Arkansas Forests and Drinking Water

The Value of Forest

According to, the value of wood and paper shipments from mills in the United States during 2017 was $282 billion. The industry supported 953,000 jobs with a payroll of $53 billion ( That is the economic value of the forestry industry but forests provide much more than wood and paper to our society.

Ecosystem services are the many and varied benefits that humans freely gain from the natural environment and from properly functioning ecosystems. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment identified ecosystem services provided by forests as: nutrient cycling (returning nutrients to the environment for reuse), climate regulation, raw materials, erosion control, water treatment, recreation, food production, genetic resources, soil formation, water supply, disturbance regulation, water regulation, biological control, and cultural values ( During the year 1997 Robert Constanza attempted to put a value or those ecosystem services (nature. Vol. 387. May 15, 1997). He arrived at a value of $969 per hectare per year. Using the CPI inflation calculator for 1996 – 2018, the current value of Constanza’s estimate is $1588 per hectare per year. The total forested area in the United States during 2012 was 766 million acres or roughly 310 million hectares ( So, by multiplication the value of our forest comes out to be 492 billion dollars per year, a little over 2 1/2 % of the US Gross Domestic Product for 2017 ( These are not actual dollars, but if the forest was lost we would have to find those dollars to replace those free services.

As impressive as these figures are, they still don’t represent the entire value of our forest land. There is a large and increasing body of literature that shows beneficial effects of exposure to forest ecosystems on our health, social, and cognitive well-being. In her new book ‘The Nature Fix’, Florence Williams delves into these aspects of forest’s value (W.W. Norton & Company. New York). Williams interviewed researchers looking into the value of forests and in many cases was able to participate in the research herself. The data show when people are exposed to forests, heart rate drops, blood pressure goes down, stress is reduced, immunity to disease is increased and mood improves. Researchers, according to Williams, are not yet fully sure what drives this correlation. Scientists are looking into several possibilities including: exposure to the immensely diverse microbiological community of the forest; an aroma-therapy type response to chemicals that trees exude; or possible human evolution in a forest environment and natural relaxation when they return. Nevertheless, the effect is real. In fact, Japan and South Korea have started dedicating forest therapy units in their public forests to take advantage of the benefits. Closer to home, a study by Donovan et al in 2013 (available at: looked at death trends from cardiovascular and lower respiratory disease before and after infestation by the emerald ash borer infested the mid-west. According to Donovan, the loss of ash trees in the infected area resulted in approximately 21,000 extra deaths up to 2007. Those 21,000 deaths definitely had both economic and social value in the infected area.

With respect to the cognitive value of forests, we can look at Florence Williams discussion of Kindergarten. Kindergarten is a German term meaning ‘Garden for the Children’. During the year 1837, Freidrich Fröbel established the first Kindergarten. Fröbel’s idea was that the children would learn by absorbing the natural world with all of their senses. Through play in the woods, they would intrinsically learn the laws of geometry, form, physics and design despite themselves. After a few years, The Prussian government shut Fröbel down fearing a generation of free-thinking citizens. Can you imagine the impact a bunch of free-thinking kids could have on an authoritarian government! Nevertheless, the concept has endured. Today, Germany has over a thousand Waldkindergärtens or ‘Forest Kindergartens’. In these schools the students spend most of their day outdoors exploring nature and by extension learning the fundamental laws of science as well as getting along. The benefits are not confined to children. In a 1995 study ( Kaplan found that contact with nature had a restorative effect on adults providing them with improved focused attention and reduced mental fatigue.

Forests do provide a wide variety of benefits including economic return, environmental services as well as providing for health and education. A managed forest need not consider only a single objective. Well managed forests could provide for all of these benefits over time. When looking at the economic value of ecosystem services such as those provided by forest, it is important to consider the values or improved health and cognitive ability.

Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil. Daniel Hillel. 1992. A book review

I first read Out of the Earth during 2007. Sharon, my wife, was taking Soils from Dr. David Miller at the University of Arkansas at the time. Dr. Miller assigned Out of the Earth as required reading for the class. The book looked interesting, so I read it too.

Daniel Hillel was a professor of soil and water science at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, New York. Out of the Earth is the story of mankind’s relationship to the soil and how our abuse, or respect, of the soil has ruined, or nurtured civilizations.

The book is written in five parts: For Soil Thou Art; The Nature of Soil and Water; The Lessons of the Past; The Problems of the Present and Unto the Soil Thou Shall Return. One might surmise from the title of the book and the different sections that Dr. Hillel was also a student of the Bible and the near East. You would be correct. Dr. Hillel grew up in Israel where he learned the old stories and how to apply those stories to his science. That background comes through loud and clear in Out of the Earth.

The first section, ‘For the Soil Thou Art’, sets the stage for humankind’s relationship to the soil by invoking the second chapter of Genesis, “God, Yahweh, formed man out of the soil of the earth and blew into his nostrils the breath of life …. God then took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to serve and preserve it.” This made man the steward of the earth. Hillel then relates how man abused God’s trust for short-term profit. Consequentially, man was expelled from the garden and cursed to work the earth.

‘The Nature of Soil and Water’, part 2, is a technical, but very readable primer on soil and water science. Hillel describes soil as:

“our earth’s primary cleansing and recycling medium, in effect a ‘living filter’ wherein pathogens and toxins that might other wise focus our environment are rendered harmless and transmuted into nutrient”

Water is described as, “the Vital Fluid” i.e. the primal constituent of all living organisms”. ‘The Dynamic Cycle’ gives a detailed description of the different components of the hydrologic cycle. Hillel then goes on to discuss how plants capture the energy of the sun and become the base of the earth’s food web in ‘The Primary Producers”. To wrap the section up, ‘The Tenuous Balance’ discusses the science of ecology.

Part 3, ‘The Lessons of the Past’ is the story of the agricultural revolution. Hillel guides the reader from the evolution of man (Homo sapiens sapiens) into man’s domestication of plants and animals and the introduction of agriculture. Then he goes on into the birth of civilizations. Along the way, Hillel goes into the farming methods developed by early farmers both in the Middle East as well as in Mesoamerica. More particularly, he looks into the development of irrigation and how early farmers enhanced fertility. Numerous examples of the ingenious farming systems employed by the ancient farmers are explored. Hillel then turns to the impact of those farming methods on the soil and water resources of the regions where they were employed. Mostly, early farmers understood neither the impact of rising water tables from excess irrigation waterlogging the soil, nor the build up of salt on soil where minerals are brought to the surface from ground water are left behind by evaporation. Eventually, fields then whole regions lost fertility. As a consequence, civilizations hat to reach out further and further for food and other resources. This reaching out lead to empire building. Eventually empires collapsed under the weight of bureaucracy and limited resources.

Part 4, ‘The Problems of the Present’ begins with a depressing statement:

“Each and every one of the insidious man-induced scourges that played a role in the deaths of past civilizations has its mirror image in our contemporary world. Salinization, erosion, denudation of watersheds, degradation of arid lands, depletion and pollution of water resources, abuse of wetlands and population pressure are still with us, but at an even larger scale. Added to the old problems are new ones undreamed of in the past centuries: pesticide and fertilizer residues; domestic and industrial waste including toxic chemicals; air pollution and acid rain; global climate change; and the wholesale extinction of species”.

From that start, Hillel gives examples of each problem with explanation of the processes in play.

Part 4 is the longest section of the book at 123 pages. It is not entirely without hope. Hillel does point out certain systems that have attained sustainability. An interesting example is China’s system of polyculture wetland utilization:

“These systems are based on the husbandry of livestock, flow, and freshwater fish in comp=bination with perennial and seasonally rotated crops…. Pigs and ducks, together with fish, provide each household with annual protein, and a small cash income; while aquatic plants, crop residues, and kitchen leftovers feed the livestock, the manure of which fertilize the fish ponds and promote growth of plankton – the principle food of carp” …. In these systems nutrients and energy are cycled continuously and little waste results”.

Another example is the micro irrigation system that has been implemented in Israel.

The final section, ‘Unto the Soil Shalt Thou Return’ starts with ‘A Global Accounting’. To be blunt, Hillel says we are in trouble bigtime:

“The environmental transformations we are witnessing are driven by a continuous and accelerating increase in population and land exploration. More people exploit more land, so it may then support more people, who must exploit more land, and so ad destructionem”.

Here, as opposed to the rest of the book, Hillel places blame, not on individuals nor even a sector, but on an economy where “development receives first priority and environmental considerations are subordinated components of economic endeavors”.

The book ends with a short chapter expressing conditional optimism. The path forward, he says, is there for us if only we, as a species, chose to follow. Out of the Earth is now 27 years old. Recent work by Hans Rosling (Factfulness) and Steven Pinker (Enlightenment Now) do present data that show trends toward better conditions both socially as well as environmentally. Possibly we have turned the corner.

Dr. Hillel has been one of my heroes for a decade now. I find Out of the Earth’ as relevant today as when it was written in 1991. It should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves educated.

A View of Stream Health

Stream health is a term that is frequently used in the literature about streams. But health is seldom defined. The term makes an analogy to human health. Therefore, it does create a sense of stream condition that people can relate to. But it doesn’t really describe any particular state of the stream.

In the prologue of his very well researched and thought out book, ‘A View of the River’ (Harvard University Press, 2005), Luna Leopold makes it clear that the book is his view of the river, not an exhaustive treatise on the field of potomology (the study of rivers). This post is my very simplified view of stream health.

The World Health Organization describes health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being’. That is a good place to start a view of stream health. It is likely streams have neither mental nor social well-being. I can’t really say that they don’t, but to be safe I will substitute physical, biological and chemical well-being. I do have some data on those characteristics.

With respect to physical well-being, streams have two basic functions: they transport water and they transport sediment. The amount of water transported by the stream, the stream’s discharge, is determined by the amount of precipitation in the stream’s watershed and possibly some contribution from groundwater. The amount of sediment is referred to as the stream’s load. Sediment is a product of erosion within the watershed as well as from the streams banks and bed. When a stream’s ability to transport sediment is equal to the amount of sediment provided by the watershed, then the stream is ‘in regime’. If the stream does not have capacity to transport the supply of sediment from the watershed, then deposition of sediment will occur. If the stream’s capacity is greater than the supply, then erosion occurs. When the stream is in regime, the stream flows along neither depositing nor eroding appreciable amounts of sediment. It will be a stable system.

A competent engineer can design a uniform channel that is in regime. That channel would flow along at a steady velocity and depth and sediment would gently bounce along the bottom. Little change would occur over time. The channel would also have few if any fish. Fish and the other members of the aquatic community need deep holes, shallow riffles, runs and glides. Different species occupy different environments. Our uniform channel needs some complexity to make the aquatic community healthy. A few engineers who are versed in fluvial geomorphology can design channels with rocks and other features put in just the right place to build in complexity and improve the aquatic habitat. Undescribed streams build in their own complexity. So, our healthy stream is in regime and also has complexity.

Biologically, my stream now needs a source of food for the aquatic community and a place for the citizens of that community to hide from predation. Where that food comes from depends on the location of the stream in the watershed. In the headwaters, streams are usually allochthonous (from without). The food washes in from the watershed or drops out of streamside vegetation in the form of bugs, worms and vegetative matter. Further downstream, where the stream widens and the canopy opens up such that sunshine hits the water, the food grows in the stream itself (autochthonous) in the form of algae. But nutrients (phosphorous, nitrogen, potassium) are still needed from the watershed to provide for growth. Again, the supply of nutrients needs to match the needs of the community. Too much nutrients and the stream gets fat, too little and it gets emaciated. A fat stream will likely get murky because of the algae content. And emaciated stream may be very clear but not have many fish. It’s a balancing act. However, like humans, streams will be in a better state of health on a lean diet. Then further downstream, the food mostly drifts down from above with the current (once again allochthonous).

The streamside vegetation is an important source of food for streams in the headwaters. Further downstream, the streamside zone also regulates the amount of nutrient reaching the water. So, streamside areas (riparian zones) are also important to well-being of the stream. Refugia from predation comes in the form of woody debris, rocks, cobbles, gravel and overhangs. This is frequently referred to by fishermen as structure.

The final characteristic of stream health is the chemical quality of the water. Water, even in a wilderness is a solution of many minerals and other compounds. In nature, the chemical characteristics of a stream are determined by the make up of the watershed that water flows through on the way to the stream and the chemical quality of the atmosphere that precipitation falls through. Most of the time, the stream will develop an ability to assimilate these minerals and compounds. In fact, a stream of distilled water would not be a healthy stream at all. The minerals and other compounds are necessary. When a chemical or other compound is added to a stream through point or nonpoint source discharges, the stream takes on the characteristics of those additions as well. If the stream cannot assimilate the addition, then it becomes polluted. Our healthy stream then must have a pollutant load less than the assimilative capacity.

In summary, my view of a healthy stream is one that is in regime (neither eroding nor depositing), has channel complexity, supports a diverse aquatic community with and adequate but not excessive nutrient supply, has a good cover of streamside vegetation, contains some structure and does not have an excessive load of chemical or organic pollutants. Such a stream should have a pleasant appearance, little nuisance vegetation, be a reliable source of water, and have good fishing.

Harmful Algae Blooms

June 17, 1793 Seaman John Carter on George Vancouver’s voyage of discovery along the coast of British Columbia died. A few days earlier Seaman Carter and some others ate fresh mussels that they collected in a cove along the coast. Within a few minutes, their lips and fingers became numb. The numbness progressed to paralysis. All but Carter recovered ( Years later it was determined that Seaman Carter had become the first recorded European to die from exposure to ‘the Red Tide” in the new world.

The Red Tide is an example of a phenomenon now known as a harmful algae bloom, or HAB for short. Algae are an essential component of the aquatic community. They form the base of the aquatic food chain. Normally algae are not a serious problem in a water body, or at worst, a nuisance. But under certain conditions some algae blooms can produce toxic compounds. Scientists don’t fully understand the conditions that create HABs. But there are lots of factors to be considered.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes a HAB as occurring ‘when colonies of algae — simple plants that live in the sea and freshwater — grow out of control and produce toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds’ ( The Red Tide is likely the best known of the HABs. The State of Florida is currently, as I write this in mid-August 2018, experiencing a severe Red Tide along its west coast. This August 13th the Governor of Florida issued an emergency order for the Red Tide. The order covers 7 coastal counties. The local economy as well as wildlife are suffering because of the event.

Florida’s Red Tide is a coastal event. HABs can also occur inland in freshwater. August 2, 2014, the city of Toledo, Ohio issued an advisory warning residents to not use water from the city’s water system ( An algae toxin, microcystin, was found in the city’s water supply in concentration higher than the 1 part per billion that the State’s standards allowed. The microcystin came from a bloom of blue-green algae, or more correctly cyanobacteria, that occurred in the western end of Lake Erie, their source water. The event lasted three days. Imagine three days without tap water!.

Right here in Arkansas that same year swim beaches in Lake Nimrod were closed because of a HAB ( That closure was also a result of Microcystin from a bloom of cyanobacteria. The closure lasted for several days.

Aquatic conditions that promote algae growth include sunlight, temperature, pH, as well as the presence of hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, iron, and trace elements ( Most HABs in freshwater systems are the result of cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria tend to grow best when the temperature is above 25C (77F), with intermittent exposure to intense sunlight, in stable or sluggish water with low turbidity, and when the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus are present ( Most of these conditions occur naturally and we cannot do much about them. But, increased nutrient loading into a body of water can exacerbate the situation. Extreme storm events may also wash nutrients into the water contributing to the problem, especially if the storm is followed by an extended drought. Stagnant water can then lead to retention of nutrients in the water ( Well, that kind of sounds like late summer in Arkansas.

So, what can a person do to help manage HABs or to avoid the negative impacts. Here are a few suggestions:

• When a severe algae bloom is present in a stream or lake, avoid contact with the water,
• Keep pets and livestock away from water with severe algae blooms,
• Learn how to manage fertilizer (nitrogen and phosphorus) to keep it on the land and not washing off of your property,
• Support local watershed management and source water protection efforts.

Clean Drinking Water

The second half of the Arkansas Forestry and Drinking Water Collaborative’s vision statement is, ‘…Clean Drinking Water’. This raises the question of what constitutes clean drinking water with respect to forestry. Water quality, according to the United States Geological Survey ( can be thought of as ‘a measure of the suitability of water for a particular use based on selected physical, chemical, and biological characteristics’. There is no absolute scale for water quality without an intended use of the water. For drinking water, we want water that is free of pathogenic (disease causing) organisms, toxins, undesirable taste and odor and has a pleasant appearance.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency regulates 90 contaminants ( that have direct impact on human health. These are called the National Primary Drinking Water Standards. For each of the primary contaminants, a maximum contaminant level (MCL) is set. Drinking Water from public systems is not allowed to exceed any of these 90 standards. There are also an additional 15 contaminants ( that impact the aesthetic quality of water or may impact the operation of water treatment equipment. These 15 are referred to as secondary water quality standards. Water utilities strive to meet all 105 of these water quality standards.

But the description of clean water above is for water that has been through a sophisticated treatment process. Ambient water, water in the natural system of streams and lakes or groundwater, generally does not meet all 105 drinking water standards. There may be a few places in remote wilderness where a person can kneel down and drink from a stream. But those places are few and far between. You never know what is going on upstream just around the bend.

Water utilities refer to the ambient water as ‘raw’ water. That is water that has not yet been treated. A utility wants raw water that can be safely treated at a reasonable cost. Certain characteristics of water can make it difficult to treat. Algae can at times impart taste and odors into the water. That taste and odor is usually not unhealthy, but it becomes unpleasant for drinking. Taste and odor are extremely difficult to remove from water through the normal treatment processes. Some alga also at times forms toxic compounds. These algae are referred to as Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs). Algae blooms are difficult to manage and treat for because of their temporary nature. A bloom can show up overnight, then be gone the next night. Algae toxins can be treated, but it difficult and expensive. And with our current testing methods, the toxin may already be in the system before its presence is known. Luckly, HABs have been rare in Arkansas. Algae grow in response to many environmental conditions. But a certain amount of fertilizer (nitrogen or phosphorus) is required for their growth in any situation. So, a raw water low in fertilizer is desired.

Organic carbon also causes water treatment woes. When organic material is treated with disinfectant, the process forms by-products. Some of those by-products may be carcinogens. While these by-products can be treated for, it is better to not have them in the first place. The best treatment in this case is prevention. So, the raw water should have a low concentration of organic carbon.

Water utilities also have to remove turbidity (cloudiness) from the water as well as to remove all of the suspended solid particles. The removed particles form what is called water treatment residuals. Water treatment residuals have to be disposed of in an acceptable manner.

A water utility then would likely think they had clean raw water if that water was relatively clear (low turbidity), had a low concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus, little nuisance algae, little organic carbon, and few suspended solids. They also want good buffers between them and any potential source of contamination such as spills, leaking storage tanks, waste water discharges etc.

The quality of water in a stream or lake is directly related to the characteristics of the watershed tributary to that stream or lake. Land use (urban, forest, farming, residential etc.) has an impact on water quality as well. Of the land uses common in Arkansas, well managed forest provides water that most closely matches the needs of the water utility. The connection of forestry to clean water is a natural.

Forests and Water Blog

Forest Health

The vision statement of the Arkansas Forests and Drinking Water Collaborative is, ‘Healthy Managed Forests and Clean Drinking Water. Understanding this statement requires understanding what a ‘healthy forest’ might be. The term is frequently used, but seldom defined. In-fact, many ecologists object to using the term ‘health’ as a description of condition because of its lack of specificity. However, most will agree that the term does provide some general indication that one forest is in better condition than another and therefore ‘health’ is a useful.

Forests are expected to provide a host of ecosystem services including timber and wood products, clean and abundant water, pollution abatement, temperature regulation, recreation, wildlife habitat, medicinal herbs, and spiritual renewal, and aesthetics. One’s definition of forest health depends on one’s desired use of the forest’s services.

In his essay, ‘The Land Ethic’ Aldo Leopold health (of land) as “the capacity of the land to renew itself”. That is likely a good place to start. But it says nothing about the ability to utilize the multiple services and products that forests provide. The Canadian Forest Service, in their publication, “Forest Health; context for the Canadian Forest Service’s Science program” gives an extensive definition, “Forest ecosystems are healthy when their underlying ecological processes operate within a natural range of variability, so that on any temporal or spatial scale, they are dynamic and resilient to disturbance”. Then they go on to explain that managers and policy makers insist that the forest also be able to ‘provide competitive timber supplies and satisfy a wide range of environmental, social and cultural values”. So, they are bringing the concept of forest use into the definition. Things are getting a bit cumbersome here. But that’s the way it goes. They eventually settled on: “

“In general terms, a healthy forest is one that maintains biodiversity, resiliency, wildlife habitat, aesthetic appeal, and resource sustainability.”

That is pretty good. But it still is a bit squishy about which resource is sustainable, timber, wildlife, water, air etc. But it can be assumed that they mean all of the above. Also, you need to know what the base-line for biodiversity, resiliency, wildlife habitat and aesthetic appeal are to make the definition useful. Then again, a person who manages their forest strictly for timber production likely views ‘resource sustainability’ differently than one who manages strictly for water quality or one who manages for hunting and fishing. So, some element of meeting management goals needs to be included.

A really simple definition might be, “a healthy forest is one that meets management goals both at present and also in the future”. This one however ignores the need for biodiversity, complexity, wildlife habitat and aesthetic values entirely. Can a forest be truly healthy if it doesn’t meet those requirements?

So, putting all of this together, it seems that the North Carolina Forest Service provides us with perhaps the best definition.

“A healthy forest is a forest that possesses the ability to sustain the unique species composition and processes that exist within it and accommodate the present and future needs of people for a variety of values, products, and services (North Carolina Forest Service, 2017”.

Introducing the Arkansas Forests and Drinking Water Collaborative

IMG_2442May 26 and 27, 2015 45 stakeholders from Arkansas’s forestry and drinking water sectors convened at Camp Mitchell on Petit Jean Mountain at the first-ever Arkansas Forests and Drinking Water Forum. This forum was held to explore the common interests of the two sectors, to learn about the issues faced by each of the sectors, to build networks of professionals, and to initiate communication and cooperation between the sectors. The outcome of the forum was: discovery that the two sectors could benefit from collaboration, development of many new contacts, and a commitment to continue the dialogue.
During 2016, the Arkansas Forestry Commission requested and received a Landscape Scale Restoration grant from the US Forest Service to enhance the partnership between the forestry and drinking water sectors. The Forest Commission received $124,930 to implement the effort within the State. Late that year, the Arkansas Forests and Drinking Water Steering Committee was formed to oversee the grant as well as to improve communication between the sectors, improve cooperation between the sectors and to initiate collaborative projects. The steering committee consists of representatives from water utilities, forestry landowners, associations and companies, conservation organizations, as well as state and federal agencies. One of the first actions of this new committee was to hold a second Arkansas Forests and Drinking Water Forum to continue the conversation. The steering committee now meets semi-annually as the Arkansas Forests and Water Collaborative.
Forestry and drinking water may seem to not have much in common. However, over 60% of Arkansans drink water whose source is a forested watershed. Forests are generally considered to provide the best quality water for water treatment of all common land uses. Forests also provide protection of the water source from accidental pollution such as a tank truck collision or other spill. In addition, the forest industry makes an impact of greater than $6 billion to Arkansas’ economy and employs over 47,000 persons.
Protecting water quality, especially in watersheds that are sources of drinking is one of priorities of the forest industry. The Ozark St. Francis National Forests 2005 management plan states “Protect municipal and other potable water supplies and ensure that management activities do not cause permanent deterioration in water quality or quantity”. In the Ouachita, the Soil, Water and Air section of the 2005 management plan sets the priority as, “Protect source waters and other potable water sources”. The Arkansas Forestry Commission and the major forestry companies in the State also make protecting high quality water priorities.
Arkansas’ Forests and Water Collaborative’s exists to help the two sectors get together for their mutual benefit. Our mission is “…to facilitate conservation and better management of forested watersheds within Arkansas to protect sources of public water supply through improved understanding and communication between the forest and water sectors”. We will meet that mission by providing opportunities for representatives of the sectors to network with each other, to improve inter-sector communication and cooperation, and to generate cooperative projects.
If the state can manage to maintain forest as forest, that will go a long way toward providing us with sufficient high-quality water to support the state’s needs.