Star Valley just had a very calm, reasonable, informative and far-sighted meeting to discuss water. And Payson and Star Valley mayors were recently spotted sitting together at the same table exchanging pleasantries.
How very odd.
Disorienting even — the world turned upside down.
See — just when you’re ready to throw up your hands and give up on elections and democracy and campaigns — something like this happens. Next thing you know, you’re feeling optimistic about the good sense of the voters and the wisdom of elected officials.
Can’t last, of course — but pleasant for the moment.
To be specific, Star Valley Councilor Vern Leis headlined a quiet, informative meeting on water issues — which drew but a handful of mostly bemused residents.
The small turnout and the reasonable discussion suggests that we’ve finally moved past the semi-hysterical days when the allegation that Payson planned to drain Star Valley’s water table dry dominated town politics.
Much of that furor focused on the Tower Well, which Payson acquired from a developer in return for development credits back when the town feared it would flat run out of water. The hum of the Tower Well galvanized the incorporation of Star Valley and has for years embittered relations between neighbors.
But this week’s meeting suggests that folks have calmed down and finally seem more interested in facts than politics.
Leis noted that although the Tower Well could affect nearby wells if operated full out, it so far hasn’t done any harm to Star Valley’s water supply.
Nor will it. First, Payson’s water use remains well below the sustainable yield of its current wells — without even turning on the Tower Well. Moreover, in about five years Payson will have 3,000 acre-feet annually from the Blue Ridge Reservoir, which means the town will need to pump ground water only about three months a year until such time as the population more than doubles.
The Star Valley water meeting rightly downplayed the straw man of the Tower Well to focus on the need to partner with Payson to ensure an adequate supply for the whole region.
Leis rightly noted the town should instead focus on the need to provide adequate infrastructure for things like a water and sewer system that would support commercial growth along the highway, on which the town’s financial future depends. Leis even made the intriguing suggestion that the town swap its entitlement to Blue Ridge water for the Tower Well.
So insightful. So reasonable. And so unexpected after years of wasteful water wars.
Lessons of a dead tree
On the face of it, a dead tree doesn’t seem worth much.
It just stands there, reproaching the sky, waiting for a lightning strike.
Might as well cut it down, turn it into sawdust.
And that makes sense: Perfectly logical.
Yeah, well, so much for logic.
Turns out, about 80 percent of wildlife activity in the forest centers on these dead snags (if you look at the world down to a bug’s point of view). Centuries-old trees killed by a fire or bark beetles often stand as gaunt sentinels for decades. Those skeletal memories of a 500-year-old pine might look lifeless, but they provide refuge for a host of species.
Whole ecosystems worth of insects go to work on this weathered biomass. Those bugs, in turn, sustain a whole food chain.
Woodpeckers set to work drilling out nests, which they then abandon to a succession of other birds and mammals, which in turn play their essential role in a system that has evolved to make use of every piece.
Add it all up, and that dead snag foresters have long marked for prompt removal turns out to play an essential role in the living system.
Now comes the latest research suggesting that even a whole forest of dead trees doesn’t necessarily increase the danger of a big fire — undercutting another argument for running in and mowing down all the dead snags.
The findings once more underscore the need to move carefully and understand the limits of untested logic and the threat of unintended consequence any time we get the urge to play God of the forest.
Of course, we’re stuck with the job since a century of heavy-handed intervention has warped the system so dangerously that we can’t simply back away and let it all burn. But the dead snag study ought to at least teach us a little humility. We might even gain some respect for a system so ancient and complex and layered that it loves even dead trees.