Monday, July 30, 2012

The Forest Unseen ~ A Year's Watch in Nature: Part II

In my previous post I shared an insight from the author of The Forest Unseen ~ A Year's Watch in Nature which I felt was relevant to the 30 Day Meditation Challenge. But I liked the book so much that I want to share a few more passages.

On the topic of declining wild forest health and the rise of the industrial (monoculture) forest David Haskell says,

The scale, the novelty, and the intensity of this change are unquestionable threats to the diversity of life in the forests. Whether or how we respond to this erosion is a moral question. Nature seemingly provides no moral guidance; mass extinction is another of her many flavors. Neither can moral questions be answered by our culture's obsession with policy think tanks, scientific reports, or legal contests. I believe that the answers, or their beginnings, are found in our quiet windows on the whole. Only by examining the fabric that holds and sustains us can we see our place and, therefore, our responsibilities. A direct experience of the forest gives us the humility to put our life and desires into that bigger context that inspires all the great moral traditions.

I was struck by this quote because I am so strongly in support of preserving our forests that to question the morality of it was surprising to me. Thankfully, the author, who is much better with words than I am, goes on to answer this riddle for me.

Can the flowers and bees answer my questions? Not directly, but two intuitions come to mind by contemplation of a multifarious forest whose existence transcends my own. First, to unravel life's cloth is to scorn a gift. Worse, it is to destroy a gift that even hardheaded science tells us is immeasurably valuable. We discard the gift in favor of a self-created world that we know is incoherent and cannot be sustained. Second, the attempt to turn a forest into an industrial process is improvident, profoundly so.

The problem with our modern forest economy lies in the unbalanced way that we extract wood from land. Our laws and economic rules place short term extractive gain over all other values. It does not have to be this way. We can find our way back to thoughtful management for the long-term well-being of both humans and forests. But finding this way will require some quiet and humility. Oases of contemplation can call us out of disorder, restoring a semblance of clarity to our moral vision. ~ David Haskell

The thoughtful and precise language in this book fed my soul. I couldn't tear through this book as I would a novel. This book is one which deserves a slow, mindful read. Many thanks to the author and to the publisher. Great book!


Kristin said...


I will say first that I have not read this book, so some context may have been lost with the quotes. Plus, is he speaking globally or locally?

I'm a bit perplexed on the "declining wild forest health and the rise of the industrial (monoculture) forest". There is more diversity now than there was before, it is just a different diversity. We have more young forest than there was at the turn of the century and the "big logging" events that built our nation. Young forest will ultimately become old forest with the right care and attention.

And how is he defining an "industrial (monoculture)"? The only "industrial (monoculture)" I am aware of in the forest industry is the pine plantations one finds down South. But why is it wrong to grow pine trees as a crop, but okay to grow corn, wheat, fruits, vegtables, etc, which leaves HUGE acres of soil exposed for 6 months out of the year and open to erosion? Once those plantations are harvested, they are usually planted in the following year or less.

Acres and acres of forest land out west was 'perserved' and fire eliminated from the landscape, and now we have hundreds of thousands of acres which *intensely* burn. If the population out west had allowed forest management, there would not have been a huge build-up of dry understory debris, over crowded stands, inviting in beetle infestations which have devestated untold acres. There would have been larger, healthier trees and a lessening of these catastrophic fires and subsequent landslides afterwards. Landslides? Because so MUCH burned, there is nothing left to soak up and aborb the water when it rains, and downhill everything goes because there is no active root system to support it.

Undoubtedly, there are problems in South America, Russia, China and elsewhere. No arguement there. But if we put a damper on all of the forest managment in the States and Canada, we become NIMBY's. Not here, but elsewhere is okay.

I would rather see sound forest managment practiced here and export those practices world wide. If wood products are being imported, I don't *know* how it was managed.

And when you get a lack of managment, you end up with a situation like the North Shore (or Colorado) - miles and miles of dead and dying birch and hazel coming up in the understory. Ultimately, a preserved forest is a managed forest. Even the Boundary Waters is managed.

Sorry, that got a bit long... :)

Sara said...

Wow Kristin - That's a big comment to take on. And now it has been two months since I have read the book (I prepped this post in early June) so I definitely recommend that you read the book for yourself to get a better idea of what the author is saying.

However, I agree with you that a managed forest can be very healthy. And certainly we need wood products and I would prefer so see new wood grown for construction vs more harvesting of old growth (not that there is much old growth left in the world).

I think that the "preserved" forests of the west were not actually managed, but rather mis-managed. Now it is known that fire is necessary to rejuvenate a forest (or a prairie) and to keep out invasives.

Well, anyway, I think you would enjoy the book and it would give you lots of food for thought. Thanks for writing.

Kristin said...

Ah, the joys of posting a book review ahead of time! :)

The MN DNR and several Northern MN Counties are trying to determine what they have for old growth, and what they are finding is there is *a lot* of forest that is on the verge of becoming old growth, if we have the patience to wait another 10 or 20 years. Yes, that soon! Pretty exciting.

Granted, it's not the miles and miles of pine that they hacked at the turn of the century; a lot of these stands are mixed species - but the diversity and age are present on the landscape.

What I like to see is the recycling of wood products, like they are doing at the old grain elevators down in the Harbor, with old barns, or even the sunken wood over by Ashland. That to me is where we can do better in our wood utilization.

I'll try and check the book out. Thanks for the review.

Sara said...

How interesting that "new" forest can soon be considered old growth. Do you know the parameters? How old do the trees have to be? Or is it a certain way the whole ecosystem evolves (like you were saying about the diversity and age) that allows this regrowth forest to be considered for old growth status?

Kristin said...

It depends upon the tree species. Here in MN, a red/white pine type can be considered "pre-old growth" at about 120 yrs of age. An aspen stand that is 100 years old is considered old (but necessarily old growth) for that type. Aspen generally starts to decline (ie, die) at about age 80). Paper birch lives to about 60 or 80, but yellow birch can easily live to be older than 100. Those stagnant black spruce stands so prevelent in MN and Canada can easily be 100+, even tho they are only an inch or two big. Black ash can get to be over 100 as well, but it isn't regenerating very well in MN. Which is why the Ash Borer is of great concern.

But, focusing on the pine types because that is what people associate with "old growth", yes, MN has a fair amount of red/white pine in that 120 age category. I *think* it needs to be 130 or 140 to be considered old growth. They aren't necessarily "big" or "statuesque" like the Redwoods, but with time they will be 'old growth'.

You asked: Or is it a certain way the whole ecosystem evolves (like you were saying about the diversity and age) that allows this regrowth forest to be considered for old growth status? Yes! :) While individual trees might be very old, not infrequently, it's much more complex than just an age count.