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Iceland's attempts to replant its forests (nytimes.com)
697 points by farseer 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 273 comments

For reasons I won't go into the farming lobby is really strong in Iceland.

Sheep run free-range around the entire island, if you'd like to grow something that sheep like to eat you need to fence it in. It's not like pretty much anywhere else in the western world where people who own grazing animals need to fence them in.

Thus the sheep range far and wide and destroy Iceland's native low-lying forests. Iceland's native crooked birch hasn't developed resistance to grazing animals as mainland trees had to do, the sheep love to nibble at them and eat the seedlings.

The native trees and other native vegetation are generally much hardier than the foreign plants. But since the forestry service has lost the battle with the farming lobby they're desperately trying to introduce some trees that the sheep won't eat.

Reforesting the country is largely being done through subsidies to farmers, who aren't concerned with topsoil preservation beyond maintaining the desolate landscape they inherited, but they are interested in the eventual promise of a commercial forest on their land.

Which is something to keep in mind when reading articles like these and wondering "why don't they...", usually the answer is that they're planting in a field that's going to be full of grazing animals, and there's no way the forestry service is going to win that battle anytime soon, or that they're not really aiming to restore the topsoil per-se, but to do that as a side-effect of commercial logging.

This page has some more details: http://www.skogur.is/english/forestry-in-a-treeless-land/

I was in Iceland a few weeks ago and the people, museums, info plaques, etc. talked about deforestation and how the early settlers chopped down all the forests. Also mentioned was forestation and how they were slowly replanting. The grazing by horses and sheep were never mentioned as a problem. I did hear about how flocks of sheep are just let loose in the highlands in the summer to graze and the sheep herders separate out the flocks in big festivals in the fall. Similar to the old time Spanish rodeos in California.

This article obliquely mentions the sheep problem but only by saying:

Mr. Jonsson and his volunteers then plant the appropriate species for the plot — birch, Sitka spruce, lodgepole pine, Russian larch or other species. “We’d love to plant aspen,” he said. “But sheep really love aspen.”

Sheep may love aspen but they will eat all the other trees also. I did not realize this was the main reason there was only grass everywhere until, when up on top of the Skógafoss waterfall, there was this[1] little island in the river covered in a little mini-forest. This rocky island would not be a very good place for trees to grow compared to the nice soil under the grassy fields around it, but since nothing could graze on the island, the trees could grow up.

[1] https://njarboe.com/iceland/IcelandTreeIslandSkogafoss.jpg (The trees on this island are only about 4 feet tall)

The tl;dr of Iceland's colonization is: Norse settlers arrive, placement in society is based on how big of a farmer you are. Thus they overgraze and unlike their native Scandinavia they're doing this on a volcanic island with really thin topsoil, so the overgrazing leads to runaway topsoil erosion and dustbowlification. This leads to desperate logging of the last of the trees around for firewood and housing.

It's never remotely recovered, but that process is slowly starting just now. I was trying to find a photo like the one you just posted but couldn't. There's lots of examples like that where the plant biodiversity in an area where the sheep can't get to is night & day compared to the area right next to it where they can.

Which is not to say that those specific trees are old growth forest or anything like that. Icelanders pretty much lived in mud huts until after WWII in large parts of the country. If the sheep didn't get to a place like that some guy would have certainly swam over there to gather firewood. But it'll have been left alone by sheep and man in the last several decades, which as you can see makes a huge difference.

Edit: Here's an even more stunning photo of an island in the middle of a river that because of the depth of the river has been left alone by both man & grazers: http://www.skogur.is/media/frettir-2014/myndasafn-storar/Vid...

The accompanying article (in Icelandic, but it translates ok-ish) says that compared to the land around it it has a lot more biodiversity and a better topsoil, similar to other areas in the country protected from grazers that they've studied: http://www.skogur.is/um-skograekt-rikisins/vidburdir/2014/04...

Another part about Iceland vegetation is that developing soil on top of fresh lava takes a long time. Tens of thousands of years in some cases. Large sections of Iceland gets covered up with lava flows pretty often. But you can get some great biodiversity on the lava pretty quickly in a wet place like Iceland with lots of moss and lichen growing. On an 8,000 year old lava flow in the middle of Iceland near Leirubakki, the moss is half a foot thick[1] in places. You find a few old gnarled birch growing here and there in the hollows where wind blow dirt accumulates, but mostly just huge mats of moss and lichen with a bit of grass.


Thank you for your insightful comment, you learn something everday :)

Grazing by sheep and goats in California devastated native flora in California's Central Valley and foothills, and also introduced the Mediterranean grasses that put the Golden in California's current landscape.

Src:Allan A. Schoenherr's A Natural History of California

It’s theorized that CA’s golden hills used to be entirely covered with wildflowers. I find it sad that no photosynthesis can occur all summer due to the dead grasses. Such lost potential. But we get some amount of beef and dairy in exchange for the dramatic loss of efficiency and biodiversity.

That photo is a sharp (and fascinating) reinforcement of the grazing sheep point. Is there any other reason those trees would grow clustered right there and nowhere else? Was that area not accessible by sheep?

As you can see somewhat in the photo, this island is isolated from grazing by the river and the steep rocky sides of the island. You could probably get a mountain goat to climb up there with some prodding, but sheep and horses that range on the slopes behind wouldn't.

Interesting. Speaking of those fosses, Gulfoss is pretty cool.




Often when I read about Iceland, it reminds me of the Jules Verne novel "Journey to the Centre of the Earth", which I read as a kid. Good novel.

Journey to the Center of the Earth is set in Iceland, if you weren't aware.

Yes, I was aware of it, thanks though. That is why I mentioned the novel in the first place. Was going to mention the jökulls too, as sibling comment does. One of them was Vatna or some such, need to check - it was long back that I read it :)

Update: Checked, that's the name:


Update 2: There are some interesting points in that Wikipedia article.

The the Icelandic volcano Snæfellsjökull is the entrance into the Earth, to be more precise.

That is a cool shot. I like how the trees are perfectly camouflaged and even the shape of their foliage matches the rolling hills

There is actually a similar problem in the Northeastern United States. Deer are overpopulated (in my area 6x traditional level) because they have no predators and hunting is restricted. The deer eat all of the hardwood saplings. In many mid-Atlantic forests there are very few 10-20 year old hard wood trees, they don't survive the deer.

Reminds me the story of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone [1]. Imapact was relatively large to the whole ecosystem with many unexpected surprises, mostly positive.

[1] https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/wolf-reintroduc...

And the deer overpopulation also contributes to the Lyme disease tick problem.

Which we have a perfectly good vaccine for but it was shelved purely out of FUD!


"Perfectly good" is an overstatement. Efficacy wasn't that great (80% or so) and there was some evidence of side effects. Overall, the vaccine should almost certainly have not been taken off the market but it's not a near-perfect vaccine vs. FUD story either.

See, for example: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2870557/

You may not need a higher efficacy, herd immunity does not require 100%.

Chart of herd immunity thresholds for some diseases:


oh_sigh is correct, humans are a dead end host for lyme. It's primarily maintained in a mouse reservoir - the larval and nymph ticks feed on infected mice, and then the nymph and adult ticks can expose humans and deer. Deer are not really a big reservoir either, since mostly adult ticks feed on them, but they do move ticks around.

Edit: you can actually try to vaccinate the reservoir, however: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24523510

Lyme disease isn't passed from human to human so herd immunity is irrelevant.

My mistake, I thought it was a vaccine for the deer.

As I understand it the vector is mice, not deer. There's a correlation between mouse populations where the juveniles feed and Lyme disease outbreaks 2 years later when the adults latch onto humans.

lyme disease can be passed human to human as a std or the womb from mother to child

Lyme disease is NOT sexually transmitted. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/faq/index.html

(citation needed)

> Overall, the vaccine should almost certainly have not been taken off the market

It's no longer patented so nothing is stopping you from selling it if you think there's a market.

Read "should not" as it's unfortunate that potential legal issues around Lymerix were such that a vaccine was a losing business proposition. In general, human vaccines aren't a great opportunity for pharma companies--to the point where they're protected against liability for common vaccines.

it was recalled because it was causing damages. the article is wrong. they found that body tissues has similar protein structures as the target for the vaccine, and left some people in wheel chairs. there are some developments for an improved vaccine but not out yet.

There's a really interesting article about how Yellowstone (a national park in the US) reintroduced wolves into the ecosystem, reducing the dear population, altering the ecosystem for the better:



Like all things, there is another side to the story too.


And as is often the case with science, here's another more recent study (2015, vs 2010 cited in the NY Times piece) which largely confirms the prior results noting Aspen regrowth.


The NY Times opinion piece is clickbaity for its absolutist declaration that the prior studies are untrue, based on one new study.

Went into that article ready to argue, but I had to quote this line from it:

"But by insisting that wolves fixed a broken Yellowstone, we distract attention from the area’s many other important conservation challenges. The warmest temperatures in 6,000 years are changing forests and grasslands. Fungus and beetle infestations are causing the decline of whitebark pine. Natural gas drilling is affecting the winter ranges of migratory wildlife. To protect cattle from disease, our government agencies still kill many bison that migrate out of the park in search of food. And invasive lake trout may be wreaking more havoc on the ecosystem than was ever caused by the loss of wolves."

Great read, thank you for posting!

Then the farmers started shooting the wolves. Circle of life.

The NE also went from 30% forest to 70% open/farming land to 70% forest 30% open in about 100 years as agriculturalism gave way to industrialization. So that could also contribute to giving deer more cover/habitat. Also we killed all the wolves east of the Mississippi 50 years, and coyotes have yet to fill their niche.

> The NE also went from 30% forest to 70% open/farming land to 70% forest 30% open in about 100 years as agriculturalism gave way to industrialization.

Source? It would surprise me to see that many people voluntarily give up their farmland rather than, say, selling it to industrial farmers or real estate developers.

If you are driving thru New England and pull over to any forest you can start walking and eventually you will find a short stone wall. These stone walls used to mark the borders of farm land but now they are in the middle of the forest. They are everywhere! Really gives you an idea of how much farming used to go on there.

Of course, that is anecdotal, you can read more here: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/08/31/new-england-see...

Mostly true.

In my area, once you get passed a point south of me, those walls are fewer and fewer. There are areas where it was never farmed and old growth trees still exist.

What is great is you can walk out to places and stand there and be reasonably certain that you're the first human to have ever stood in that spot.

Possibly, but there has been a lot of humans walking around North America the last 12,000 years or so.

I'm way up outside Rangeley, Maine. I even have true old growth and there weren't many natives in the area. So, there are some places where it's a good guess. They aren't easy to get to, of course.

It's because it was never really good farm land to begin with. With the advent of the Erie canal, railroads, and industrial farming techniques the competition from the really excellent farm lands of the Midwest made farming NE rocky terrain impractical.

I grew up in Vermont and the woods are full of old stone walls put up by farmers and cellar holes where their buildings used to be. Not just on the edge of the woods, but deep within them too. I'm not a student of farming but I don't think that New England is a particularly good place to do it. Lots of hills and mountains and rocky soil. As for real estate developers, there's a lot more money to be made in heavily populated areas of the country. Taking VT as an example, the state contains fewer residents than the Boise, ID metropolitan area does, and the largest city has fewer than 45K people.

edit: removed link to an article that has been posted several times.

Real estate developers pale in comparison to the sheer amount of land in the US. Hell, even just on the "wrong side of the tracks" in many very expensive cities there's often completely abandoned/disused land that's worth a tiny fraction of the land a half mile a way.

Once you get somewhere more rural/remote, the land is going to have even less value.

Just find some photos of places in the countryside of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, or Massachusetts from 1900 and compare to the same places today.

Or go walking through the forest, and count how many stone walls you have to clamber over. Every one used to mark the edges of a field or a pasture that was hacked out of the forest, and then was allowed to grow back up when farming the cold, rocky soil of New England was no longer cost-effective.

The landscape was largely unsuitable for large scale farming (tiny fields with thin soils among rough terrain), and most farming areas aren't near cities.

Away from the coasts there's plenty of space. If it was low yield farmland far from a population centre abandoning it makes sense.

Lot's of people gave up on farming hardscrabble New England in the early part of the 20th century which resulted in reforestation. Farming is making a comeback in niche products, but nothing at the previous scales. This article (sorry for the paywall) gives a good summary: http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/11/21/how-new-england-....

You're right - farmers generally didn't just let the fields lie fallow and become forested. Piece by piece, farmers sold their most marginal lands to housing developers, commercial ventures, etc.

Wolf sized coyotes that hunt in packs. Not sure I like that.

Do areas of the NE not allow seasonal suburban hunts?

In VA, many local parks are opened to bow hunting through winter [1] in an effort to control the deer population. Signs posted all over parks to warn users [2].

1- https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/living/wildlife/archery/archer... 2- http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-bOyirfPSn0g/Vhv3vlBCh0I/AAAAAAAA0Q...

We have very similar signs in the Blue Hills Reservation just outside Boston, but the hours are rather more restricted (I think it's just Tuesdays). So it's not completely unheard of even in the relatively urban Northeast, probably because the deer situation really is getting that dire.

It appears a simple solution of allowing hunting to occur would solve the problem. Why is hunting restricted?

I don't know what the case is in NE US, but in my town in British Columbia, the deer population is out of control in the metropolitan area, and every time a cull is mentioned, animal rights activists put a stop to it through loud and effective lobbying. It's quite irritating.

In New Zealand they consider the deer to be an invasive species and were actually shooting deer from helicopters.


Why not bring back the giant Moa from the dead and have them crowd out the deer?

Bringing back the Haast Eagle would perhaps be more entertaining.

I'd Kickstarter that.

I suppose wolves wouldn't be popular in a suburban environment either.

Plenty of mountain lions in suburban California. I've seen them in Palo Alto and Cupertino (in the mountains that are on the edges of the cities).

The people decided it was better to live with mountain lions instead of killing them off in 1990, after we killed off the grizzly and the wolf in the state. http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?...

The grizzly, as a top predator, was not really very afraid of humans and many people were killed by them in California before they were hunted to extinction. I would definitely not want them around as a farmer in the 1800's. With antibiotics, helicopter transport, and ER rooms today, I might support a reintroduction of grizzlies to the state. There is one on the state flag, after all, and are amazing creatures. On the other hand, I like how relaxed I can be hiking in the California Sierra without them. Hiking and camping in the Canadian Rockies feels a lot different.

Mountain lions (at least the ones evolved when we hunted them for the last 12,000 years) are much less hazardous to humans than grizzlies or wolf packs.

Coywolf start to be a thing in those environments, a rare case of species created by human sprawl.

There are tons of coyotes in suburban environments though. I live smack dab in the middle of the suburbs and we have see coyotes all the time.

We have an urban coyote population in Vancouver. It's very strange seeing a coyote in the city. I was 20 feet away, once. They are amazingly beautiful creatures.

No, but there's a few cougars. They're generally not allowed to stay in urban areas unless they can keep totally out of sight though.

Even if they were allowed to hunt deer, it probably wouldn't help. So much of the land deer graze over in the Midwest is suburban and have laws in place regarding setting off a firearm.

This limits hunting to public lands, of which, there might be 2-3 within an hour drive of the city. So no matter how much the hunters kill, they aren't likely to effect the populations in the surrounding suburbs.

There are more hunting spots in the rural areas, but those areas are also populated by natural hunters, like wild dogs and large cats.

You can still bowhunt, or at least you ought to be able to...

It makes me very sad to go south and see the huge numbers of roadkills on the side of the highway. Where I'm from, we try real hard to inflate the deer population, since the winters and the coydogs keep the population down so much that the hunting isn't real easy.

This problem is widespread in the urban areas of my rural, pro-firearms home state. They solved it by hiring sharpshooters to kill the deer with rifles at night within city limits. It worked really well and they gave a ton of meat to the food bank.

Which state is this? I'm surprised anyone would authorize hunting in an urban environment at all, given the risk of collateral damage. Just because you've shot the deer precisely doesn't guarantee the bullet isn't going to fully penetrate and keep on going.

There are tons of solutions that aren't hunting, but animal rights activists are just as shrill about those.

Where are these animal rights activists? I'm from PA, the state with more deer than any other, where the white-tailed deer is the official state animal, and I've never seen anyone shed a single tear over a deer hunt.

Not at all. In Pennsylvania, hunters harvest over 300,000 deer per year. That's still not enough to control the population:


It's not a simple solution, because it's not very effective. In areas with limited open space, hunting is very much an exclusionary activity. In Staten Island, the NYC Parks Department is performing an experiment in deer sterilization: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/nyregion/deer-vasectomies...

I do forget the NE is dense living around the northern Idaho region.

In NJ there's a restriction from hunting within 450 feet of a building. In Idaho that's probably laughable, but here it leaves a lot of space where you can't discharge any weapons.

There's a parallel with the charge that the "Drug Free School Zone" laws discriminate against minority communities because everywhere you go in cities, you're within 1000 feet of a school.

The hunting restrictions are basically why the deer population recovered to the absurd levels they have. They need some tuning the other way, maybe extend the season (eg, shorten the exclusive bow-hunting season and lengthen the regular hunting season).

If you're not allowing hunting on your property, it would also be good (albeit expensive) to fence it, so deer cannot easily move through, to reduce their available forage.

Wolves kept the deer population in check for eons before humans ever showed up. The real reason the deer population is out of control is because we've extirpated their natural predator. Unfortunately for the forest's sake, it will never be politically tenable to have wild wolves roaming the exurbs of New England.

Mentioned it above but I live in the northern Idaho region. We've grown our wolf population for awhile. Now we are at the point of having too many wolves that we are opening hunting to them.

I'm not entirely sure, but there appears to be some insight in this article: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/11/the-dee...

Fewer hunters, less land where hunting is permitted (small farms).

Deer can be quite the issue. There are a handful of cities in Utah (and I'm sure other places) who have opened up hunting to archers - within the city limits because the deer population is out of control.

Back to the tree side of the story - I'm in NW Montana where trees are like weeds. In the spring I could find 1-2 fir tree seedlings per square inch and sometimes 4-5 in an inch! Despite having quite a few deer, forests are thick. I should rent some sheep to keep down the "weeds" we call trees.

I always felt it was kinda unreal that a tiny plant barely larger then the surrounding grass can become a huge tree given enough time of poor lawn maintenance. It doesn't even seem to take very long until tree saplings gain the ability to do some damage to your lawn mower.

There's a similar problem in the Olympic National Forest, but this time with mountain goats.

I saw the same thing on the island of Achill, Ireland. All sheep are allowed to roam the island freely, so if you want anything protected, you have to fence it in.

And there are no trees to speak of. That could either be because of the harsh winds on this almost-westernmost point of Ireland, or (never thought of this until now) it could be the sheep.

The government pays people 50 pounds per sheep per annum, so people just let their sheep roam forever, unshorn, spray-painted with each owner's distinct colors.

(Disclaimer: probably ignorant observations from an outsider, taking a couple of our girls to the world-class Irish music camp they hold each year.)

Pounds in Ireland? I was curious if that was a typo or an old fact from pre-Euro days so I dug around a little about this subsidy/stipend, but couldn't find anything. Any ideas what it could be?

Irish used Pounds (Punt in Irish language) before and use the Euro now but they still refer to units of money as 'quid' over there

Maybe cpr is british?

There's a gorgeous tiny forest on the Beara peninsula that I visit whenever I can. I think it's my favourite place on the whole island (Beara as a whole is happily underrated and relatively lightly touristed).

However, it's fenced in by old stone walls, and I was dismayed to see someone had driven a tractor through said wall the last time I visited and there were at least a couple sheep munching away in there.

I'm confused, there's no private property laws to prevent farm animals from grazing on non-farm property? Nor is there crown land to build national parks with giant forests? An effective farm lobby wouldn't be able to affect either of those things in almost any other western countries...

The problem doesn't seem to be the lobbyist but some strange lack of fundamental laws, if the government can be coerced into allowing this to happen by industry.

Unless you're saying the farm industrying (with grazing animals) controls a massive amount of land? They say only 1% is tree covered, I can't imagine they own such a large amount that they can't find any significant amounts of land to plant trees...

First of all you have to understand that private property in Scandinavia and Iceland works differently than it does in say the US. It's more appropriately phrased as a "limited land-use right", and the land use is always for a particular narrow purpose.

So for example, if you buy a farm and put a fence around it I'm still free to walk across your property to get to where I'm going, because farms are intended for farming, and as long as I'm not unduly interrupting that you have no standing to stop me. I can also set up a tent overnight on your farm as long as I don't unduly bother you, i.e. set it up too close to your house, I need to pick up all my trash etc.

Now, back to your question. During the summer the sheep wander around and graze on any grass they can find, and due to precedence going back to colonization (where everyone who mattered was sheep farmer anyway) if you'd like them not to do that it's your responsibility to set up a fence around your property, and of course the sheep are likely to start eating there first since sheep are lazy and go for the easy pickings first.

But this only applies to sheep, not e.g. cows, and that's entirely to do with ongoing lobbying not just by the farming industry, but people in rural areas that hold disproportionate sway in parliament.

There are successful reforestation efforts going on in Iceland, but most of these are in park-like areas near municipalities. There's not enough money being spent on this to fence wast swaths of land.

But yes, you could of course buy land, fence it off, and start planting trees on it. But that's expensive and not very lucrative, so very few farmers are doing that to make money.

There are big national parks, but they're almost all in areas that would be the last to regain any topsoil, i.e. in the highlands around glaciers.

Ay refs or background on this?

Check out everyman's right/freedom to roam: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_to_roam

There are a bunch of reasons from tradition in terms of letting sheep roam free to farming always having been a source of power. Further you have other weird facets like the votes of people in the countryside being worth twice those in Reykjavik. But basically for a long time farming and fishing controlled a lot of voting power. Although the traditional party of the farmers is on the wane now. The whole country has the population of a medium sized town so it’s on the whole very similar but also very different to larger countries.

The US also has lots of federally owned land which is "public" but used primarily by ranchers for grazing their cattle. It's not that unusual of an arrangement, and the ranchers have way more political pull than environmentalists.

They probably have to let the sheep roam because there isn't enough food if they fence them in. Here is a nice video on farming practices that might reverse desertificaiton:


Not sure if that would apply to Iceland, but it seems reasonable for someone to try it.

Allan Savory's theories are wildly unsound and have been debunked... But it seems like good intention.

Except that the land they tried his ideas on really did start growing stuff again. Nobody refuted the results he shows in the presentation. What may have been "debunked" is the notion that it's somehow good in terms of CO2 production, but even that isn't clear to me - plants take CO2 out of the atmosphere, and animals put it back.

I was recently in Orkney, which has the same issue regarding sheep and trees, and happened to catch the crime in progress: https://i.imgur.com/fEXWccm.gifv

> Sheep run free-range around the entire island, if you'd like to grow something that sheep like to eat you need to fence it in. It's not like pretty much anywhere else in the western world where people who own grazing animals need to fence them in.

This is the case in at least Norway as well - it's certainly not unique to Iceland. Though I assume environmental effect of it in Iceland is compounded by the climate.

Also in Syria apparently (this article also has a dramatic picture of what happens when land is fenced in away from grazing): http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2871076/overg...

I just finished listening to 'Collapse' by Jared Diamond and it goes over Iceland a bit. They've got serious ecological problems because of soil. Most of their soil comes from light volcanic ash, which replenishes at a much lower rate than other places with tons of vegetation and rivers and other things contributing.

Soil, generally, is surprisingly delicate stuff. It accumulates at the rate of about an inch per century under natural conditions on such abundant landscapes as the US plains. That's slow, but over the 10,000 year span since the last ice age, it's enough for 100 inches or so to accumulate (about 250 cm).

Much of that isn't deposited but fixed from the air by plants which then decay in place, though the freshly-arrived material often provides vital micronutrients -- itself a problem in Australia where the lack of geological activity means that there is very little of these materials, limiting ag productivity.

In regions with harsh climates and short growing seasons (e.g., Iceland), there's little time for soil-forming processes to set hold, and the slight progress made can be undone quickly. Even in places that appear full of life, conditions may remove soil or nutrients, e.g., tropical rainforest.

If I think of things that may bring doom to humans, I tend to think a lot about dirt and bugs and plankton and algae.

The same actually happened in Spain 400 years ago. There used to be a lot of forests in Spain: http://m.dw.com/en/spain-replants-after-centuries-of-defores...

>> It's not like pretty much anywhere else in the western world where people who own grazing animals need to fence them in.

It's an exception and not the rule, as you're saying, but I know of at least a few spots in the Rocky Mountains in the US where farmed cattle graze openly and property owners have to let them. The ones I'm thinking of I think became that way because it was a permanent condition of the sale of the property in smaller parcels (i.e. the original owner parceled it up for cabins but retained grazing rights in perpetuity). But it's in areas where they actually want to keep vegetation in check to mitigate forest fires.

Also I think throughout Montana there are free grazing areas for sheep. I think that's what you're seeing in the fantastic documentary called Sweetgrass: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AV9iah71iPQ

Yes, out west many states have "free grazing" laws.


See: Cliven Bundy

Came to post exactly this. Once upon a time there were vast western lands open for grazing. There were even "wars" fought between cattle and sheep ranchers over grazing rights. Today the feds have closed off many areas -- for example, if I understand correctly, in the Hells Canyon area there were once 300,000+ sheep left to graze, where today there are effectively none. Certainly there were areas that were significantly damaged by overgrazing and a better balance for the public good was needed. That stated, one of the counter arguments is that it started with the ranchers, then the feds come along and close the roads, soon the public forests become inaccessible and unused altogether. There are a lot more public lands in the west apart from the major national parks. Certainly the Bundy's approach missed the mark in terms of articulating their arguments on this issue.

My understanding was that Bundy was grazing his cattle on federal land and was refusing to pay grazing fees. He argued in United States v Bundy (1998) that he didn't have to pay grazing fees. https://www.scribd.com/document/218116757/1998-U-S-Dist-LEXI...

Which is an effing joke, as the federal government charges pennies on the dollar for grazing rights compared to what a private landowner would charge. And yet, the Bundys want the taxpayers to take it in the shorts even more for their privilege and profit.

While there are many that share your view, the legal situation is far more complex. While disputed, there is in fact legal precedent for considering "grazing rights" to be private property, with the annual fees being paid for the administration of the program rather than being a rent designed to be equal to the free market value of the grass.

Did you know, for example, that grazing rights aren't something that is available on the "open market", are specifically attached to piece of private property, and are generally transferred (and inherited) along with it? That the IRS considers grazing rights such an integral part of the valuation of a ranch that they are subject to estate taxes?

Here's a simple introduction: http://www.thetribunepapers.com/2014/05/19/grazing-rights-st...

And some legal theory: https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/jrm/article/view...

And a recent update in central case that's been ongoing for decades, alternating between many (mostly Nevada district court) decisions favoring the ranchers, and many (mostly California circuit court) reversals: https://www.fseee.org/2017/03/08/nevada-rancher-hage-loses-i...

This is unsettled law, and calling it "an effing joke" doesn't do it justice. You are welcome to disagree with the ranchers' arguments, but if you care about truth, fairness, accuracy, and respect, I don't think you should call it a joke, at least until you've looked at the situation more closely.

Let's go into the Bundy case here. His family has had grazing rights over this land in Nevada for generations. Then in 1993 the federal government restricted access to much of that land to protect an endangered species. They seized the land but he refused to sell, continued grazing, and stopped paying his grazing fees. He could have challenged the seizure in court, but he did not. He could have kept paying his grazing fees, but instead he went to court and tried to argue he should be allowed to graze for free. When he lost, he continued grazing his cattle there and refused to pay for it, at which point the government took his grazing rights for lack of payment.

Whether or not grazing fees count as private property is actually irrelevant. He lost his grazing rights by refusing to pay for them. If he had kept paying, and actually challenged the seizure and sued, that would be an interesting case, but he did not.

There are interesting argument here, but Bundy is not the one making them. He doesn't even acknowledge the authority of the federal government, and instead fell into the crazy Sovereign citizen crowd.

(Also, even if grazing land is considered private property, the federal government could seize the land: https://www.fws.gov/refuges/realty/faq.html )

He lost his grazing rights by refusing to pay for them.

I've read the filings for Hage, but I'm not as familiar with the details of of the Bundy case. So I presume you are right, that their behavior seems indefensible, but I also presume that "the choice of starting point" has a large effect on the narrative. I'd wager that the Bundy's feel the story starts somewhere earlier, in a way that makes their response seem more reasonable. Here's an update from a couple months ago on the upcoming 3rd retrial of the defendants there: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-investigat...

I think the tendency so far for juries to repeatedly fail to return guilty verdicts is a pretty good defense of the "unsettled law" theory. Or worse, as the mother/wife in the first video linked suggests, maybe it's a sign that the government treats the legal system itself as part of the punishment rather than a dispassionate means of adjudication. The narrative that actually interests me is most is the extreme conflict between the district and circuit courts. Nominally, they are both "federal" courts, but at least in the Western US, the local district courts are all about states rights and the San Francisco based circuit courts tend to lean heavily in the opposite direction.

Those people are being tried for taking up arms against the government, who were trying to seize Bundy's cattle to pay for his $1M fines for illegally grazing. That trial has exactly nothing to do with whether grazing rights are private property. What exactly is the "unsettled law" part? Are you implying an armed standoff with federal officials carrying out a court order is "unsettled law"?

I'm strongly in favor of arresting people for violent crimes. One would think it would be an easy "guilty" verdict if the situation was as you (and most of the media) describe it. Oddly, though, there have been multiple trials of the participants where multiple defendants have been declared "not guilty" on all charges[1]. Either the jury trial system in America is extremely unreliable (certainly possible) or there is more to the case than the summary you offer.

I wasn't there, and haven't read the court records, so I don't know what happened in the courtroom, much less what happened in the real world. My guess would be that unsettled law was not a reason for the (lack of) verdict, but that it goes a long way to explain how the situation came about. I'd also guess that they story being reported in the media misses a lot of important details.

The video interview with Carol Bundy in the earlier link I gave you describes a different view of the situation. I don't have specific reason to trust her, but I think she comes across as fairly trustworthy. In her view, they were terrorized by corrupt government officials who brazenly lied about what happened. This clearly isn't the whole story, but might explain why they get the popular support the do.

It also might be relevant that there are several ongoing parallel cases that involve the BLM and FBI agents. The BLM agent in charge of the Bundy ranch raid was found guilty of "ethical misconduct" with regard to Burning Man[3], then later sacked after another OIG investigation cited him for "official misconduct"[4].

The FBI agent who fired two of the first shots in the killing of Lavoy Finicum was indicted for obstruction of justice by claiming he had not fired his gun.[5] The camera video filmed by a passenger in Finicum's car tell at different story than most of the media coverage[6]. I think it's worth watching, at least to see the other side of the story.

But as I said, I haven't been following the details of the Bundy case. Maybe they did things that are horribly wrong. I don't assume, though, that hearing the national news coverage gives me insight into what actually happened. So I'll ask you instead: If these are open and shut cases, why is it so hard for the federal government to get the verdicts they are seeking? Separately, thank you for participating civilly in a discussion even though we seem to disagree.

[1] http://thehill.com/homenews/news/347611-cliven-bundy-followe...

[2] http://www.oregonlive.com/oregon-standoff/2017/06/fbi_agents...

[3] https://www.doioig.gov/reports/investigation-ethical-miscond...

[4] http://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2017/09/25/interior-b...

[5] http://reason.com/blog/2017/06/29/fbi-agent-indicted-for-lyi...

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEswP_HSFV4

That's a blatant misrepresentation of the state of prosecution.

To date, 2 of the 19 people arrested have been found not guilty on all counts by the courts. 2 (Scott Drexler and Eric Parker) were found not guilty on most charges, but the jury was unable to reach a decision of some of the charges, and so they are being retried. Note that all of the charges carry a penalty of at least 5 years in prison, so both of them can still face decades in prison if found guilty on the remaining charges. 2 have been found guilty in court, 2 plead guilty.

Gregory Burleson sentenced to 68 years. Todd Engel was found guilty of obstruction of justice and interstate travel in aid of extortion, sentencing pending but he faces up to 30 years. Gerald "Jerry" DeLemus plead guilty, sentenced to 7 years. Peter Santilli pled guilty to conspiracy to injure or impede federal officers, sentencing coming next year.

Cliven Bundy, Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, and Ryan Payne, the ringleaders of the whole standoff, start trial Oct 30th.

That's a blatant misrepresentation of the state of prosecution.

Possibly, although not intentionally. I read the links I sent you for the first time yesterday, and think I summarized them reasonably. Other articles make claims that I think are compatible: http://www.hcn.org/articles/cliven-bundy-why-the-bundy-crowd.... Clearly there are other points of view, many from more reputable sources, although I'm not sure if their reputation means they are less biased, or just differently biased. Some of those reputable sources point out that Burleson's conviction may have been an outlier, since in addition to his overt racism, as a former FBI informant the jury may have been particularly less sympathetic.

Ironically, Burleson's conviction was obtained in part through footage provided by a fake documentary team that was actually the FBI: https://theintercept.com/2017/05/16/the-bizarre-story-behind.... That article claims that as of May there have actually been 7 acquittals vs 6 convictions, but I didn't track down whether that had changed. I think we should ignore the number of those who "plead guilty", since that's often a tactical decision rather than an actual admission of guilt.

My point though is not that there have not been eventual convictions (I appreciate the details) but that the path to getting them seems to involve more hung juries and retrials than one would expect for an "open and shut" case. My larger point is that there is extreme antagonism between certain Western district court judges and the federal government, with the San Francisco 7th Circuit siding fairly consistently with the Feds and reversing local decisions. Judge Jones's Finding of Fact for the Hage trial (decision overturned by the Circuit) is long and dense, but a surprisingly fun read and a good introduction to the debate regarding Western water rights: http://www.inversecondemnation.com/files/usa-v-hage-findings....

I thought that Jones's Finding was extremely well argued, but the 9th Circuit disagreed and vacated and overturned his decision: https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2016/01/15/1.... To my reading, the Circuit willfully misinterpreted Jones's reasing, and then burnt the straw man. The Circuit also took the unusual step of declaring Jones to be too biased against the federal government to be involved in any subsequent proceedings. Locally, many think this the greater example of judicial bias: https://sparkstrib.com/2016/09/15/one-persons-bias-is-anothe....

I'll bow out now, but will happily read any further responses you have or links you think I should look it.

How exactly are taxpayers paying anything?

If they're getting charged less than market rate, the government is subsidizing their behavior on public lands.

There's a very beautiful documentary from 2011 about open range sheep grazing in Montana, called SWEETGRASS. It's un-narrated, mostly just lets things speak for themselves.


If they legalized sheep hunting, farmers would build fences.

Sheep aren't very fun to hunt though.

OTOH, it's really hard to hide from them in iceland, what with the total lack of trees. Just a different kind of challenge...

360-noscope irl.

Interesting. The main problem seems to be the short growing season, no? From my experience after a few years, sheep cannot do much to trees, in fact many leave them unattended it their orchards. Granted some eat the skin and such sheep are kept away but most do not.

I guess Iceland needs to compensate sheep farming for a few years, so the trees grow. But even then, sheep will eat any new saplings, meaning humans will have to be involved "forever."

I left about an acre without being tilled for 3 years and now they are more than 1000 saplings--wind did it's magic from trees 50+ yards away. I am going to fertilize about 100 of them and keep it as it is. In 10 years, I'll no longer need to buy firewood, which is a way better return financially for that particular plot. Not to mention the environmental side benefits.

I agree, you'd have to carefully protect your trees until they reach a reasonable size that they can hold their own.

Sheep will definitely prevent reforestation, although they are less likely than goats to harm saplings of a certain size.

The problem is that "carefully protect your trees" doesn't scale. And it's completely impossible for natural propagation, which is the only realistic way of meeting the goal of reforestation.

Wow. If accurate, you've done a better job explaining the situation in 250 words than the entire NYT article did.

Somewhat relevant video[1]. The introduction of wolves changed the entire landscape by pushing the deers out of the some areas.

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

In West Virginia there's a similar thing going on with deer. There's so many deer that there's actually a browse line up to where the deer can't reach, and the forests are pretty unhealthy as a result.

The article was pay-walled, but I think I got a better explanation right here.

Open range is a thing in the Western US too.

cool so what do you suggest?

When I was in Iceland, my tourguide told me the joke:

- What do you do if you are lost in an Icelandic forest? - Stand up.

Judging by the photo of those tiny 13 year-old pine trees planted in 2004 - that is not a joke, but a statement of fact.

I opened up the comments to make just that joke. I'm surprised the article didn't make it.

I heard the same joke from my Icelandic ex lol

I spent years working in the forestry industry in Canada planting trees. The first picture says a lot in respect to why the process might be going slowly for them. It is an athletic endeavour that takes efficient tools and the mindset to endure a lot of suffering. It says they are planting 3 million trees a year; that is a tiny amount. I've worked with many planters who have planted over a million trees themselves. Here's a link to a picture of what an effective treeplanter looks like: https://i0.wp.com/hardcoretreeplanters.com/wp/wp-content/upl...

I worked (among other things) in tree planting as a teenager in Iceland. We weren't doing it very efficiently, but one reason we didn't have these huge bags is because generally your crew is planting this on land that has no existing trees, so you can just drive a pick-up truck alongside the crew.

Which looking at this Canadian video of the forestry service might explain the difference, i.e. if you're planting in an existing forest it makes more sense to carry everything with you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkjeC1rxRt0

I spent two summers planting for the Icelandic forrest service and I imagine that is more or less how I and my coworkers looked like (well, somewhat less feminine I suppose). You shouldn't extrapolate too much from the newspaper picture.

If you haven't read it already, you may be interested in Eating Dirt, a book about planting trees in BC: http://charlottegill.com/?page_id=10

Yep, I have read it and I have lived that life. A fairly accurate portrayal. I have many, many stories from those years that will be fun to entertain the grandkids with.

I expected tree-planting tractor. Is it hard to automate?

Agreed. In wide open fields, tree planting tractors should work.

I have personally planted evergreen trees using a machine that was meant for strawberry planting pulled behind a tractor. It's super easy, you sit on a chair and feed the machine the trees like this:


What drives me crazy is how they make 3 million trees sound like a lot. I am a Forester and we typically plant over 600 trees per acre so 3 million is only about 5,000 acres. Which is not a particularly large forest. Hell I have 5 times that in a moderately size metropolitan area.

A decent crew of 5 people can plant that in a few months.

I'm sure their prices are extremely high but we pay less than 10 cents a seedling and that is for high end seedlings.

Planting doesn't cost much more than that either.

Once again I am sure it is different in a place that doesn't have a forestry industry, but if it is a national priority they could make it happen.

> They are now grown as saplings at greenhouses in Iceland, because importing live trees is prohibited.

I wonder why they can't import live trees and if they could accelerate the process if they could.

> As a result, Iceland is a case study in desertification, with little or no vegetation, though the problem is not heat or drought. About 40 percent of the country is desert, Dr. Halldorsson said. “But there’s plenty of rainfall — we call it ‘wet desert.’”

At first I thought it was an error to call an area that gets plenty of rain a desert. I thought desert was strictly defined by the amount of rainfall. But maybe that's not correct. The wikipedia article on desert states...

"Deserts can be classified by the amount of precipitation that falls, by the temperature that prevails, by the causes of desertification or by their geographical location." [1]

I wonder if there's a stricter definition used in a specific scientific context.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert

The soil type in iceland has volcanic parent material with very high carbon content that results in a low nitrogen to carbon ratio so has little nutrients available to support biomass production without adjustments.

The etymology of the word (think deserted island) would imply it has more to do with the lack of life than the reason for a lack of life.

Etymology of desert:

from Latin desertus, from desero (“abandon”)

From dē- (“away, from”) +‎ serō (“I bind, join”).

From Proto-Italic sizō, from Proto-Indo-European si-sh₁-, the reduplicated present of *seh₁- (“to sow”).




Right. That's the sense (solitude) of "desert" in Tacitus's famous quip about the Romans: "they make a desert and call it peace".

In verb and adjective form anything can be deserted, a husband deserting his wife, a deserted village.

In noun form I've heard of things like food deserts to describe urban area without grocery or restaurants. Also places like Antartica are sometimes described as deserts. Also ocean deserts to describe areas without fish.

Antarctica is a desert by the strict "low precipitation" definition. The Dry Valleys are some of the driest places on Earth.

There is a very famous race series for runners called the 4 Deserts. One race, called the Last Desert, takes place in Antarctica. It may surprise you, like it did me - in fact blew my mind - to learn Antarctica is the largest desert in the World.

Antarctica also has the McMurdo dry valleys with no snow or ice.


But Antarctica is dry, while Iceland is wet.

So I suppose almost every planet in the galaxy is a desert planet.


Now that is an example of an article's photos done right! Not at all intrusive, like those horrible scrolling photos that are so popular on various sites and some great effects of zooming and pull-back, plus a convenient slide-show (With Captions) by clicking on a photo - Well Done NYT!

...and here is an example of how not to do it:


Possibly worth remembering: Iceland (and Greenland, where the vikings hung on until the fourteen hundreds) had significantly warmer climate a milennium ago.

Indeed the little ice age of the middle ages is what made Greenland uninhabitable.

Birch is a pioneer species, they produce millions of seeds a year, they chased the retreating ice cap as melted northwards in Europe.

It would appear they need to be planted out, perhaps they need soil to take. Otherwhise it should be a fairly simple case of just broadcasting billions of birch seeds over Iceland.

Greenland didn't become uninhabitable during the little ice age, there's people living now in Greenland descended from people who survived that supposedly uninhabitable country.

The Norse colony got wiped out, but it's unknown whether that was because of war, famine or some other reason. We just know life would have been hardier in those years.

What little we do know suggests that they were unwilling to learn the traditional lifestyle from the natives, and the country became uninhabitable for anyone insisting on only using Norse farming methods.

There was an article in Scientific America:

Summary :

After prospering for hundreds of years, the Viking colonies in Greenland were mysteriously abandoned.

Scholars have long viewed their decline as the result of a stubborn refusal to adapt their European customs to the conditions of this Arctic land.

Yet recent findings show that the Greenland Vikings did change their ways. The latest evidence suggests that a complex interplay of cultural and political forces abroad brought about their demise.

Full article (requires subscription)


Perhaps worth noting that the natives got wiped out too. Modern Greenlanders are descended from people arriving on the scene well after the Scandinavians did.

What I meant was that at the time the Norse disappeared there were other people in Greenland living in far harsher conditions, as the map accompanying this article shows: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorset_culture#Historical_and_...

I think you're thinking about Dorset culture which arrived in the south of Greenland after the Norse disappeared, but as the map shows when the Norse disappeared the Thule culture coexisted with them in Greenland far in the north where conditions were worse.

Which shows you that the problem was not that the area was uninhabitable, but that the Norse didn't have the knowledge or desire to survive there.

Hanging on for 400 years hardly constitutes not having knowledge or desire how to survive there.

They arrived in a period where the weather was particularly good, and proceeded to just practice the same sort of farming that they were used to in Scandinavia and Iceland.

But there's no indication that they were actively contacting the native population to learn their hunting techniques, such as how to build kayaks and hunt marine mammals, or venture under the ice to gather mussels[1] etc.

Which, to bring this thread around to the original point being made, doesn't suggest that "Greenland [was] uninhabitable", just that a population of people had arrived that didn't know how to make use of it.

You might be able to transport a tribe from the middle of the Amazon to northern Greenland today and them not being able to survive, or the other way around. That doesn't mean that either place is uninhabitable.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0qGvC3vqaA

This is a little outdated.

The more modern theory is that walrus tusk (which was extremely valuable until elephant ivory became available) prices crashed meaning the ships had little reason to travel to Greenland for trade.

I think that this coincided with the Black death which truly devastated the Norwegian population.

I know. I live among birches in soutern Scandinavia. One thing they need, though: Water, and plenty of it. I'm not really sure the Icelandic ground delivers.

Got any more reading for this? Just back from Iceland so I am interested in this stuff right now.

This is the only one I found, which doesn't seem to indicate a significant change.


The change wasn't significant in terms of degrees Celsius, but even a degree in mean temperatures can have a large effect. It can mean the frozen ground starts thawing weeks or a month earlier, which makes for a longer growing season, which results in more biomass which has compound effects on the rest.

Search for "Medieval Warm Period" in this article:


Happened to be reading about Iceland (and its cuisine :) recently.

Thanks. My understanding was that the MWP is thought to be localized to Europe, not Greenland and Iceland.

Iceland and Greenland are both in Europe. Perhaps you meant mainland Europe?

Membership of the European Union is not what qualifies a country as European. If it was then Switzerland wouldn't be European, despite being near the centre of mainland Europe. Do you understand why the EU != Europe?

I was just reading about Swedish prehistory and there was mention of a drastic climate cooling period.

Just wanted to say, props to NYT for the beautifully designed article.

This is one of the coolest articles I've ever seen. The subtle high-res videos are a really great complement to the content.

And they lagged like nobodies business when they were loading despite having 11Mbps down all to myself.

11Mbps is less than half the FCC's definition of broadband: 25Mbps down.

IIRC Netflix's absolute highest bitrate is 15.6 Mbps (for 4k). This is ~5 seconds of much less than 4k.

> 15.6 Mbps (for 4k)

That must be laughable quality. 1080p blurays easily clock in at more than 22Mbit/s for grainy content, the spec allows 40Mbit/s. And that's not even including the audio. UHD discs must deliver at least 82Mbit/s.

And a lot of content is not even using the things that UHD standards allow to deliver (4:4:4 chroma instead of 4:2:0, higher framerates). So even if they're delivering in HEVC is suspect that the compression is not source-transparent.

Netflix has pretty good compression but yeah this is why I canceled my 4k subscription when they announced they were raising prices. I think 4k is currently $4/mo more and I have a gigabit connection. If they are going to charge 30% more for the privilege they shouldn't compress it to the point where it's not appreciably different from upscaling 1080p.

Streaming services really frustrate me for that reason. I get that bandwidth costs money but when e.g. Play Movies advertises a movie rental for $5 but when that actually means $5 for SD (who the hell even uses SD) but $10 for UHD when it's compressed to shit, what service are you actually providing me?

I had that speed in 2005 and it was slow then, too.

Except, as I indicate in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15515968, the images are extraordinarily low-res with JavaScript turned off.

'Well, turn it on!' is certainly one solution, but of course enabling JavaScript doesn't just let me view images (something HTTP & HTML do just fine anyway), but also enables execution of potential malware, tracking & other nastiness.

There are upsides and downsides to enabling Javascript. If you want to enjoy the NYT rich web content, you need to have it on. Just the way it is.

I hope that JPEGs don't count as 'rich web content'!

Not the person you were replying to, but if they want to sabotage my experience because I don't wish to be tracked or infected with malware, then that's their business I guess. I hope they don't expect me to think delightful thoughts about them for doing it.

Should they make two separate web pages, or rely only on less ornate tooling for a niche user base?

They could just load the images and videos without the need for javascript. We know that they can do this, because they specifically made it show low-res versions for those without javascript. They went out of their way to handle this admittedly niche user base already, purposefully to make their experience worse.

Most people who don't have Javascript are using very old, antiquated browsers. The NYT cares enough about its lower-income and foreign readers to make it fail gracefully. I think that sending low-res photos makes infinitely more sense.

Maybe take an page from the Easter Islander playbook: Build vast networks of rock wall closed cells. Wind blowing over these will tend to deposit some of its soil. Bonus points if the walls are high enough to keep out sheep. ;-)

Many islands are deserts because they don't have high enough elevation to catch moisture. In Hawaii a guy planted trees along a ridge line to pull moisture from the clouds and converted the climate. I can't remember his name or which island it was, this might be it:


The island was lanai, HI. The ferry from maui to lanai during sunset is life changing.

Trees: https://everything-everywhere.com/the-pine-trees-of-lanai/

On the Aran islands they did something similar with their walls. However, they also "made" soil by collecting kelp and mixing it with sand.

In Romania we're losing 150 acres/day (or 60 ha) to illegal cutting done by some german and austrian corporations.


I think regrowing forests in Romania would be an easier task than Iceland, nevertheless its worth preserving what you have.

Jesus, I read that and realized no one there understands how forest succession works. You can't go from nothing to giant trees, there's a whole host of stages in between.

Yeah, or if they do the article didn't convey that. I left the article feeling angry about that - no mention of canopy etc.

While maybe not understood by the general public, these facts are well understood by the individuals that work in this sector.

https://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Societies-Choose-Succeed-Rev... by Jared Diamond goes into substantially more detail about why Iceland was so environmentally sensitive and what the damage was. It is well worth reading.

I took a holiday trip to Norway recently and parts looked like Scotland ... but with trees. I was told this was due to Norwegians no longer keeping goats since the 1950s. The before and after landscape photographs are striking. http://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/blog/reforestation-in-nor...

I've seen a write up of a test where tons of orange peels have been dumped and spread over big area [1]. After 16 years, ecologists returned only to find abundant flora at the areas covered with peels. Maybe to try this approach?

[1] http://www.upworthy.com/a-juice-company-dumped-orange-peels-...

Great idea! Only problem is the need for large quantities of bio-waste that can be economically transported to the site.

This also seems like a zero-sum problem, since the soil where the orange peels were grown is probably declining in proportion to the gains it produced elsewhere.

Of course, it makes sense only if peels or another organic material would rot in some dump area where it rots without any benefit.

The most interesting part of this article is its amazing photography.

Yeah this is one place where the autoplay videos are well done. Still, it would be nice to have a way to turn it off, if you are on a limited data connection.

I can only think how to disable it using uMatrix. Sadly, that's not a setting to apply anywhere in a browser, like Webpage Media Size Limits or something. Perhaps uMatrix developers could help by adding a feature in its Options next to Privacy tab for Media.

Once the trees are removed, erosion happens, followed by lost of topsoil. Topsoil is an ecosystem in its own, with microorganisms and small animals. Just replanting a tree will not regenerate that. Agriculture faces a similar problem.

Then, forests are much more than just trees. There are all sort of plants, insects, fungi, etc.

If more countries took reforestation seriously, then maybe our carbon footprint would diminish. And also, we should put this much effort into combating desertification. Make vertical farms instead of chopping trees down and wringing every last bit out of the soil.

I was in Iceland recently and was told that if you see a tree over 3m tall, it was planted. And we heard this Icelandic joke: "If you are lost in a forest in Iceland, don't forget to stand up."

So is this a case of terraforming Iceland?

It wouldn't be the first time an island had been terraformed, from Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Helena:

"Between 1791 and 1833, Saint Helena became the site of a series of experiments in conservation, reforestation and attempts to boost rainfall artificially.[5] This environmental intervention was closely linked to the conceptualisation of the processes of environmental change and helped establish the roots of environmentalism."

I find quite interesting how we plan on terraform and colonize Mars when we can't even grow trees on Iceland.

The farm lobby isn't standing in the way of terraforming Mars.

Hmm you should read the Red/Green/Blue Mars series. A good sci fi series that deals with Mars terraforming, in which a major plot element are colonists opposed to terraforming.

Well maybe by the time we get there it will.

The thing about mars is that we can't just export the parts of society we like and leave out the rest.

When humans colonize a new 'utopia', we tend to bring all the normal human problems with us too.

I think at least some basic tenants may be broken once you get to inhabiting a second planet!


Both even

I read it when I was a teenager, but The Moon is a Harsh Mistress pounds this idea into your head.

In fairness, the article does mention several dedicated individuals; and who knows, they might inspire others - "many hands make light work".

Plus, like with man-made climate change, more people are actively sabotaging the efforts. In this case by letting their sheep eat the saplings.

It took a collective effort to remove the trees, makes sense that it should be like that to bring the forest back.

Maybe there should be some sort of global chaga tax to fund birch reforestation. If a few bucks was added to every Amazon order or whatever then that would at least help out a bit.

That rewards those who can creatively find a way to shop at Amazon despite taxes more so than it rewards those who can creatively plant trees despite every other hurdle to do so.

I was proposing a chaga tax, not an Amazon tax. I was just using Amazon as an example of a retailer since they sell it.

I thought chaga was a typo. Do you mean "chaga" the mushroom?

Anyway, I meant my point about a key problem in general with trying to use taxes to fund important development projects.

> Do you mean "chaga" the mushroom?

Yes, because it only grows on birch trees, but harvesting the mushroom can damage the trees. That was sort of the point. :-)

Ah. So, who on Iceland cultivates chaga mushrooms? What ongoing efforts might they have that overlap with the birch foresters? (connecting the dots)

It can't be cultivated, it just grows wherever there are birch trees. So planting more birch would just mitigate any effects of over harvesting elsewhere, while increasing the global supply.

An Amazon tax to reforest the Amazon, nice.

Good luck getting Amazon to pay reasonable taxes.

It's strange to me that tourists and the film industry find the landscape beautiful because of its lack of trees.

This will be an interesting experement and I wonder what wildlife it will bring back and any damage it will reverse

Good for them, I think this is a great way to help the fight against climate change and regenerate their ecosystem. Who doesn’t like trees?

Is this a case where robots could do almost all work?

Define an area, load the saplings and send the robot to bore holes, put the sapling, fill, repeat.

Planting trees is really easy for people to do quickly, it's not a labor issue.

I don't understand the downvotes. Can someone explain?

Is a valid question, looking for an answer from a person with more knowledge.

Because it isn't a problem with planting. That's very easy, and people volunteer to do it. When I was a kid (I'm Icelandic) we'd go on field trips and plant hundreds.

The problem is keeping the growth alive.

You sound like you doubt the viability of automated and distributed tree planting which may be more statistically significant? I get your point that hundreds may not do, what about hundreds of thousands, then?

Let's agree that we can't know as long as nobody tried. And you're right, we don't have the numbers on how the survivorship ratio in larger magnitudes would behave, it might just shrink to ridiculously small. But then again the soil would be slightly "improved" by a dead sapling, maybe even increasing the chances for another try?

> You sound like you doubt the viability of automated and distributed tree planting which may be more statistically significant? I get your point that hundreds may not do, what about hundreds of thousands, then?

No, my point was that if the solution is increased numbers, it's already cheap and viable to get humans to do it rather than deploying expensive tech.

(By hundreds, I meant hundreds for each group of 3 school kids in one afternoon.)

> Let's agree that we can't know as long as nobody tried.

I don't even know that nobody tried. I'm sure the actual experts (as opposed to us armchair ones) thought of it.

Your "solution" doesn't solve the "sappling being eaten by free roaming sheep" issue. Not the more complex issue of soil creation.

Trying is nature's way to be abundant.

Just like you shouldn't spay the sheep just because the lamb might be eaten by a wolf.

I guess planting poisonous bushes to protect tree seedlings is out of the question?

I wonder if massive temporary greenhouses over sections of the land would help get trees established. It'd protect areas from wind (erosion), sheep, and cold temperatures until the soil was remediated and the trees were high enough to avoid hungry sheep. They already grow saplings in greenhouses.

There are lots of solutions if scarcity of resources is not a problem. Building massive temporary greenhouses is likely limited by the economics: importing any materials, constructing them to be able to survive strong winds, irrigation, limiting life cycle CO2 emissions, and other issues unique to greenhouses.

Since they grow saplings in greenhouses and take those out into the world, greenhouse space is likely economically constrained. It seems optimal to start a bunch of trees, and send them on their way, and keep the process going.

They currently have a ban on imports of live trees, and lack restrictions on sheep grazing (learned per other comments on this post). These things alone might be less costly than constructing lots of temporary structures.

Loss of symbiotic soil bacterial cultures?

Loss of grass, afaict. They can't grow it back quickly enough to support the trees, because (1) native species grow slowly in arctic climates and state blocks potentially useful imports (2) loose sheep eat up young plants.

As an aside, all the images are blurry with NoScript. Any idea how to get around this without enabling JavaScript (and bringing in all of its issues)?

If you’re OK with pixellated then add to your user CSS:

  .image img.g-lazy { filter: none !important; }
If you want the originals and can run user JS then something like:

  window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',() => {
    document.querySelectorAll('.media-viewer-candidate').forEach(el => {
      el.src = el.dataset['mediaviewer-src']


> When Iceland was first settled at the end of the ninth century, much of the land on or near the coast was covered in birch woodlands.

> The settlers slashed and burned the forests to grow hay and barley, and to create grazing land. They used the timber for building and for charcoal for their forges. By most accounts, the island was largely deforested within three centuries.

> The lack of trees, coupled with the ash and larger pieces of volcanic rock spewed by eruptions, has led to severe soil erosion.

> The [recovery] process usually begins with lyme grass, which grows quickly and can stabilize the soil. Lupine, with its spiky purple flowers, is often next. The trees come later.

> Mr. Jonsson and his volunteers then plant the appropriate species for the plot — birch, Sitka spruce, lodgepole pine, Russian larch or other species. “We’d love to plant aspen,” he said. “But sheep really love aspen.”

> With vegetation unable to gain much of a foothold, farming and grazing have been next to impossible in many parts of the country. And the loose soil, combined with Iceland’s strong winds, has led to sandstorms that can further damage the land — and even blast the paint off cars.

> No one expects that one-quarter of Iceland will ever be covered in forests again. But given slow growth rates and the enormity of the task, even more modest gains will take a long time, Mr. Thorvaldsson said.

> “The aim now is that in the next 50 years we might go up to 5 percent,” he said. “But at the speed we’re at now, it would take 150 years to do that.”


It's not just another devastated landscape of Europe, it's the single most naturally devastated landscape on the entire continent.

The National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavík has a permanent exhibition on the subject that I highly recommend. Since colonization a little over a millennium ago most of the topsoil has been washed out to sea, wast swaths of the country that used to be fields or forests are now just bare rock.

Which isn't to say that a devastated landscape can't be pretty.

"Which isn't to say that a devastated landscape can't be pretty."

A bit like the Scottish Highlands - which are treeless largely because of the large numbers of deer maintained to support stalking (deer hunting) and because all their natural predators were killed centuries ago.

There are some folks trying to replant the old forests - e.g. https://treesforlife.org.uk/

Wolves can help in this case too.

Yeah - there has been a fair amount of debate about reintroducing wolves and lynx to Scotland. Sea eagles have been reintroduced but they aren't quite large enough to eat deer... ;-)

>Sea eagles have been reintroduced but they aren't quite large enough to eat deer... ;-)

If they are hungry enough they will!



>it's the single most naturally devastated landscape on the entire continent.

Isn't half of it technically on another continent?

No, half of it is on the North American continental plate, but those don't determine what constitutes a continent. If they did half of Japan would be in North America.

Don't leave us in suspense! What does determine what constitutes a continent?

The same thing that determines what counts as a planet. Flawed humans trying to categorize things so they're easier to think about.

This is a real weird strawman you've set up for yourself.

> It's funny how so many Liberal minded types are overrunning Iceland

No they aren't.

> how beautiful and stark the landscape is, when in reality they don't realize they are admiring just another devastated landscape of Europe.

It can be both.

> Europeans heavily have as they laud the beauty and natural state of Europe

Beauty yes, "natural state" no.

> In reality Europe is a landscaped stripped of snakes, barren of bears and wolves and deer and other fauna, while the forests and meadows are all artificial and man made.

Literally everyone knows this.

you can start realizing this bias that has led to the self-righteousness of Europeans, environmentalists, and the social justice warriors that are ravaging the civilized world

Well that was a bit of a stretch to make a political point.

What's your point?

By the way, there are some very old forests still in Europe, I don't know if it makes them any better than ones that are only a hundred years old.

There are still so called primeval forests in Europe. Meaning they have grown in that place as far as we (human race) remember. They are small and strictly protected.

And yes, they are "better" on some metrics - the main difference is - whether the dead wood is removed from the forest or left there. There's lots of endangered species of birds, insects and even mammals that depend on dead wood, and industrialized forests (99% of what we have in Europe) doesn't have that.

Also natural forests are much more resistant to devastation by one particular insect or sickness, because only strong trees remain, species of trees (and generations of trees) are mixed with each other.

In industrialized forests (especially these created shortly after WW2) they just planted pine trees, all planted same year. When bark beetle has a "good" year - these forests have to be actively maintained (every tree attacked has to be removed before 2 weeks pass and beetles spread to nearby trees), or the whole forest dies in one year. Natural forests doesn't care, because weak, young trees of same species don't grow close enough for big epidemic.

BTW I only know that because we have a heated political debate in Poland - current anti-ecology government is cutting down some part of semi-natural forest surrounding protected natural forest under the excuse that bark bettle is going to destroy it otherways. Scientists and ecologists protest, wood industry support the government. Even EU is involved.

For someone that lived in tropical places it is very awkward to see those videos on Iceland Air flights promoting tourism to Iceland and advertising its "rugged beauty", with lots of glaciers, geysers, volcanoes and ugly cold beaches with black sand.

Sorry Icelanders, you seem to be lovely people but your country looks very ugly, barren, dead, sad and desolate. I can't see natural beauty without life.

Upvoted because you're welcome to your opinion and I'm a bit sad to see this buried.

You should visit. That doesn't mean you'll like it, but it's the most amazing place I've ever been. On the final approach to KEF, I looked out the window and all I could say was "no way". It's like nothing else. I found it absolutely stunningly gorgeous, and loved the place. It's at the top of my list of places to go back to -- over and over. There's life everywhere. The people are wonderful, there are animals everywhere, there are grasses and mosses and all kinds of life. So some of your statements are opinions, and others are merely factually wrong.

I've only been a few tropical places, but frankly, I don't like them. Humidity is like hell on earth. I get as much enjoyment out of a cold black sand beach as a warm white sand one -- it bores the piss out of me to lay on a beach and do nothing, so I'm no more likely to spend time on a "nice" beach than on an "ugly" one. In fact I'd more happily spend an hour on a black sand beach photographing ice formations and looking for puffins than sitting in a beach chair sipping a pina colada.

Beauty without life is mostly about textures. It's easy to miss if you're looking for bright colors and motion, don't find them, and stop looking.

> I can't see natural beauty without life.



The moon

The stars


Waves on the beach

Rugged peaks above the tree line

Stalagmites and Stalactites

Bubbling brooks

I could go on, but that's a lot of natural beauty you say you can't see already.

Life does not equal beautiful vistas. Cities are full of life, but to me, they are often the ugliest of landscapes. While I find plenty of aesthetically pleasing natural landscapes, even desolate ones.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I was there in August and found it beautiful. De gustibus non disputandum est.

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