Resources Inventory probably provides the most comprehensive look at land cover/land use in the USA. It does not, however, provide an in depth review of the ecological status of the land.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2018. Soil and Water Conservation Program. Viewed online 4/18/2018 at https://dnr.mo.gov/env/swcp.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015. Summary Report: 2012 National Resources Inventory, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington, DC, and Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/nri/12summary.
How are the birds doing? Ever since Rachael Carson revealed in the 1960s that pesticides were decimating bird populations, how the birds are doing has been an important question. DDT was the worst-offending pesticide, and it was soon banned, but other chemicals and other factors affect the ability of birds to survive. These days, the most important may be habitat destruction, competition from invasive species, and the effects of other chemicals, such as lead.
Many, many bird species migrate. Those that do require habitats along the way where they can rest and refuel. Break the chain of habitats in even one place, and you seriously harm the ability of the birds to survive.
The largest and most important survey of bird populations is the Breeding Bird Survey, which has been conducted every year since 1966. Here’s how they conduct the survey: during peak breeding season, starting 1/2-hour before sunrise, volunteers follow a route with 50 stops, each stop at least 1/2 mile apart. The route stays the same from year-to-year. The volunteer counts all birds of that species seen or heard within a quarter mile of the stop. Figure 1 shows a map of the routes. The routes look like blue dots because of the scale of the map. You can see that coverage of the USA is quite good.
From the multiple routes in each geographical area, for each species a yearly index is constructed. These indexes represent “the mean count of birds on a typical route in the region for a year.” (USGS, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)
The results are mixed, differing from species-to-species and from region-to-region. As you might expect, even though the routes have 50 stops on them, and the method used is quite rigorous, it is not the same as physically being able to count every bird. Some of the birds may not be calling when the volunteer is there, or they may be hidden in brush, etc. The survey method does not permit a calculation of the absolute number of birds in a region, and the annual index is only reliable if a sufficient number of birds are observed. Thus, the Breeding Bird Survey provides crucial data, but it may be only part of the picture.
Trend data on how the annual indices for each species have changed is available for every species and for every state and region. I shall focus only on observations in Missouri. Table 1 shows the data. The trends are reported from 1966-2015 and from 2005-2015. The trends represent the annual rate of change over the period of interest.
(Click on table for larger view.)
The table is a bit complex, so let’s unpack it. It shows all species observed in Missouri. They are listed in order of the change between 1966 and 2005, with species that declined on the left side, and species that increased on the right. Each side of the chart begins with 4 columns intended to comment on the quality of the data for a given species. They are coded “G”, for green, or good, “Y” for yellow, or caution, and “R” for red, or extreme caution. The first column comments on the credibility of the measurement. The second column comments on the size of the data sample. The third column comments on how precise the measurements are. The fourth column comments on the relative abundance of the species.
The trend statistics follow the names of the species, and they are color-coded with green and red bars, representing the size of the change. Readers of this blog know that time series are vulnerable to year-to-year variation, but the fact that these are trends computed over the entire period of measurement should minimize that effect.
Between 1966 and 2015, annual indices for 58 bird species decreased, while 79 increased. If one counts only species for which the Regional Credibility Measure was “G,” then the situation is reversed: 40 species decreased and 31 increased.
Those with declines of more than 5% were the blue-winged teal, the loggerhead shrike, the house sparrow, and the American bittern. The blue-winged teal declined at a rate of 18.1% per year, however the Regional Credibility Measure for that species is red, indicating that use and interpretation of the data for that species warrants extreme caution. The same is true for the American bittern. The Regional Credibility Measures for the loggerhead shrike and house sparrow, however, are good.
Because 1966-2015 is a 49 year period, even small annual changes can accumulate to rather significant changes across the entire period. Any decline of 1.4% per year over 49 years would result in a 50% decline over the whole period. The loggerhead shrike, for which the Regional Credibility Measure is “G,” declined at an annual rate of 6.68% per year. Over 49 years, that computes to a decline of 97%!
Among the success stories are some birds that are everybody’s favorites: bald eagle observations increased almost 40% per year, great egret observations increased almost 11%, and cedar waxwing observations increased almost 9%. With the bald eagle and great egret, however the Regional Credibility Measures are red, again indicating extreme caution in using and interpreting the data, and for the cedar waxwing it is yellow.
These findings reinforce what was stated above: the Breeding Bird Survey provides crucial data, but it may not be a complete picture.
Missouri is home to 9 federal wildlife refuges and hundreds of state conservation areas. All are devoted to providing animals and plants the habitat they need to survive. If you visit them on the wrong day, they often look empty, and you can come away wondering what the big deal is. If you visit them on the right day, however, they can be teeming. Figure 2, for instance, shows the afternoon lift-off of a flock of snow geese at Loess Bluffs NWR in northwestern Missouri. The snow geese are only there to rest and refuel for a few days each spring and fall.
Keyserill, Robert. 2017. “Afternoon Lift Off.” Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge.” Downloaded 3/18/2018 from https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Loess_Bluffs.
Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr, K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link. 2017. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2015. Version 2.07.2017 USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD. Downloaded 3/14/2018 from https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs.
Siolkowski, Dave, Jr., Keith Pardieck, and John Sauer. 2010. “On the Road Again for a Bird Survey that Counts.” Birding, 42, (4), pp. 32-40. Downloaded 3/18/2018 from https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/bbsnews/Pubs/Birding-Article.pdf.
United States Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Trend and Annual Index Information. Downloaded 3/19/2018 from https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/trend_info15.html.
In the United States, 133 billion pounds of food were wasted in 2010.
In the USA, 133 billion pounds of the food supply available at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten, according to a report from the U. S. Department of Agriculture. The total available food supply was 430 billion pounds, meaning that 31% of the food was lost. Retail losses represented 43 billion pounds, while consumer losses represented 90 billion pounds. The data is shown in Figure 1.
The total amount of food represents represents about 387 billion calories (Technically, kilocalories. In common speech, when we refer to “calories,” we are actually referring to “kilocalories.” In the rest of this post I’m going to follow common usage, and use “calories” to refer to “kilocalories.”) The report translates this to 1,249 calories per person per day, which is about half of a person’s daily caloric requirement.
These statistics have a humanitarian implication. There are many factors that would complicate attempts to deliver the wasted food to those who need it, but it would feed a lot of hungry people.
Food waste can also be thought of from an environmental perspective. Food waste constitutes about 14% of the total waste stream in America. After recycling products are separated out, it represents the largest category of waste going into our landfills: 21%. (See Figure 2) In addition, though the report doesn’t go into specifics, the growing and transport of food requires the use of energy, the spraying of pesticides and herbicides, the tapping of aquifers for irrigation, problems dealing with animal waste, and the erosion of topsoil, all of which are significant environmental problems. That almost 1/3 of the product produced with these practices is wasted should be a concern to almost everybody.
What are we throwing away so much of? In terms of total pounds of wastage, we throw away more dairy products than anything else (25.4 billion pounds), and vegetables are a close second (25.2 billion pounds). In terms of the percent of the available food supply that gets wasted, sugars and sweetners top the list (41%), followed by fish (39%).
Unfortunately, reducing waste is not so easy, and requires attention at all levels, including the level of the individual consumer. The EPA has published what they call a “food recovery hierarchy,” prioritizing different strategies. (Figure 3) Perhaps the basic first step involves the awareness that wasting food has a humanitarian and environmental cost.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day by Age, Gender, and Physical Activity Level. Viewed online 3/3/2018 at https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/usda_food_patterns/EstimatedCalorieNeedsPerDayTable.pdf.
Buzby, Jean C., Hodan F. Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman. 2014. The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, EIB-121, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2014. Downloaded 1/3/2018 from https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/43833/43680_eib121.pdf.
Many species have dwindled to the point that their continued survival is an issue of concern. So says the most recent edition of the Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern Checklist. The checklist monitors the status (in Missouri) of:
- 18% of all vascular plants (plants with a specialized system to conduct nutrients throughout the plant, including almost all trees and flowering plants);
- 14% of all non-vascular plants (plants without a specialized circulatory system, including mosses and algae);
- 28% of all vertebrate animals (animals with a backbone, including fish, snakes, birds, rodents, cats, dogs, bear, and deer); and
an unknown percentage of native invertebrate species (animals lacking a backbone, including insects, worms, and shellfish).
Species have become threatened despite the fact that, legally at least, “All native animal species in the State of Missouri are protected as biological diversity elements unless a method of legal harvest, harm or take is described in the Code. All native plant species in the State of Missouri are protected as biological diversity elements only on land owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation.” (Missouri Department of Conservation 2018)
Threatened or endangered species in Missouri are defined as those listed as such by the Missouri Wildlife Code (3 CSR 10-4.111), or the U.S. Endangered Species Act. There are 75 listed in the checklist. They include such notable species as the Peregrine Falcon, the Greater Prairie-chicken, and the Snowy Egret.
There are many, many more species of concern that are not listed in those laws, however. The report lists 1,156 in total. Figure 1 shows the number of species by rank. (Some species carry more than one rank, thus, the total number of rankings is larger than the total number of species on the list.) Some of these species may exist in other parts of the country or the world, but some are (were) unique to Missouri.
Plants and animals tend to group together into communities where the species each fit into a niche that contributes to the health of the whole community. Weaken one and you weaken the whole community. Because Missouri’s landscape is fractured into relatively isolated ecosystems defined by soil type, sunlight, and the presence (or absence) of water, the state is home to many unique, but small communities of this kind. Many of Missouri’s threatened species live in such communities. Eighty-five such communities have been identified by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Of them, 24 are listed as imperiled (28% of the total), and 17 more are listed as critically imperiled (20% of the total). Together, that means 41 are either imperiled or critically imperiled (48% of the total). (Figure 2).
Consolidated State Rules of Missouri. 2017. 3 CSR 10-4.111, Wildlife Code, Endangered Species. Viewed online 2/15/2018 at https://www.sos.mo.gov/adrules/csr/current/3csr/3csr.asp.
Missouri Department of Conservation. 2018. Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern. Publication # SC1077. Downloaded 2/15/2018 from https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/downloads/2018_SOCC.pdf.
Forest resources in Missouri were unchanged in 2016, after more than 40 years of gradual increase, according to an estimate by the U.S. Forest Service.
The estimate comes from the Missouri Forest Inventory, which is conducted annually. Data were collected from 7,524 individual forested plots across the state. Researchers surveyed how many trees of each species were located within the plot, and measured their height and girth. Researchers then extrapolated from this data to create a estimates for the whole state.
Table 1 shows the data. In the table, “forest land” means land that is at least 10% covered by trees. “Timberland” means forest land that is capable of producing more than 20 cubic feet per acre per year of industrial wood crops. Compared to 2011, in 2016 the amount of forest land in Missouri decreased by 0.9%, the number of live trees decreased by 3.8%, the aboveground biomass of live trees increased 2.1% and the net volume of live trees increased 2.9%. The area of timberland decreased 1.1%, while on timberland the number of live trees decreased 3.7%, the aboveground biomass of live trees increased 2.0%, and the net volume of live trees increased 2.7%. All of these changes were either within or just outside the margin of error. Thus, while there may be some very slight change between 2011 and 2016, it appears to have been small.
(Click on table for larger view.)
At the time of first settlement Missouri had an estimated 31 million acres of forested land. By 1947, the year of the first forest inventory, it had decreased to 15.2 million acres. As shown in Figure 1, the area of both forest land and timberland bottomed in 1972, and over the next 40 years slowly rebounded to 1947 levels.
As shown in Figure 2, the Eastern Ozarks is the most heavily forested area in the state, with the remainder of the Ozarks next most heavily forested.
As shown in Figure 3, Missouri’s forest lands are predominantly oak-hickory forests.
The extent of Missouri’s forest land, and the raw amount of forest that it supports is one factor in assessing the health of Missouri’s forests, but there are other factors as well, such as the presence of invasive nuisance species, the land’s ability to support animal and bird life, the presence of toxins, and the health of the trees on the land. I have discussed some of those issues in this blog, and those who are interested can find the relevant posts under the Land and Water menus at the top of the page.
Piva, Ronald and Thomas Treiman. 2017. Forests of Missouri, 2016. Resource Update FS-120. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. https://doi.org/10.2737/FS-RU-120.
In 4 previous posts and in a series starting August 24 I reported on several hazardous waste programs in Missouri. These programs concern abandoned mine lands, superfund sites (both the NPL and Missouri Registry sites), brownfield sites, and underground storage tanks sites. This post summarizes the findings of those posts.
It seems that abandoned mine lands may represent more acres of hazardous land than any other type in Missouri, some 22,149 acres in total. The number has grown each time I have looked. The hazards represented by these lands only sometimes involve contamination with toxic chemicals. They can also include dangerous structures or walls, or open shafts into which one can fall.
The sites listed by the Superfund Program are among the most dangerous of Missouri’s hazardous waste sites. The worst and most dangerous of them are listed on the National Priorities List. Missouri has 33 such sites. Other site that don’t rise to the level of danger of those on the National Priorities List are listed in the Missouri Registry Annual Report. Sixty-one sites are included in the Registry, 1 of which is listed Class 1 (immediate threat to public health or the environment, must be remediated immediately), and 12 of which are listed as a significant threat to the environment (action required, but does not have to be immediate). A site is included only if it is contaminated with a substance that meets the federal or state definition of hazardous. Many hazardous substances are not classified as hazardous. Further some sites that are candidates for the Registry are under assessment or under litigation. Thus, there may be contaminated sites that are not included in either the National Priorities List or Registry.
Brownfield sites represent smaller properties. Though the contamination on them may be sufficient to prevent continued use of the property, it is generally not sufficiently large to represent a threat to the general public health. An example would be a site used as a dry cleaning establishment that became contaminated with dry cleaning fluid (trichloroethylene). Sites contaminated with lead paint or asbestos would be other examples. Because they are unusable, they tend to sit abandoned, forming eyesores and economic drains on the communities in which they are located. Owners are not required to register brownfield properties. Rather, there is a voluntary program for owners who want to remediate their property to state standards and receive a letter certifying the cleanup, enabling the properties to be sold and redeveloped. In total, 1,102 properties are participating in this program or have done so. Some 633 of them were assessed as having no reason to suspect environmental contamination, while the remaining 469 underwent further testing/cleanup. The sites are widely scattered across the state, but tend to concentrate in cities.
Underground storage tank sites (UST) may represent the most numerous individual sites across the state. These are (were) almost all used for storage of petroleum products (for example, the storage tanks buried under the pumps at your local gas station). Operators are required to register them with the state, build them to certain standards, and operate equipment designed to detect if a leak occurs. There are currently 3,332 operating UST sites in Missouri, 10,139 that have been closed, and 1,512 other petroleum sites. It is difficult to tell from the database maintained by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources exactly how many of these have leaked in the past, but data on currently operating sites suggest that about 41% of them may have. If that percentage applies to the total number of sites, it would mean that 6,143 of them have leaked. If a UST leaks or is closed, the owner is required to clean the site, and most have received a No Further Action Letter from the Department of Natural Resources. Only those properties closed after 2004, however, could receive a letter with restrictions indicating that some environmental concern remains. Some 9,254 sites received a letter prior to 2004, and what the final status of those site is, I don’t know. Of the total number of sites, only 2,365 are listed either as currently undergoing corrective action or assessment, or as having received a No Further Action Letter with restrictions. If the department had issued letters with restrictions prior to 2004, however, I believe that the number of sites with a No Further Action Letter with restrictions would be higher.
Thus, Missouri is home to tens of thousands of sites that are, or potentially could be, hazardous due to contamination with hazardous materials. Many of these sites are small, representing a hazard on the site itself, but not to the public generally. Whether such small sites exist in sufficient numbers to represent an aggregate threat to general public health is not addressed in any of the sources I have consulted. How might such a threat occur? For example, thousands of underground tanks might each leak a little bit. Individually it would not amount to much, but together it might be enough to get into local groundwater supplies. It’s just a hypothetical, but we see such effects occurring with the runoff of farm chemicals. The databases don’t address it.
It is difficult to gather overall information about all of the hazardous waste sites in Missouri because the sites are administered by different programs and listed in different databases. The criteria for inclusion differ between programs, and I have not yet located a governmental resource that attempts to summarize all sites in one large overview. The database used to generate the E-START mapping utility seems to be the most comprehensive. In addition to mapping the sites, the utility allows users to download the database. I could not find, however, any documentation specifying the content. It may exist, but I couldn’t find it.
Mostly, the databases do not seem oriented toward providing high-level overviews of trends in the numbers over time, which is the focus of this blog. The data seem aimed at providing the public the location of specific sites, descriptions of the contamination at each site, and descriptions of remediation efforts. For these purposes, it is amazing how much information is only a click away, especially for sites in the NPL or Missouri Registry. If you are interested in information regarding specific sites, then I urge you to consult the resources listed at the bottom of each of the previous 4 blog posts, you may be able to find what you are looking for.