While on a boat cruise of Lake Minnewanka on July 28 2010, our tour leader asked everyone on the boat to point to the 'healthy forest' as we passed between two mountains - one covered in thick tall trees, the other dotted with smaller trees, grass, various other plants, etc. Almost everyone immediately pointed to the thick forest but my boyfriend and I pointed to the other side. Yeah I have an advantage, I am a forest ranger's daughter.... Anyway the tour leader said 'bzzz wrong' to those who pointed to the thick forest. She said 'That is the unhealthy forest. If you notice, there is mainly only one kind of tree as far as the eye can see, and along the shoreline the undergrowth is mostly orange lichen and other thin mosses'. She explained that for the past several decades, park Fire staff would keep careful watch and put out every fire they saw as soon as they could. She pointed to various old fire lookouts along the mountain tops in this huge valley and said they dont use those anymore. She said that they NOW realize that the forests grew unhealthy because they did not allow fires to do their magic - starting things over again and allowing many types of vegetation to flourish. Instead, they have massive expanses of old lodgepole pines stretching as far as the eye can see, and the orange lichen below is actually poisonous to animals so they are moving out of the areas.
Gee, is it possible that environmentalists and conservationists and naturalists were wrong all this time? Shocking! It reminds me of the mountain pine beetle problem and how we should have just burned the crap out of infected forests 30-40 years ago, killing off the beetles and at the same time - wow - starting the forests from scratch and letting nature take it's course. But no - instead we have to drive through the beautiful Rockies and see massive patches of orange dead trees mixed in with the expanse of already unhealthy forests. It's very sad. And it was caused BY people who claim to be stewards of the environment. Hmm... how can that possibly be?
Another thing I made mental note of while in the Rockies was during our trip up onto Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield. On the first trip, our tour leader pointed out the date markers, explaining that in 1840 the glacier reached where the current icefield building is right now. If you have been there, you know it is quite a ways from where the glacier toe sits now. Then you cross the highway and a marker tells you this is where it reached in 1890. Wow.. that moved quite a huge amount way back then, before cars were even on the road... hmmm mental note number one. As you move up the glacier valley you notice that the markers get closer together - as in less receeding than the first 50+ years that are marked. Hmmm mental note number 2 - when cars were really starting to get out on the road and belch their fumes, the glacier appears to have receeded LESS. And is still receeding less. Interesting.
But on the way BACK to the icefield building after our tour, our driver mentioned GLOBAL WARMING at least 4 times. He said he hopes that someone smart will be born to fix global warming, and mentioned that at the current melting rate, the glacier will be gone in 600 years. 6 HUNDRED. wow that's still a long time, and considering that it has been melting continuously since at least 1840, that adds another almost 200 years onto it's 'death'. I wonder why it started melting so long ago when global warming could not have been to blame though? Why is it that on the way up, when looking directly at date markers, our driver did not say a single word associated with Global Warming... but on the way down, when people might have forgotten the markers and could not see them straight on, he runs free with it and BLAMES global warming for the glacier melting? We just took it all in, sitting in the back of the bus, and making mental notes all over the place. Hmmm.... that was a pretty strange trip. Global Warming must have been running amuck in the late 1800s to move the glacier toe SO far, eh?