Friday, September 21, 2007

Food from national forests, part 2

Back to brainstorming options for food from national forests... I'll focus here on plant foods, since I don't much about hunting or ecosystem management for game animals. I see a range of strategies for harvesting plant foods. These different options have different risks in terms of impact on ecosystems already under assault from civilized humans, so I'll also mention some thoughts around those risks. I ordered the strategies from least to most potential impact:

  • Gathering only what nature provides, being careful not to gather anything in ways which would negatively impact the community. This could include activities like harvesting camass bulbs to leave patches thinned out and healthier than when we arrived, carefully harvesting leaves or other root crops, and of course picking berries galore!
  • Spreading native edibles:

    • Into clearcuts or other catastrophe-struck areas, to encourage regrowth of plants we can directly harvest down the line. We could sow seeds, plant cuttings, or plant starts. We might alter the terrain to some extent, to make spots with high organic matter content to hold water and nurture specific plants; or we could create seedbeds; etc. I walked a private land clearcut this year immediately adjacent to Tillamook state forest which I think someone cut last year, so I wonder how long it takes for companies to replant, or if sometimes they don't even bother? And same question for public forests? We would need different strategies for planting into replanted vs abandoned clearcuts.
    • Into second growth areas, in the same ways as above. I don't know much yet about second growth--how healthy are those communities already? Should we avoid messing with them? Are some second growth areas essentially monoculture tree farms for timber harvest, and if so would introducing more diverse edible natives enhance the community? In a monoculture tree farm, would we want to actually take down some trees to make clearings for planting diversity?
    • Into old growth forest areas. I suspect that we couldn't go too wrong with this strategy, but I feel very hesitant to mess with old growth! I'd need to learn a lot more before embarking on this.

  • Spreading non-native edibles:

    • Into clearcuts and similar zones. Here I start to feel even more uncomfortable, because I really don't know enough to predict the impacts on the nearby plant communities! Obviously we'd avoid known invasive plants, but that still leaves plenty of unknowns. I can imagine planting root crops like jerusalem artichokes (native to the US) or parsnips (which have naturalized elsewhere in the US), fruit trees and shrubs, or nut trees like chestnuts and walnuts. We could even intensively manage an area with a full-blown food forest design. For herbaceous plants we'd need perennials which can compete with other vegetation, or annuals which can self-seed themselves, but in both cases we wouldn't want them to compete so well that they spread indefinitely to become a nuisance. Bringing in new species and establishing different combinations of plant communities in different areas could enhance regional resilience as climate change alters weather patterns in years to come, and existing plant communities begin to fail and open up niches. Pockets and sources of non-natives here and there will prove beneficial in the future, but maybe those pockets belong on private, actively managed land/homesteads, not in forests in the midst of communities struggling as it is?
    • Into second growth. Similar questions as with spreading native edibles into second growth, plus the issues of understanding the non-native plant behavior.
    • Into old growth. This just seems dumb to me. If old growth areas suffer from climate change and niches open up which non-natives should fill, then those non-natives can work their way in from the "pockets" I mentioned above. But I see no need to tinker with non-natives in rare old growth in advance.

By the way, I finally found the section of the library with books on pacific northwest native tribes, Oregon history, etc! I found some really nice books and encyclopedias giving details on individual tribes and their subsistence patterns through the year, including what foods they harvested when and their migration patterns. At some point I'll probably post a summary of resources and the most interesting information I find and conclusions I draw...but that could take me weeks or months before I get a chance to go through everything enough to pull it all together.

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