Author’s note: There are a good many saints working in our prisons today, despite the atmosphere and despite the low pay. These people show up every day and essentially minister to the broken and marginalized segment of American society.
I cannot remember all of their names, but they made a lasting impression on me. A few examples are: Miss Heavren, the JCTC Horticulture teacher; Vannessa Kennedy, the counselor who was later promoted to Deputy Warden at Western Kentucky Correctional Complex for Women; The Librarian at PeWee Valley KCIW; the JCTC Carpentry program instructor; the Mennonite men and women of the Galilean Home, who care for babies and children of inmate mothers; the Priest and lay Deacon of the chapel; Mary, the Ridgeview Dormitory ‘house mother’ and her husband; most of the guards at Ricky’s World, including Wendy, who started the Class D road crew program for women; Father Al and his intern Priest at Ricky’s World; the guard I call ‘Sally,’ who was the only person to send flowers to the funeral of Ruthie’s mother and other kind guards at McCracken; and again, the night JCTC Biology instructor; my case worker at PeWee in Ridgeview Dormitory; the behind-the-scenes workers in Inmate Records at PeWee.
As if they answered a calling, these good people are members of the 99, and they should all be making more money than our professional criminal white collar banksters.
A tree destroyed by Mountain Pine Beetle, photo by photokayaker under noncommercial, attribution, no derivative works creative commons on flickr.
Here is the MPB Part 1, if you missed it.
The Blue Fungus
Beetles are themselves hosts to a blue-staining fungus, that is conveniently delivered to the tree. The fungal spores develop and spread throughout the phloem tissue, interrupting osmotic water movement and decreasing the tree’s natural defense of pitching out attacking beetles.
Unable to circulate nutrients due to fungal infection, dying trees become chlorotic and weakened, their leaking sap stained by blue fungal spores. The combined dual fungal infection and beetle infestation on concert is especially devastating to trees.
Blue-fungal-stained sapwood is problematic to the timber industry, due to public perception that blue-stained wood is damaged or substandard. However, unlike mold or decaying rot, blue stain fungi is harmless to people and can be used in the same markets as unstained timber, with some constraints.
Endemic versus epidemic and conditions that favor epidemic
Endemic means that MPBs ordinarily exist in harmony with, and play a role in, forest health. They are a stand-replacing mechanism. Since they need lots of resin in order to establish their broods, MPBs tend to attack older, larger-diameter, over-mature trees, thinning stands and making way for younger replacement trees.
At epidemic levels, however, tree mortality is massive, overtaking the forest’s ability to mount a defensive response.
Warmer temperature trends favor beetle success by 1) extending its range to higher elevations; 2) increasing the number of beetle growing seasons (broods) from one to two or more per year, and 3) placing the trees in a drought-stressed state, weakening their ‘immunity’ to attack. Also, the MPB seems to have an evolutionary edge in surviving freezing conditions: it begins to expel water in the fall, essentially becoming a bag of antifreeze by winter. At the same time, it enjoys the insulation that the bark provides. Absent a severe, early freeze while the water is still in the insect, it survives the winter cold.
MPBs have natural predators. Woodpeckers feast on the larvae and, when they bore large holes to get the larvae, the infested area aerates, killing the broods. Nuthatches and other insect-eating birds eat adult beetles. Other natural beneficial MPB predators include parasitic wasps and checkered beetles. Other beetle species’ larvae can out-compete MPB for tunnel space. Beneficial organisms provide a natural biological control to an endemic pest, but are ineffective in epidemic infestation.
Bugworm Burn 1 by Ian BC North under creative commons on flickr.
The role of fire
Fire ecology is a complex dynamic and a highly specialized subject that exceeds the scope of this descriptive paper. Forest fores are a necessary and natural disturbance to boreal ecosystems. Some plants have evolved to depend on fore to, for example, disrupt their seed coating and allow germination. Fire is a thinning mechanism, that removes old material and makes way for new growth. Although it seems counter-intuitive, our own past forest fire suppression practices may be partially responsible for thickened, over-mature and drought-stressed pine stands that are akin to a MPB salad bar.
However, retired US Forest Service silviculturalist Wayne Sheppard, PhD, does not attribute epidemic-level MPB outbreak to human fire suppression alone. Sheppard explains that, as far as our brief frame of reference is concerned, the magnitude and scope of this outbreak is unprecedented; however, from an evolutionary standpoint, such devastating disturbances probably occurred in the past.
Increased older, mature tree densities are an initial condition for both fire and for MPB infestation. CO2 is an end product in both decomposing respiration and combustion.
Author’s note: In the next part I will discuss carbon and temperature. In future Frog Gravy posts I will discuss some of the positive, wonderful prison education, work and treatment programs, that seem to be disappearing faster than money in Iraq. Another shout-out to the ’99′ prison workers who stick with God’s work, even in the face of adversity, discouragement, privatization and cuts.