Monday, May 28, 2007

“Be Careful What You Wish For”

"More than you ever wanted to know about the ‘Wildfires’ in Georgia":

As a committed environmentalist (My enemies in Alaska eagerly insist I ought to be committed!), I want to share my personal thoughts about the current ‘wildfires’ in south Georgia and north Florida. The combined areas of these fires is estimated at 576,244 acres as of 5/27/07, or more that 900 square miles! This is the biggest woodlands fire in the lower 48 states since 1918, and threatens a community, wildlife refuge, railroad infrastructure and microwave installation. Smoke has affected most of the coastal states of the southeastern US.

My close friend in South Georgia sent me some pretty dramatic pictures of the ‘wildfires’ currently burning there, and for about the past month and a half. The term ‘wildfire’ in connection with these fires is misleading. Even though woodlands are involved, for the most part they are in fact ‘tree plantations’ on land cut over several times in the past.

The big timber companies own most of these lands and utilizing ‘silviculture’ (‘science of tree farming’), most of the area is in truth a big ‘tree farm’ of areas of trees, all in rows, all about the same age, species and size, with a tractor width of space between the rows. You can see this clearly in the attached pictures. There is about as much ‘wild’ about these ‘woods’ as in a corn or cotton field.

The fires are really just a marker or indicator, like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, of a much bigger, more serious problem. This problem comes under the heading of ‘Be careful what you wish for’, or ‘unwise and unrestrained economic development is not always beneficial for everyone’. This is also a serious problem which is being passed along to the generations who follow us. In other words, our children and grandchildren.

For, not only have big timber interests bought up the land, cut the timber and turned vast regions into monocultural tree farms, but they have also created huge mills (yes, they do employ thousands of people) which put huge demands on groundwater resources. In conjunction with other demands on the aquifer, like cities and farm irrigation, there are now ‘cones of depression’ in the aquifer, and the overall level of the groundwater has dropped significantly over the past 50 years. This can be seen empirically in water wells dug in the ‘thirties, ‘forties and ‘fifties which once supplied plenty of wanter but have now gone dry. In fact, almost all wells today are drilled well, and much, much deeper than earlier dug wells in order to reach sufficient water.

Why is it so dry? Besides the ever increasing demands on the aquifer, vast amounts of land once forested has now been turned into huge agricultural/industrial mega-farms of many thousands of acres. In fact a satellite view of the region is very telling, and shows vast regions of ‘brown’ which used to be ‘green’. These huge changes have helped change the climate and rainfall patterns and the entire region is now noticeably dryer than fifty years ago. The area is often in a drought status, especially when the jet stream shifts. In conjunction with a global warming trend things just seem to get hotter and dryer all the time, leading to conditions favorable to the current ‘wildfires’. If the trends continue, it will only get worse.

The huge ‘Floridan aquifer’ underlies this region. Having spent some years in this area in the distant past, and now having been away for many years, these changes are very noticeable - and disturbing - to me when I return. And, I’ll share a bit of research I’ve done on the aquifer:

“In some parts of south Georgia east of the Flint River basin, there have been long-term declines in the Floridan aquifer, indicating that withdrawals are exceeding recharge. Heavy industrial and municipal pumpage of the Floridan aquifer along the coast of Georgia, especially in Savannah and Brunswick, has resulted in large cones of depression in which hydraulic pressure has been significantly reduced. This has led to saltwater intrusion in Brunswick and Hilton Head, South Carolina, and the cessation of many flowing artesian wells.”



And, if you want to see what the state of Florida is proposing to do with the same aquifer in order to save money, you really ought to read this article:



If you are at all interested in the environmental health of this region, maybe you should do your own research and get involved yourself. You could start here:


But be forewarned! All those big money and development interests (and their supporters) will slam you, and accuse you of being a ‘dirty, rotten, stinking, liberal, pinko environmentalist’! It won’t matter if you actually vote Democrat or Republican. I can tell you this from personal experience!

Yes sir, resisting the depredations of the big money boys is a big ‘no-no’!

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