I want to share a thoughtful quote from David Haskell’s book The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature. The quote illustrates our changing relationship with forests. It begins by looking at nineteenth century forestry practices and how these have changed as the demand for lumber has grown.
Quote from David Haskell’s The Forest Unseen
In the nineteenth century we stripped more trees from the land than the ice age accomplished in one hundred thousand years. We hacked forest down with axes and handsaws, hauling it away on mules and railcars…
Cheap oil and expensive technology have now brought us to the second phase of our relationship with the forest. No longer do we cut by hand and haul with animals or steam; gasoline engines do it all, accelerating our extraction…The forest used to burst back, prepared for the ax by millions of years of wind and fire…
Now ‘chemical suppression’ is the tool of choice…machines clear the forest, cutting then bulldozing the remaining ‘debris.’ Then the helicopters move in and rain herbicides in the remnants, forestalling a resurgence of green…All this effort is directed at preparing the land to receive a new forest, a monoculture of fast-growing trees…the resulting tree plantations look something like forests. But the diversity of birds, wildflowers, and trees is gone…
The problem with our modern forest economy lies in the unbalanced way that we extract wood from the land. Our laws and economic rules place short-term extractive gain over all other values. It does not have to be this way.
Forestry and Old-Growth Forests in Canada
This quote stuck with me because I’ve been doing research on the loss of our old-growth forests in Canada. Unsustainable forestry practices, like those mentioned above, are threatening so much biodiversity in this country.
Canada hosts 25 percent of the world’s remaining old-growth forests but unsustainable forestry is threatening what little is left. It’s now possible to imagine a world where no old-growth exist or exist only in small pockets of protected land.
When I think of old-growth forests, I imagine Vancouver Island’s towering Douglas-firs. Some of those trees are over 800 years old. I am disheartened to learn that 75 percent of those forests have been harvested and each year we lose an additional +10,000 hectares.
If no action is taken Vancouver Island could resemble our Maritime provinces where less than 1 percent of old-growth remains. But, as Haskell argues, it doesn’t have to be this way. Peter Wohlleben and other foresters have advocated for sustainable approaches to tree harvesting. More about this in a future post.