Saturday, September 28, 2013

How do you stay dry in a coastal rain forest?

This year, the fall and winter rains have appeared a little earlier than usual on the coast of British Columbia. Summers bring a drought to coastal rain forests, but the fall winter rain events from October to January bring more than half the total annual rainfall. Ground vegetation in the forest can stay wet for weeks in the rainy season.

How can you stay dry if you work or recreate in a wet rain forest environment?  Everyone tries to combat the wet, but most are unsuccessful. Loggers try heavy rain gear made of a fabric coated on both sides with rubber or vinyl. This keeps the rain out and it is sturdy enough to withstand the tearing effects of thick undergrowth. It keeps the water out, but it also keeps moisture inside. The rainstorms that move in from the Pacific Ocean have their origins in warm southern climates, so rain events often come with mild temperatures. Rain, high humidity and mild temperatures can turn rain gear into sweat buckets. Then you get wet on the inside. The rain gear sticks to clothing and the damp clothes remove heat from the body resulting in a good definition of miserable.

There are some fancy fabrics and clothing that claim to be waterproof and breathable, but most of these do not perform as well as promoted or are easily ripped by undergrowth. The answer to the title question is that you do not stay dry in a coastal rain forest when it is raining. You will get damp or wet, so you need to protect yourself from the heat loss that comes with damp or wet clothing. This can be tricky.  Weatherproof or waterproof winter clothing that is suitable for the extremely cold winters in most of Canada often has too much insulation. You can get overheated and sweat excessively and get wet. Wool is perhaps the best fiber for keeping you warm if it get wet. Thin wool fabrics or a wool component in fabrics helps to keep you warm even when they are damp or wet. The wool fiber has air pockets inside the fiber to provide insulation.

Some folk cannot stand wool near their skin. There are some new synthetic fabrics and underwear that drive moisture away from the skin as a result of body heat. These do seem to work when you are expending energy, but they can feel cold if they are damp and wet and you stop vigorous activity. Thin down filled and waterproof garments will keep you warm even if damp. Cotton fabrics hold moisture and loose their insulation qualities when damp or wet, so it is not a good choice for the rain forest.

The perfect rain forest clothing that deals with water from the outside and moisture on the inside has yet to be developed. Saami or Laplander reindeer boots with upturned pointy ends at the toes was an innovation to deal with sweaty feet in cold weather. The moisture makes its way into the pointy upturned toe where it freezes in some packed fibers and the foot stays dry and warm.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Lost in the woods

Getting lost in the dark forest is the stuff of legend or fairy tale. What can you do to prevent being lost in a forest? There are a few sensible precautions. Before you go into the forest, it is best to collect some information about the area. A topographical map, or a look at Google Maps or Google Earth can give some understanding of the hills and valleys you will encounter. Carry a compass or a  Global Positioning System GPS. Hand-held GPS devices now come with maps. Sometimes, forest cover will block signals from satellites.

Some people come with some internal direction finding ability and never or very seldom get lost. The opposite is true for some. If you fall into the latter category, it would be best to go into the woods with some one with a good sense of direction. Foresters never get lost in the woods, or that is at least what foresters like to tell people. Forest engineers who go deep in the forest to locate access routes are usually very proud of their direction finding ability. Forest engineers definitely never get lost, although most forest engineers will admit that there were a few times when they were not quite sure where they were in the forest. If there is any distinction between not knowing quite where you are in a forest and being lost, it probably about how you handle things when you get off track or slightly lost.

Expect the unexpected! You seldom get off track in the forest if the terrain is steep and well defined. If you are in a steep mountain valley the topography contains you within terrain that is expected and you would be aware if you went over the ridge into another valley. On a rounded gentle hilltop or plateau surrounded by several valleys it is easy to drop into the wrong valley as you go downhill. Following the stream downhill is common advice, but you have to make sure that it is the right stream. Getting of track often occurs on easy gentle terrain where you least expect it.

Getting off track happens gradually, and you usually pick up a few preliminary signs that something is amiss. The terrain is different than expected, or the hill is the distance is the wrong hill or the right hill but in a seemingly unexpected direction. If you get some of these signals pull out the compass or GPS and check. Stay calm and trust the compass and make the necessary direction change and head for where you need to go. This is simple, but in the forest, with obscured views to distant landmarks it can be easy to convince yourself that you are still on track. Force yourself to o keep calm and have the discipline to trust the instruments and make the necessary correction. If not you can get totally confused and totally lost.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Spirit of place or genius loci

Spirit of place or genius loci is the qualities or characteristics of a landscape that make it unique. Places of exceptional natural beauty or interest are usually places with strong genius loci. Glencoe in Scotland, Yosemite National Park in USA, or the Matterhorn in Switzerland are examples of places with strong genius loci.

British Columbia has mountain scenery and many places with strong or exceptional genius loci that rival or much exceed the qualities in the famous landscapes mentioned above. If we get too much of something good, we tend to lack full appreciation of its full value.

If we look at the photo above, we see a somewhat interesting view of forested hills in the background with a dry rocky site in the foreground. It is not a view with a strong sense of spirit of place or genius loci. If we look carefully at the center right of the photo we see some water. It is the sea, and this landscape is perhaps the southernmost deeply incised fjord in the northern hemisphere. The landscape has a very strong spirit of place or genius loci. However to get a sense of the genius loci of the incised fjord you have to be down in the incised valley.

If you were standing where the photographer took this picture what would you do next?  You would probably walk ahead to try to get a better view down to the fjord. When you get to the edge, you find that the view is blocked by trees. The site has been trampled for this reason. The site contains some of the rarest plants and wildflowers in Canada. It is a protected area or BC Park very close to a major city. The park follows the fjord, but this view toward the fjord is the only one the hiker gets on a five kilometer trail that follows an inland location. The management plan for the park recognizes that it contains a high percentage of environmentally sensitive sites and has objectives for limiting the impacts of human access.

The trail system in the park supplies limited human access. However, this five kilometer stretch of trail does not give hikers any sense of spirit of place, so they go exploring toward the fjord and their random access is often over sensitive sites with rare plants.

The solution is to put a new trail closer to the fjord with a few views and other points of interest along the way and people will stay on the trail and appreciate the spirit of place. Perhaps BC lacks the genius to handle its places!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Forests and the visual landscape

Forest change and activity can stand out in the visual landscape. The size of the clear cut in this photo stands out in the landscape. Shape is even more important than size. A small geometric clear cut with straight edges will grasp the eye, while one of similar size with a natural shape with no straight lines will blend into the landscape.

Selection silvicultural systems and shelterwood systems allow for forest regeneration as the older crop trees are gradually harvested. The harsh color contrast of clear cuts are avoided and a harmonious landscape appearance is maintained. The visual appearance of a forest landscape can be maintained with non clear cut silviculture. However, clear cuts can also be designed to reduce visual impact.
While this clear cut is visible, its non geometric shape blends better than a square or rectangular block on the hillside.  A similar clear cut on the lower left of the photo is just starting to green up and blend with the forest background. Foresters and landscape specialists use geographic information computer systems and specialized software to produce 3-D projections of proposed cut blocks to plan and reduce visual impacts.

Some of the methods and techniques for planning the visual appearance of forest landscapes originated in Great Britain for rather unlikely reasons. Britain set up a Forestry Commission to establish forests after experiencing timber shortages in World War I. This trend of forest establishment continued after World War II. Straight lines were a common feature of forest boundaries. Sometimes these were old property boundaries. In Scotland and other parts of Britain, deer were a problem and new forests needed to be surrounded by high deer fences. To reduce the total length and cost of fencing large square or rectangular blocks of forest were established. Even within geometric blocks of forest, there might be a geometric block of larch, a conifer that turns golden in the fall and sheds its needles. Rather than cut blocks it was geometric blocks of forests in the landscape that drew negative attention from the public. Over the past half century methods and techniques that are a blend of art and science have been employed to make the forests blend more harmoniously into the landscape. Some of their texts even show photographs of the transition of natural forests to alpine conditions in British Columbia as examples.