Cold Fire

“Mushrooms are one of our biggest allies if we hope to have any chance of healing the earth.”

                                                                ~ Sarah Kuta

Humans have changed the planet’s ecosystems, both intentionally and inadvertently. Our very presence requires competition with other species for resources and our successful proliferation compounds that issue. We also perform actions that damage or interfere with other species and ecosystems with little regard.

One example is the health of forests. According to reporter Sarah Kuta, “Before human settlement in Colorado and other wooded areas, wildfires had free reign. Fire roamed through the forests, burning weak and old trees while leaving the strongest standing; it also burned up forest debris. This created a mosaic-style pattern, with trees growing in heterogeneous clumps surrounded by open space. Forests were healthy and diverse, with wildfires helping to keep the balance … Today, our forests are much denser and more homogenous, due in large part to our understandable aversion to wildfires.”

As a result of logging and forest management through thinning and controlled burns, we have disrupted the natural balance. One problem is the slash piles left behind when crews thin forests for fire mitigation and wood wastes from sawmills and other sources. This material can release carbon into the atmosphere and if left in place can create a thick blanket that kills off grass and wildflowers while also changing the soil’s natural pH levels. Particularly in clear-cut areas, the slash piles can take 40 to 50 years to rot naturally, according to researcher Jeff Ravage.

However, “native wood-rotting mushrooms can convert a pile of wood chips into nutrient-rich compost. Ravage calls this process ‘cold fire,’ since fungal degradation achieves the same outcome as wildfires without any of the heat or potential for destruction of homes and business.” “We all know that woody debris can be decomposed by lots of different organisms,” Wilson says, “but there are no organisms on the planet that do it with the level of effectiveness and efficiency of fungi.”

“Not only do the initial mushrooms convert the wood chips into compost, but they also encourage secondary organisms and fungi to show up and get to work. The mushrooms are also a tasty snack for squirrels, bears, deer, elk and other wildlife, which further spur the degradation process along by shuffling through the wood chips looking for food.”

“We all know that woody debris can be decomposed by lots of different organisms,” scientist Andy Wilson said, “but there are no organisms on the planet that do it with the level of effectiveness and efficiency of fungi.”

“Nature knows how to do this stuff. We just need to learn how to kickstart it,” Ravage said. “The realization that restoring the environment is perhaps the easiest way to fix our climate problems is growing.”

Mother Nature knows best….

Additional information:

Sarah KutaMushrooms Are Healing the Earth, Starting With Colorado’s Forests, Jun 11, 2020, The Denver Post 

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