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Scientists say sudden oak death epidemic is no longer stoppable (washingtonpost.com)
288 points by whyenot on May 3, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 136 comments

Five hundred years ago, Spaniards spread the seeds of european annual grasses as they traveled between missions in California. Within a century or two, a large part of the California landscape had changed. Annual grasses crowded out native perennial grasses, and we got our "golden hills." Nobody knows exactly what California looked like before the Spanish arrived or how many species may have gone extinct, but you can still see echoes of what happened. For example Mount Hamilton Jewelflower, now reduced to a few relict populations on serpentine soil where the annual grasses don't grow so high...

SOD is a disturbance of similar magnitude. It won't kill all the oaks. For example it only kills black oaks (coastal live oak, interior live oak, California black oak, ...) but not white oaks (blue oak, valley oak, ...). What it likely will do is over time dramatically change the makeup of the oak woodlands, especially along the coast and in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Not plant related, but equally fascinating: There used to be a lake bigger than Lake Tahoe in California between Fresno and Bakersfield. It It was the largest fresh water lake west of the Great Lakes (by surface area). It was drained for agriculture.


I discovered this historical trivia myself by chance not long ago. While stopping in Kettleman City off of I-5, there's a retail complex called Bravo Farms. Inside, near the restrooms there's a map on the wall showing a massive "Tulare Lake". I could hardly believe such a large lake existed in this area not too long ago and it's mostly forgotten.

Google image search, and I found someone else posted a pic of the map: http://ink361.com/app/users/ig-2115609400/eccentricculinary/...

Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown

There's a similar story in Israel. There used to be two lakes on the Jordan River (which isn't much a river anymore but that's a different story). The famous Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) and one further to the north called Lake Hula (Merom) that existed until it was drained in the 1950s.

I would highly recommend "Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water;" it goes into fair detail about Lake Tulare. Fascinating read.

Thanks for the recommendation! Linking here to make sure all the "HN Reads"-ish tools pick it up:


There used to be a fairly sizable indigenous community (referred to by English-speaking settlers as the Yokuts) in the vicinity of that lake. Some 70,000 strong at their pre-contact height (one of the highest regional populations in North America):


As a people they were apparently "drained" nearly out of existence, also, through the combined efforts of Mexican and European settlers, around the time that lake was drained (down to an estimated population of 600 by 1910).

For a good read on what happened to Lake Tulare, read "The King of California". The world's largest cotton plantation now sits in the lakebed and holds primary water rights. Pink sheet stock. Ticker BWEL.

I went to the library and browsed the book on your recommendation. It is indeed great. It includes a few photos and maps as well. I will have to find the time to read it.

Did you know there's a group trying to create rice that doesn't absorb arsenic?

It turns out one of the only things that can grow on depleted cotton land is rice, but the pesticides used against weevils contain arsenic, and for some weird reason people don't like to eat rice full of arsenic!

Sell sell sell

I wonder how all these lost lakes impacted the regional climate

I've often thought about this.

I've wondered; if we built a huge trench from the ocean into the Sahara desert, what would the environmental impact be??

People have been making plans about how to flood parts of the Sahara for about 100 years. Some of the more colorful options involved using buried nuclear warheads as trench-digging tools.



The Amazon rainforest would die. [1]

How much of it actually would die is obviously depends on factors like how big the replacement lake is and how much it affects the phosphorus, but I'm constantly amazed by how seemly separate systems are actually intimately interconnected.

[1] http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/nasa-satellite-reveals-h...

I can imagine it would quickly be filled in by sand. The Sahara is a slow moving ocean of sand particles.

The sand only moves if it is light. When the weather and climate changes, the make up of the sand changes and so does the way it moves. It is a complicated process and it would definitely have some surprises.

Actually, most of the Sahara is rocky, not sandy.

All the sandworms would die.

I had no idea about this facinating part of California history. To think I drove by near the spot dozzens of times between SF and LA wihout ever knowing. Thank you!

Wow - that's actually pretty mindblowing. I lived in Porterville (on the east side of the lake, apparently) when I was a teenager, and my dad was an archaeologist, so he must have known about it but I don't recall him mentioning it. Explains why that whole drive north from there is so flat, though.

See also: the eucalyptus tree which was brought to CA in the 1800s and spread rapidly before everyone realized that young trees are useless for timber [0][1]

Here on the Central Coast, there are eucalyptus groves everywhere (some are massive). They are messy, a fire hazard, and useless for firewood.

0. http://www.independent.com/news/2011/jan/15/how-eucalyptus-c...

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucalyptus#North_America

Slowly they are being eradicated. People in the East Bay are going apeshit over FEMA's plans to knock down ~10,000 eucalyptus in order to restore native vegetation and prevent a(nother) disastrous fire in the Oakland hills. On the other hand they seem to be very popular in Napa and along the 101 as windbreaks. Maybe we'll never get rid of them.

A bunch of Eucalyptus trees lining the streets along the hills bordering 280 have been removed over the last 5 years.

I was sad at first from seeing these trees I grew up with go away, but then my friend educated me about the invasive nature of the trees, and now that a few years have passed since the first wave of removals in my neighborhood, I can say that I've become accustomed to the new sights.

Yeah, wind break is their only redeeming quality. One of my favorite golf courses here would be a lot less fun without them.

"Widowmakers". The last thing you want next to a highway in a strong wind is a eucalyptus tree.

As an Australian I find the CA eucalyptus very nostalgic. They are most certainly a fire hazard, but I am surprised to learn that they are considered useless for firewood. Here in Australia the best firewood is eucalyptus - it is a bastard to split though.

Yeah, it can work as firewood for heat if its thoroughly dried (1+ year). You have to split it before it dries.

I guess I should clarify my previous post. Most people in CA don't burn wood for heat. I was specifically referring to burning wood for cooking (aka Santa Maria Style BBQ). For that, oak is superior and eucalyptus is a no-go.

Yes it does need to be dried to burn well. I have split by hand an awful lot of seasoned eucalyptus and it is hard work and takes real skill. It is even worse here in Australia as due to the native pests the wood contains a lot more knots. You get used to taking a good look at a log and deciding if that is worth splitting or not.

You can cook with it, but you need to let the fire die down and cook on the coals only - that is unless you love the taste of cough drops.

On the topic of building with it even young eucalyptus is OK if you let the timber season while strapped so it doesn’t twist and warp. The only problem is that it become like iron and is impossible to nail. When I was a kid we had a huge supply of seasoned eucalyptus that my brother and I used to build all sorts of things. We had to pre-drill all the nail holes before we could use it. If you did this it was a 100x better structural timber than pine.

I have long experience as a teenager splitting yellowbox eucalyptus for firewood - it splits considerably better when seasoned.

Yes as long as it is not knotted.

My favourite was logs that had the core eaten out by termites - now they were nice and easy to split :)

Talking of arthropods did you ever have the fun of chainsawing through a bull ant nest while collecting seasoned logs? They are not happy and do they hurt when they bite.

I grew up in northern New Mexico, in an area where piñon and juniper trees grew together, dotting the landscape as far as you could see.

About 15 years ago, after years of drought causing tree weakness, we had a bark beetle epidemic. It affected only the piñon, but losses were close to 100% in many areas. We had probably around 150 piñon trees: after the epidemic, 4 remained. It was heartbreaking to drive around and see huge swaths of brown, dead trees covering the land. The alteration was dramatic.

Only now, the progeny of those dead trees are beginning to come back. It will still probably be another 20 years before things start to look normal to me. The makeup of our forests in California will be altered for a long time, in the best case.

> What it likely will do is over time dramatically change the makeup of the oak woodlands, especially along the coast and in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Once the disease has run its course (read: all affected oaks dead), couldn't we reintroduce the extinct oaks? We've bought back a species from near-extinction already[1].

[1]: http://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2012/02/24/147367644/si...

The problem is, it doesn't just infect oaks, but several other plant species like California bay laurel. The pathogen lives as an endophyte in the leaves of bay laurel without killing the host or even causing significant damage, yet still spreading the disease. In fact, one method to control the disease is to physically remove all the bay laurel trees from an area you would like to protect. How well this actually works is not clear to me, but I haven't kept up with the literature.

It is spread by spores that are very resistant. There is a possibility those spores could live in the soil for decades.

Look at the decades of effort that's gone into restoring the American chestnut, one of the most productive and economically important trees of eastern North America. This is not something that is easy to do.

I'm just so amazed at how much fucked up devastation the Spanish are responsible for.

It's impressive.

As to the spread of the disease, in my country they are recommending bikers/hikers to disenfect their shoes if they have been in the woods.

PG@E hires tree companies to trim all branches around their power lines. When the tree company was trimming around my residential trees, I noticed a complete lack of any disinfection protocol.Didn't disenfect tools, boots, gloves, etc. These trucks, and employees looked like they were actively spreading disease. Think about those tree shredders. It seems like if a diseased black oak goes in, it might blow the pathogen everywhere? (I did ask an employee if he knew the difference between White, and Black Oak. Just looked at me puzzled. Went to another employee, and asked the same question--he spoke a little bit of English, and said no. It wasen't their fault. They just weren't trained.)

I complained. When they came back to my street, they acted like they were going into surgery. Spray for tools. Spray for boots. Spray everywhere. It was quite a show.

I belive it was just a show for my behalf? When they arrived a few months later--no disinfects. I know don't notice any safety precautions on their part. This was a few years ago. They came back this year to trim trees, and no disenfectant.

I fiqure we pay a lot for out electricity. PG&E should make sure they hire tree companies that are not spreading Suddden Oak Disease. Plus, it's costly to remove a diseased tree for property owners.

This makes me wonder what role fire normally plays in the life-cycle of tree pathogens. Does this fungus survive heat well? Can it survive in the soil long enough to spread to a new host (presumably a new Oak tree)?

As a second point, this demonstrates the danger presented by monoculture. The industrialization of agriculture horticulture has been unquestionably beneficial for us as a species. However, we do an absolutely terrible job of managing existential risks in horticulture. When we grow crops, we grow millions of acres of the same crop. When we plant trees, we plant thousands of the same trees. City streets in the US used to be lined with Ash trees, as they were inexpensive and fast growing. Now there are areas where almost every tree has been cut down because of the Emerald Ash Borer.

I think the blame can be assigned as much to the consumer as it can with the individuals growing the plants. Consumers, (myself included) are extremely picky about what they will eat or buy. Varieties of crops are selected for their looks, and varieties of crops that are not consistently good looking fall by the wayside.

I don't think this will cause a famine in the first world in the near future, but the poor genetic diversity of our horticulture is definitely an area of concern.

The interaction between forest fires and tree pathogens is an area of active research - a friend of mine is studying exactly that in her ecology PhD program. http://ucanr.edu/sites/rizzolab/Research_Projects/Big_Sur_Ec...

That is really cool, thanks! I've spend a lot of time conducting research and restoring Oak Savannas in the Upper Midwest, and I'd hate to see anything happen to few remaining areas we have left. The Oak Savanna exists because of fire, rather than in spite of it, and it would be really interesting to see if fire did more for oak trees beyond burning competing species.

In the course of writing this comment, I checked the Wikipedia page for Oak Savannas to see if it had any interesting insights. I didn't realize that California oaks formed oak savannas as well. Hopefully that means that research in the Midwest and Californian savannas can be shared and used to draw insights into one another.


Yes, it can survive in soil, although I don't know how well it would survive fire. Many of the affected oaks have very thick bark and are well adapted to seasonal fires, though.

It's thought that a major route of infection is late spring rain, when the weather is warm. As rainwater drips through the canopy of infected trees, the pathogen releases it's spores into the water, which then drip on neighboring trees and into the soil. Matteo Garbelotto of the UCB forest pathology lab claims that four years after an especially late spring rainfall event, you usually see a wave of dead trees (it takes about four years for the pathogen to kill a tree).

This might be of interest to your temperature question. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18592898

>while there may once have been a chance to stop the spread of $ARTICLE_TOPIC — around the year $CURRENT_DATE_MINUS_FIFTEEN_YEARS — that opportunity has since passed. Forces didn’t mobilize fast enough or spend enough money

FTA, with minor edits; I think we'll see a lot more language like this in the coming ten years. The consequence, which absolutely no one would be against ("what do you mean, there's 90% fewer oak trees?!"), always seems to logically follow the general disinterest in preventing the problem ("what do you mean, the _forestry service_ needs a 800% budget increase?!"). OTOH, it's generally clear what we should have done, in hindsight, but there's all kinds of stuff like this running around. The ever-eastward spread of the Asian long-horned beetle; what ocean acidification is going to do to corals and anything else that uses calcium carbonate to build its shell; etc

I think if we're being honest, we should have been seeing those article for the last ten years.

The comparison to massive die-outs in coral reefs is not very apt, because those often represent the destruction of entire ecosystems and of great natural beauty that is mostly irreplaceable. Whereas, while certain species of oaks being wiped out is sad and disrupts other parts of the ecosystem, it also doesn't represent total devestation. Other oaks survive, dozens of other tree species will thrive in the niche left behind by these trees.

And as we've only recently come to grips with the ecological benefits of forest fires, I expect we'll also eventually learn that not all invasive species represent irreversible ecological disaster, and that they actually play an important role in encouraging the spread of new variants that we didn't realize were going to be beautiful and useful to us.

In other words, Life... uh... finds a way.

It looks like in 2002 California enacted a task force to control the spread of the disease. see "Sudden Oak Death Management Act of 2002". However, this was subject to appropriations in the California state budget. The author is implying the act was hampered by not having the budget to do the work (apparently $60 million a year according the article).

>The author is implying the act was hampered by not having the budget to do the work (apparently $60 million a year according the article)

There's always someone desperately trying to get The Powers That Be to notice.

> I think we'll see a lot more language like this in the coming ten years.

?? Why? What's special about the coming ten years?

FWIW I've always seen this kind of language, it's not in the slightest new. You could go to most any point in history and find similar things.

The problem is you can only tell what needs [needed] the money in hindsight. In 2002 did you know we needed the money for this? Did anyone?

Climate change is putting stress on ecosystems that causes them to change more rapidly than they have in the past. You could go back in history and find similar things, but you'd be hard pressed to go back in history and find as many things happening at the same time.

> Climate change is putting stress on ecosystems that causes them to change more rapidly than they have in the past.

Is it? You keep reading this story and that story about how this crop failed, or changed or whatever, and they always blame climate change.

Then you check and see - oh yah, that also happened in this year and that year.

Climate change is becoming like dark energy - blame absolutely everything you don't understand on it.

Climate change is a very slow, very subtle process that is difficult to even see unless you look very closely. It's not responsible for every single thing that happens differently this year compared to last year.

And that attitude is why society isn't going to adjust in enough time to avoid a whole bunch of extinction and ecosystem collapse.

Wait, so you want to blame absolutely everything on climate change, so that people get super scared and do something about it?

That doesn't seem dishonest to you?

For example the story in this article has exactly zero to do with climate change - but I assume you would be happy to blame it on climate change anyway?

> to avoid a whole bunch of extinction and ecosystem collapse

Really? Who is predicting that? Only in the worst case scenarios will that happen, and the data is not trending that way. You are so caught up in your desire to fearmonger-for-change that you have gone a full circle: Now you are trying to prevent a catastrophe you yourself invented.

And that attitude is why society's belief in the reliability of science has never been lower.

Tell the truth. Don't lie to get change.

We'll adjust just fine, we'll wreck the natural ecosystem doing it but in fairness we already did that anyway, UN reckons we have 38% of the earths land mass under some form of agriculture.

Wild Earth is going away, Garden Earth is coming, the first planet we terraform as a species will be Earth.

Note: I'm not saying this is a good thing but we will survive as a species and I wouldn't bet against us thriving.

That's like saying economic recession is a very slow and subtle process, and it's not responsible for every single person who lost job this year.

Which is perfectly true. In fact, you'll never be able to conclusively show that a single person is jobless because of the recession.

But when recession comes and millions lose jobs, I'll bet my ass that people will blame the economy and politicians will scramble to "do something".

An economic recession is not in the slightest a slow and subtle process, your comparisons are off by orders of magnitude.

I wonder if they'll find any hope with those trees left unscathed that are deemed "resistant."

Also, with something like this, how do they remove the trees without the disease spreading in the process? I know when I go to prune bits of my roses that have black spot or rust, it can spread just by contact in the course of removal which can be damn near impossible to avoid. I can only imagine how that scales at tree size.

> I wonder if they'll find any hope with those trees left unscathed that are deemed "resistant."

Something similar has happened with Ash Die Back in the UK with a resistant tree named Betty.


Here's a bit about Ash dieback: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35876621

I was thinking the same - eventually resistance develops.

Maybe, but we've seen some plant diseases pretty much eradicate the original species without them developing resistance. For example, the Panama disease (despite the massive resources of the banana industry) devastated the Gros Michel, and is now killing off the Cavendish.

Another example is phylloxera, which plagued Vitis vinifera (European grape) vines in the 1800s. And to this day, the only solution is to hybridize or graft them with American rootstock.

But that's because there is zero genetic diversity in the Gros Michel and Cavendish plants. None. They're all clones. You need some form of diversity to develop resistance.

I was thinking the remaining trees will just spread and the dead ones will feed the ecosystem.

The danger of course is forest fires. So long as nothing catches fire, the system can continue to build upon the non-resistant trees.

That is only assuming that resistance is a passed genetic trait. There is also the opening of the canopy which allows to varieties of invasive species in so the old varieties can never establish a major foothold again.

While forest fires could be a risk, could those also be beneficial to the affected areas? For example, I wonder how well this disease stands up to heat.

Hawaii island is dealing with a fungal pathogen that impacts the most abundant native tree similarly: http://www2.ctahr.hawaii.edu/forestry/disease/ohia_wilt.html.

Don't worry, soon humans will have destroyed all habitats. We're working really hard, but we can't get to it all at once.

On an unrelated note, the best comment reply ever:

"Why do you assume that the experts missed a plan that some random guy on the Internet came up with in 30 seconds?"

Different areas of specialization or...

"given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus%27s_Law

The prevention to this type of problem is probably the same measure needed to fix many forestry problems.

Regular fires.

But now we have homes right up to the forest and no one wants to look at charred land for two decades. So I suppose it's still a no go. The thing about fire though is eventually it probably happens anyway.

It's unfortunate that most the public isn't aware of how important forest fires are. Humans suppressing forest fires cause more damage in the long run.

As far as I understand, fires essentially burn up the dead bits on the ground. When it happens naturally, the fires don't hurt the trees. But humans stop areas from burning and the dead bits build up and burn hotter, setting the trees ablaze and then we get these crazy forest fires. We just need to let them burn on their own, it'll sort itself out.

I hear this all the time from people I work with, Forestry department at a University.

Perhaps what we need is to better understand how to make effective fire breaks and better manage planned fires. The reason people fight forest fires is to stop them from burning down homes and businesses, not just out of an anti-fire aesthetic. Letting a fire rage and then saying, oh we'll just stop the fire from burning this gas station, hotel, and town that is here, is damned hard to do.

Sure, people built close to forests. People also built close to fault lines, flood plains, tsunami zones, unstable soil, on top of limestone, near industrial areas, in hurricane, tornado, ice storm, or "lake effect" zones, etc. There are precious few places that are devoid of some periodic natural ravaging. We can't just say, ah well, let it all happen and don't do anything about it.

Here in the South the government regularly does controlled burns and it doesn't seem to seriously bother people, even though there are plenty of people that live in (with some breaks) and around the burning areas.

My impression is that it's an American West political problem, not a fire management problem. Maybe I'm wrong. It is drier there.

For SOD, there's actually a fairly simple preventative step everyone could take that is poorly publicized.

It wasn't until I happened to be out with someone who does environmental impact studies for the army corp of engineers that I learned how easily SOD can be transported from place to place through the soil that collects on clothing. Most of us wash after a trip outside, but we should be bleaching our shoes. The pathogen is quite hardy and can survive the seasons without a plant host. Without a thorough wash, the next trip we take is likely to drop off a few spores, risking its introduction to plants we touch and the watershed.

That said, this is just one of many preventative steps, and one that's unlikely to be broadly adopted. We're likely too far down the road already for a lot of impacted forests.

This sounds very familiar. In New Zealand we have a lot of trouble with "didymo"[1], an invasive algae which thrives in cold freshwater environments, clogging up rivers with lots of green slime. It is very easily spread by humans doing recreational activities such as fishing and boating, inadvertently carrying it from one place to the next.

As such we've had intensive public education campaigns here, instructing people to carefully clean down things like boots and boat hulls with either hot water or bleach solution[2]. Its spread continues, though perhaps less quickly than without such a campaign.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didymosphenia_geminata [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didymosphenia_geminata#/media/...

While simple, it's a tall order to get every single outdoors person to use powerful disinfectant agents on their shoes every time they've been out.

I don't think regular fire would solve this problem (it would solve other problems, though).

Fire might strip out some of the carriers of the disease (California Bay Laurel), but infected tress would still spread the infection and many of the affected oak species have very thick bark and are very well adapted to survive fires. I suppose regular fires would get rid of the dead trees, which might or might not be a good thing.

Yes, fires are really important to the health of forests. Suppression of fires is a major part of the problem.

> The disease is actually related to the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine in the 1800s

I was in Ireland a few months ago. Someone I met in Galway said this famine wasn't really a famine; that there were plenty of crops. The king simply withheld the potato supply, forcing the famine.

That's partly correct and partly incorrect. It's incorrect in the claim that the government withheld the potato supply. The potato crop massively failed due to potato blight. The government had nothing to do with the potato shortage. This was not just in Ireland, but also through Europe. It was more significant in Ireland, though, because something like 40% of the population depended on potatoes for most of their nutrition.

It is correct that there were plenty of crops, but these were grain crops, not potatoes, which were raised largely for export. In earlier famines the government had banned exports and made those non-potato crops go to feeding the Irish. That was very unpopular with businesses. In the Great Famine the government did not curb exports, and so even though Ireland was producing enough non-potato food to feed those who had been depending almost solely on potatoes, that food was exported instead. So in that sense, much of the blame for results of the potato crop failures can be laid at the hands of the government.

Edit: there is an interesting song, written by Steven and Peter Jones, based on letters their great-great-grandfather in Ireland sent to their great-grandfather, who had immigrated to the United States. There are five verses, covering the contents of five of the letters, between 1860 and 1892. Although this is after the Great Famine, it provides an interesting look at what life was like in Ireland for ordinary farmers as they went through hardship and had family members leaving the country.

Here's a nice performance of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRHQAtKbRTk

Similar to how the English colonial tyrants killed millions of Indians by exporting crops during a famine:


Same tyrants. By the time of the potato famine Ireland was unified with Great Britain, "this was achieved through a considerable degree of bribery, with funding provided by the British Secret Service Office, and the awarding of peerages, places and honours to secure votes."


Similar to how the British colonial tyrants killed millions of Indians by exporting crops during a famine:


So, what happened (slight oversimplification, but you can read up on it) was:

* English people owned the land and the produce of the land in Ireland.

* Irish people had little choice but to work for English people, and were allowed tiny plots of often-horrendous land on which to grow their own food.

Potatoes were one of the few things that could grow on the land the Irish were allowed to use. When disease affected the potato crops, the English simply shrugged, kept exporting their own produce, and let the Irish die (and notably took steps to try to prevent foreign aid reaching Ireland, on the theory that it would be shameful for foreigners to do more for the Irish than the English were doing).

There are strong arguments to be made, especially given the historical English attitude toward Ireland and the Irish, that it turned into an opportunistic genocide: the English didn't set out at first to kill so many Irish, but given the opportunity to simply sit back and let the Irish die off, they took it.

> * English people owned the land and the produce of the land in Ireland.

Of note, the english landlords didn't own the land out of any deservedness. The english crown had passed a number of penal laws fully intended to — and very successful at — transferring irish land from catholic owners to anglican owners.

Amongst these:

* catholics were mostly barred from education

* catholics were barred from buying or inheriting protestant land

* catholics could not buy land under leases of more than 31 years

* catholics were barred from primogeniture (inherited land had to be equally split amongst all sons, fragmenting it), unless the heir converted

Over just the 18th century (between 1688 and 1776) Catholic ownership went from ~25% of irish land to ~5%.

And it started that low because the 18th century round of Penal Laws followed from the early 17th century one between 1606 (gunpowder plot) and 1660 (declaration of breda), which had already generated significant land transfer from irish catholics to protestant english and scottish settlers.

No, Irish people owned the land - typically absentee landlords, (albeit Protestant as you rightly point out).

The Government imported millet from India to help feed people, but Irish radicals called it "Peel's Brimstone" (it's yellow remember) and said those who ate it endangered their immortal souls. They preferred the propaganda value of dead children.

As for the "English", we were thrown off our lands by the Enclosure Acts, and forced into the factories as the only way to avoid starvation - by the same Norman-British upper classes that were abusing Ireland as well. But for some reason, although we are fellow victims, we are the ones that always get the abuse for acts not of our doing.

Other crops continued to do well, and Ireland still exported food; but the peasantry relied on potatoes, and the potatoes rotted.

I guess we could call the parent comment half-right, then, since presumably halting exports of food during a famine would have ameliorated it.

This is true, it lasted 7 years. 1 million died, 1 million forced to emigrate, 25% of Ireland's population

There was a potato blight, potatoes were grown by the Irish folk for sustenance.

Many Irish peasants & farmers starved to death on Absentee Estate Farms which were exporting food crops to be sold - worse aid from England was withheld for considerable time.

It is a shameful episode in the History between Ireland and England.

In those times many viewed the lower classes and other nationalities as somehow less human than themselves.

> In those times many viewed the lower classes and other nationalities as somehow less human than themselves.

Just look at the current migration issues (I refuse to call it a "crisis" or "problem", as that dehumanizes the refugees) in Europe. These times are (no longer) past, they resurface right now with all the ugliness.

Especially Eastern Europe, where millions of people fled the Sowjet bloc and were accepted by Western Europe, now refuses to aid others. It's sick.

They're basically right. Ireland grew lots of crops, but the only one affected was potatoes. Unfortunately the only crop the vast majority of the population could afford was potatoes, as all the other crops were exported.


It doesn't take a huge drop in production to cause famine, either. The Wheat Stem Rust epidemics in the US caused famines at regular intervals before genetics made wheat resistant, and production was down under ten percent in some cases. It's about getting food where it needs to be, and it sounds like the English weren't helping.

Years ago all of the oak trees in my area were cut down due to being killed by the Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle. Fines were imposed for exporting fire wood outside of the affected counties (a common thing to do in my state where people take their chopped logs up to their cabins for bonfires) but it did little to keep the bug from spreading further and further.

Many of these trees were in large forests, but it's most noticeable in my area due to the sudden change in suburbia from large oak trees planted when the homes were originally built (some a half-century or more ago) now having unusual looking, small maple trees adorning the front of their property. It's sad to see yet another pest attacking those same trees.

Something like this happened at my college, and one of my friends was in the forestry program.

He was so pissed because every time trees on campus got a disease, they'd cut them down and replace them all with a single species. So in 50 years when those trees got a disease, they had to cut them all down again.

So 50 years from now some maple disease will have your town cutting down all the trees all over again :/

That's a good point and bound to happen. In our area, the township covered the price of the removal of the tree provided you allowed them to take it when they chose to (otherwise you'd have to pay for the removal of a dead tree or get fined for not handling a dead tree on your property).

Since the various jurisdictions didn't pay for the replacement trees (but all had ordinances requiring a tree every "x" feet where the property meets the roadway), people were free to purchase any kind of tree they wished. The problem is that Maples were the most inexpensive tree that could be purchased at a reasonable size so nearly everyone planted a variety of Maple. So,... yup ... give it a few years.

Sadly, this isn't the only fungal pathogen attacking american oaks. Oak Wilt is dealing similar damage across the south and central plains states: http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/fidls/oakwilt/oakwilt.htm

Besides the fungal pathogen Phytophthora ramorum that kills oak trees, similar funguses are also killing other types of trees. Many avocado orchards in California have been wiped out by Phytophthora cinnamomi. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytophthora

There's a great paper modeling risk of invasion by sudden oak death into California. Computing for science, done right: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1890/ES10-00192.1/full

On the coast we have sudden oak death. In the hills they have pine bark beetles. Bad years for (some) trees.

It's disappointing to see serious reporting like this saddled with a clickbait title like "This disease has killed a million trees in California, and scientists say it’s basically unstoppable."

Why do you consider this clickbait? It's not untrue, nor does it tease with hidden information alluded to in the title. It's a straight-forward headline describing the contents of the article.

It does tease with hidden information by making you want to read the article to see what "this disease" is. And the "unstoppable" bit, while true, reads as very sensationalist. A less clickbaity title might be something like: "The Sudden Oak Death fungus has killed a million trees in California, and is no longer stoppable". Or something like that.. I'm no journalist.

The one on this link is fine, although if you want to be more newspaper-like I could you could say "Scientists: Sudden Oak Death Epidemic No Longer Stoppable"

After reading the article, that seems like a fair summary. What do you feel is wrong with it?

Obscuring the subject to force a click. "This disease" instead of "Sudden oak death". The idea is that person will read the scary part, want to find out which particular disease it is, and click through. It's headline SEO 101.

The odds aren't great that a given person knows what "sudden oak death" is, so that doesn't seem to add much except an extra expectation on the reader. I'm pretty sure this headline is not far from what it would been as a newspaper headline 30 years ago. It would have just been "Disease" rather than "This disease" since newspaper headlines favor brevity, but using common nouns in headlines for things that aren't super well-known is a pretty established practice (e.g. "Florida man" rather than "Robert Johnson").

I guess basically, it doesn't seem like the name of the disease is really the point of the article.

Yes. You either already know about the disease or you don't. The wording of "disease" vs. "sudden oak death" doesn't change how much I want to click at all.

It's not a situation where the title might obscure which disease is causing the problem. There's one problem.

And "sudden oak death" is sort of a fake name anyway.

What is "this disease?" This feels like it could have come out of the Upworthy generator.

But... Both of those statements are true...

This is, sadly, completely typical for Chris Mooney.

His writing is usually decent. His headlines are pathetic. I've been hoping he'd stop for years. He hasn't.

Most journalists do not write their own headlines.

Mooney has indicated he does when I remarked on this before. At the least, he defended the practice.

Is anyone aware of any pre-industrial epidemics of a similar scale?

Yes. The rapid spread of something an ecosystem is not prepared for is not an industrial phenomenon. The number of such occurrences is.

But it's also worth pointing out a lot of this is the result of travel or remote trade. Stopping this sort of thing doesn't look anything like "stop burning so many fossil fuels" or "recycle more", it looks like telling humans they aren't allowed to stray more than a few dozenish miles from where they live. It's not really clear how to prevent this. We have mitigation policies in place, yes, but in the biological world 99.9999% enforcement can be as good as 0% enforcement and that's a hard bar.

Heck, we can't even contain the spread of human diseases all that effectively, and that is something that you'd think we have every motivation to do.

The American Chestnut. It was pretty much wiped out by a disease that infects its cousin, the Chinese Chestnut, which has defenses against it.

"The American chestnut tree reigned over 200 million acres of eastern woodlands from Maine to Florida, and from the Piedmont plateau in the Carolinas west to the Ohio Valley, until succumbing to a lethal fungus infestation, known as the chestnut blight, during the first half of the 20th century. An estimated 4 billion American chestnuts, up to 1/4 of the hardwood tree population, grew within this range."


They're trying to reintroduce blight resistant strains by cross breading with Chinese trees.


The american chestnut has been successfully genetically engineered with an oxalate oxidase gene for blight resistance. testing and out-crossing with wild-type chestnuts is ongoing. Wider availability should be possible in the next few years.


Smallpox against virtually all non-European populations.

I'm trying to think of specific instances of pathogen based flora destruction, and don't know if I could mention many offhand. In California specifically, the replacement of wild bunchgrasses with European annuals (the "Golden Hills" are very much a modern phenomenon) would be one.

More generally, though, the motto "forest preceed us, deserts follow" has applied to human settlement for millennia. The Cedars of Lebanon and Pines of Rome aren't just allegorical. The former are where the Egyptians secured their lumber (painfully scarce along the Nile), the latter previously surrounded the Eternal City.

I'd be interested to know the history of forests in India, Persia, and China, other great centers of ancient civilisation.

What can be done to deal with the death of trees, then? Mass planting of resistant species?

Nature abhors a monoculture. Forests with 'resistant' strains will end up causing more problems if they are only a few types of trees.

Maybe we should do nothing, and let trees that are more capable of surviving fill in the gaps left by the oaks.

Where I live (Sierra foothills), the Oaks are enjoying the space opened up by the Pine tree die-off thanks to bark beetle. People are paying thousands of dollars to cut down towering pines.

I have five enormous oaks and four full-size pines on my 1 acre lot. That adds up to a potential liability of $18,000 or more. Doing nothing does not sound appealing.

This is the natural cycle of things. The dead trees will open up space for competitors to move in until some disease/insect/etc... comes in to clear out the new competitors and open up space for yet another competitor.

It's really only a problem if the trees are crop trees and someone's livelihood is at stake (see: Orange Greening). Otherwise it's best (easiest) to just leave the problem alone and accept that something else will take the place of those trees.

They could just as way say: "Scientists say the evolution of the natural landscape is no longer stoppable"

It's curious that so much 'evolution' is going on at the moment.

Interesting how the Great Barrier Reef and the oceans fisheries are currently 'evolving'

Rather remiscent of how the Western European population evolved in response to the plague.

That's the fun of natural selection, sometimes you get selected, sometimes you don't.

Natural selection only works as a driving force of evolution where there is sufficient variety in a population for the reproductively fit individuals to be selected.

Where environmental change is so rapid that none of the individuals are fit, you don;t get evolution, you get extinction.

I'm sorry but isn't this just Darwinism in play here? You get natural selection, and various species that are selected against become extinct.

But it's not like it's going to turn into some sort of desert, the area, after forest fires, will be replaced by another species that is presumably resistant to the fungus, and life moves on.

It's a rhododendron disease from the Netherlands. You're right, that this is Darwinism in play, but it's due to human influence. So human intervention is no more artificial than the original evolutionary pressure.

It just depends whether we value preserving diverse ecosystems, or if we're happy to spread species / diseases around the world and just see what survives. I'm not saying there's a fundamentally "right" answer, but I prefer diverse ecosystems to the point I think it's worth trying to intervene when possible.

I don't think anyone is trying to blame someone for this.. Absolutely this is nature taking its course, but we happen to like oak trees so it might make sense that we would try and protect them.

But it no longer makes sense, since the scientists have already said that it's unstoppable. So dumping more money into trying to protect them seems like a waste of money, no?

Giving up is a very poor plan. Dead trees make wildfires much much worse. California wildfires are terrible as it is.

Forest fires are a natural part of the cycle. In fact, it's forest fire "prevention" that causes even bigger forest fires than normal. If they simply let fires burn, it would naturally cleanse the forests of brush and dead trees and create much smaller forest fires.

It's more that the specific type of forests that John Muir was so fond of were the result of intensive agroforestry by the tribes of California. They used fire as part of a fairly large toolbox, and you don't get that sort of forest without it.

Actually, a lot of California is going to turn into some sort of desert. There are several borderline ecosystems that used to support mature trees but once we lost them to disease or fire no trees of any kind appear to be growing back; just chaparral.

Yes, Life (capital L) moves on, but perhaps not the kind of life that we'd prefer. We can just shrug and say, "Oh well" or we can take a moment to reflect on what, if anything, we might do to steer natural selection in directions we find more pleasant.

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