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Letter: Carbonize our farmland

The carbon that has burned in our western forests in the past several years, would have been worth at least $300 million to our Columbia Basin soils.

Published on January 31, 2018 1:04PM

Hear, hear, the heady heedings of guest commentarian Mark Turner.

As I was reading it, it was as though he was writing the words right out of my mouth. I’ve been blessed to be able to investigate the forests of the Northwest, before fire, after fire and after decades from past fires, and I think the same as Mark, that thinning and removing “some” windfalls, and “harvesting” some of the carbon for the sake of carbon sequestration, in our ag soils, is worthy of further note.

We need to manage the carbon of the forests somewhat similarly to the fruit of an orchard. Management is not a mean and nasty notion, it’s stewarding our resources in such a way as to have our grandchildren alive, breathing clean air, drinking water that’s without toxins, and eating food that’s been made by very few dedicated souls.

Personally, I’m a lifelong flatland farmer in the Skagit, where the forest meets the gentle bay bottom, sequestered from the Salish Sea more than a hundred years ago. Silty muck and clay with thin strips of sand scattered in layers, makes for high yield potential.

Without carbon, the soil seizes up. Nutrients get locked in clods of clay, so dried and hard, like cement in the field they lay. Please, dear Lord, won’t you pleases help us here, with a little rain?

Well looky here, you struggling farmer friend, get some carbon in them soils, and they’ll come right around, pretty soon you’ll feel a smile, instead of a frown and a worried furrowed brow. When prices are depressed, maybe we should give some ground a rest, grow covers and carry carbon from the forests to the farm, composting it, so no pests infest our fields. You’ll be surprised by how much it helps the healthy yield. Pounding and planting even $5 wheat is a real threat to your long-term security, especially where soils are sloped and prone to erosion.

I think Burlington Northern could conveniently haul carbon in their empty backhaul from hauling coal. We can’t just leave all that carbon to go up in flames, especially when a million acres could use it, just a hundred miles away! Carbon helps soften clay, carbon helps microbes milk minerals from particles of sand, carbon sequesters carbon, keeping it in the land, carbon in your soils is like future cash in your hand.

Letting it go up in smoke is no joke, it could smoke the red wine in the vats, it could cancer your lungs, it could water your eyes, and burn a bear’s paws. Just cuz a few folks say lightning strikes are natural, then the next thing that’s said, is that the size and intensity of storms are not natural, but man enhanced. If we put a hundred thousand firefighters to the task, there’d still be more than enough fire for the forests burn cycle.

The carbon that has burned in our western forests in the past several years, would have been worth at least $300 million to our Columbia Basin soils. Much of the carbon it easily crushable, the least costly method to make microbe food, which after all, is the key that starts the engine of the soil. Take some land that has 1.5 percent organic matter, add compost and carbon to 3.5 percent and you’ll see what you’ve seldom seen before. Feed the biological processes that provide the nutrients to the roots and rhizosphere. We should all go to lobby the DNR, DOE, and governor’s office, to carbonize our soils before any more big fires burn up our grandkids futures.

Glen S. Johnson

Mt. Vernon, Wash.


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