Caring for and Healing the Earth

Forests and Forestry

Changing the Face of the Forest: Does Logging Imitate Fire?

Mike Pedde

Both forest fires and logging can change the dynamics of a forest ecosystem, often with very dramatic results. Logging is an everyday occurrence around the world. Most people (in North America anyway) remember the 'tragedy' of the forest fire in Yellowstone National Park a few years ago. But do fires and logging impact the life of the forest in the same way? A very complicated question, with no easy answers. In a way it might depend on whom you ask. Most foresters today will argue quite forcefully that current logging methods do imitate the effects of wildfire, but others would disagree wholeheartedly. To answer this question, perhaps we need to look at the ways logging and fires change the face of the forest.

To begin with, we must ask questions. Are forest fires solely a destructive force? We've all seen the pictures of Bambi and Thumper running from a forest fire. For fifty years Smokey the Bear's message has been of fire as a damaging, destructive force, but did Smokey give us the whole picture? There is no question of the soundness of Smokey's message as fire can cause damage to property, create loss of timber, loss of life, but is there more to the role of fire in the forest? Can we/ should we prevent forest fires? While we must always continue to protect people, property and adjacent lands from wildfire, we can' t eliminate forest fires - at best we can postpone them. Should we even attempt to do so? To answer this question, we need to look at the ecology of fire, or the role that fire plays in the workings of a forest environment.

The forces of rain, wind and fire have molded the earth since the dawn of time. We can trace wildfires back 360 million years. The evidence of these is buried deep within the coal beds of the Carboniferous period. Since the retreat of the glaciers 10,000 years ago, both humans and lightning have ignited forest fires. Every day there are eight million cloud to ground lightning strikes around the world, with 500 thousand lightning strikes occurring in forests every day - only a fraction of these cause forest fires.

Native peoples have lived in North America for thousands of years. They lived along the major river systems, just as people do today, and it is here that the influence of aboriginal people was most pronounced. They used fire to preserve grasslands, shrub lands, berry crops and open forests in some valleys, and to drive game. The pattern of vegetation at the turn of the century could only have resulted from a human controlled, frequent, low intensity fire program. In many places in North America, lightning starts of forest fires alone could not account for the existence, over thousands of years, of this vegetation pattern.

While other animals cannot start fires, they can be a factor in the occurrence of fire. For example, outbreaks of insects can kill hundreds of trees and create optimum conditions for fire to start or spread. Beavers may help prevent fires by building large ponds that can act as fire breaks, but beavers may also contribute to the possibility of fire by injuring or killing trees which become fuel for fires. Animals grazing on preferred species of plants for food may leave behind only flammable, oily and resinous plants.

However, European people brought with them different attitudes about fire; at first they used fire as a means to clear land, but then they saw fire as a danger to settlement and people sought to control it. Since 1940 the annual area burned in Canada has dropped to less than 10% of known historic levels. This has been caused by changing land use patterns (more towns, increased tourism), actively putting out all forest fires and the idea that we must maintain wild areas in a 'pristine' condition.

The first park wardens in western Canada were hired in 1909, primarily to put out forest fires. There was a belief that all wildfires were devastating to the forest and needed to be stopped as soon as possible. They saw fire as a 'foreign invader', one that threatened the forest system within the national parks and beyond. Since WW II, the technology and equipment used to find and stop wildfires have improved dramatically. Modern day forest fire suppression techniques employ everything from shovels and axes to bulldozers, dedicated aircraft, satellite imagery, and computer systems. So, we have eliminated forest fires in our parks, and to a large part in forests in general. How is this affecting the forests?

There are many classifications of forest types in Canada, from boreal forests in the north to Carolinian forests in the south. However, each ecosystem is a complex combination of plant and animal life, as well as soil, water, and sunlight. Each species of plant has particular habitat requirements, such as specific amounts of light, heat, soil nutrients, and water. Animals also have specific habitat needs, such as the right amounts of food, water, cover, and space to live. Different plants and animals have different requirements, and together they create different communities or ecosystems.

Succession is the natural orderly change in plant and animal communities over time. This occurs when new environments are formed, or old ones are disturbed by forces such as fire. During succession, tall plants create shade. Layers of moss insulate the soil and cause the temperature of the soil to drop. Ever more nutrients and minerals become tied up in living and dead plant material. Changes in the environment change the suitability for growing for different plant species, so the kinds and numbers of plants change as the successional stages change. Wildlife populations change with successional changes too. Some animals find their homes in the shrub stages of early forest succession, while others need large spaces of mature forest. Many species require a mixture of habitats. For example, snowshoe hares feed on the young shoots of willow and aspen from the shrub stage, but the hares require the cover of mature forests, especially in the winter. The abundance of wildlife in the forest is a result of the variety of habitats provided by the forest mosaic.

As much as the environment affects the kinds of plants and animals that live there, plants and animals also affect the physical environment. Plants reflect and absorb sunlight, which changes the growing conditions on the forest floor. Mosses create a layer of insulation over the soil, which lowers the soil temperature and reduces the depth of the active soil layer. These effects combine to slow the rate of decomposition of the dead and decaying plant material. The build-up of un-decayed plant material is an important feature of the forest as it contributes to the occurrence of fire and influences plant succession. Therefore, the complex, changing forest mosaic is created and maintained by environmental changes, fire and other disturbances, and succession.

For example: After a large fire, some mature trees and most of the ground vegetation will be consumed. However, some tree species such as Douglas fir or white pine have thick bark to protect them from the heat of low intensity fires. Fire opens the forest canopy and allows more light to reach the soil. At the same time, bark beetles have built in smoke detectors and heat sensors that allow them to find burnt areas. These wood-boring beetles fly through the smoke and flames in search of burning trees. Trees that the fire has killed or damaged cannot resist these insects, and so supply an abundant source of food. Changes in soil nutrients and temperatures are some of the first environmental changes caused by fire. When plants and dead vegetation are burned, the minerals trapped in their leaves, stems and wood are released and returned to the environment as gases and ash. The ashes left are rich in calcium, phosphorous, potassium and other minerals. These minerals, previously trapped in decaying vegetation, enrich the soil. Fire burns part of the organic mat on the soil as well, blackening the soil surface and reducing the insulating qualities of the active soil layer. These changes cause the soil to absorb more of the sun's heat. The resulting warmer, better drained mineral rich soil provides very good conditions for plant growth.

The constant presence of fire has caused many species to adapt to take advantage of the temporary changes at their site. This includes such things as thick bark, protected buds, fire stimulated flowering, and the storage of seeds in the soil. Some serotinous cone species (e.g., lodgepole pine or jack pine) have cones that are sealed with a resin until a fire; the heat from the fire melts the resin, releasing the seeds. These pine seeds start to grow about the same time that the grasses and other green plants start to sprout. Pine cones release as many as two million seeds per acre, and although the fire burns many and small mammals eat others, as many as a thousand pine seedlings per acre can be found a few years later. Some species, like the intermountain aspen in western Canada, do not renew by seed or expand over time through various stages. Aspen is found in clusters of identical trees that have grown from root suckers extending from a common root. Scientists believe some root clones to be hundreds or thousands of years old. Aspen root suckering occurs after a low intensity fire creates the proper conditions for growth.

All this growth creates a rich blanket of vegetation that quickly covers the burned out area. As the population of bark beetles increases, they, in turn, become food for several species of woodpeckers, whose populations may increase fifty times. As the forest recovers from the effects of the fire, the post fire succession of grasses, forbs, shrubs, followed by trees such as aspen, birch, jack pine, black spruce, douglas fir or lodgepole pines provide the variety and quality of habitat (especially critical winter habitat) necessary to support a variety of plants and animals. New shrubs provide nesting and feeding sites for songbirds. The shrub stage of succession may provide habitat for small mammals and ground nesting birds as well. These animals support large numbers of foxes, weasels, fishers and marten. New bushes will provide ample food for black bears and grizzly bears. If hardwood trees and shrubs are available, elk, deer, moose and snowshoe hares will also find an abundant food supply. As their numbers increase, coyotes or wolves, bobcats or lynx will also move into the area. The species and abundance of the plants and animals change depending on the region, but the interactions of the plants and animals are the same.

Over time, the forest canopy becomes very thick and crowds out the sunlight from reaching the ground below. Aspen and birch trees may die after 100-150 years. Animals that need these plants will die or be forced to move out of the area. Still, this stage provides habitat for ruffed grouse, some thrushes, warblers, and Sharp-shinned Hawks. As they age, many early successional trees start to thin out and second generation trees such as Engelmann spruce, hard maple or red oak start to appear. Some species of trees cannot live in the shadow of their parents, but this is not a difficulty for others. Therefore, the early successional species do not grow and the habitat they provide for others is lost. Animals such as white-tailed deer live primarily in early to mid successional forest, but others such as moose, porcupines, red squirrels, northern flying squirrels, spruce grouse and others will find the 'older' forest to be good habitat.

After many years, the forest has reached a climax stage. The original tree species have all died and been replaced by others. Increased sunlight has stimulated the growth of new trees on the forest floor. Large gaps have appeared in the forest canopy, and small trees and dead branches accumulate. The forest is now highly flammable, and again susceptible to fire. In a natural ecosystem dependent on fire, climax forests are not often permitted to occur, but if fire is removed from the ecosystem, then the forest continues to age. In the west, fire helps keep the grasslands, meadows, and Douglas fir savannas from being replaced by more dense stands of spruce. Across the prairies, fires help to maintain the quality and structure of the grasslands as well as the forest. In the east, forest fires have played a vital role in both the mixed forests of the south, and the boreal forests of the north.

Fires rarely burn evenly. Rather, they burn in patches, completely burning some parts of the forest and leaving others. This pattern helps to maintain the mosaic of different successional stages or ages of the forest. The areas where the different stages of the forest meet are called edges. Many species of animals require more than one type of habitat (e.g., new growth for food, mature trees for cover - especially in winter.) Throughout the world, fire continues to exert a power over plant and animal communities.

The lack of fire in a fire dependent landscape is causing the vegetation to change. There has not been a 50 to 70 year absence of fire in our forests in 300 to 500 years. The result is that the forests are getting older, with less diversity of tree species, open habitats (e.g., meadows) are disappearing, and some plant and animal species are disappearing as well. Generally, these changes lead to a loss of variety or biodiversity in the forest. Also, complete fire exclusion creates a fire hazard by allowing an unnatural buildup of forest fuels (dead/ decaying plant matter). High volumes of fuels can contribute to the severity and extent of wildfires. Such fires can be intense and catastrophic, destroying habitat and damaging water and soil systems to the point where they may no longer support pre-fire levels of diversity. Finally, a lack of fire in the forests can increase the potential for damage to the forests from insects or other forest diseases. Ironically, the forests are suffering from a lack of fire - from which we once sought to protect the forests.

We created national parks with the idea of preserving representative areas of Canada for future generations to enjoy, on the basis that National Parks are "dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment . . . and shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the use of future generations." However, we have slowly begun to change our understandings of the science of fire management and how it relates to the ecosystem as a whole. This is not to suggest that we know everything about ecosystems, but only that we are beginning to regard them more as whole structures. Therefore, in 1979 they revised the policy on fires in national parks to recognize fire as a natural part of the ecosystem. At the same time, uncontrolled fires can have catastrophic effects on human-inhabited and adjacent areas. We can no longer allow fires to burn unabated, but we must also recognize that the role of fire is vital to maintain a healthy forest. A month after a low intensity fire, the area will start to become green again. Grasses and wildflowers will begin to cover over the charred stumps of the burnt material. A year later, the forest will have been rejuvenated, and the cycle will begin again.

Now that we have seen how fire affects the ecosystem, we need to look at the effects of logging and the impacts that logging has on the forest. Is all logging bad? Again, this is a complicated question with no easy answers. Anyone who answers 'yes' to this question has no right using toilet paper, wooden pencils, nor any of the other myriad products that come from the forest. Much of Canada's economy is built on the forest industry. At the same time, current levels of industrialized logging around the world are having a catastrophic effect on the forests and the planet. In the words of George Wuerthner <http://www.tnews.com/text/salvage.html> (trained forester), "Logging brings all kinds of new influences to a site, and is not the ecological analogue of a fire or other natural mortality factors, nor does it assist in the "recovery" of a forest. The tragedy of U.S. forests is that we allowed foresters to "manage" them. Unfortunately, there is a dangerous assumption in the U.S. that because foresters work in forests, they must understand forest ecology. That's like assuming the US Cavalry had an extensive understanding of Native American culture and values because it was good at killing them."

Foresters speak of forests largely in terms of harvestable timber, of board feet, and of allowable annual cut (AAC). To begin with, we must consider that forests are more than just trees, in the same way that oceans are more than just water. Forests are complex, dynamic life forms, self-replicating and self-maintaining. Even to begin to explain the intricacies of a forest would take many volumes. Forests are, to a large extent, the lungs of the earth. Photosynthesizing plants take in carbon dioxide and water, and use these in the presence of sunlight to produce their own food and release oxygen. Historically, about 1/3 of the earth's carbon has been locked up in the biomass of the forests, and about 1/3 has been locked up in the algae and plant life forms of the oceans. The remaining third existed as free carbon dioxide. As we continue to remove the forests and pollute the oceans, the plants required to take in this carbon dioxide no longer exist. As a result, more free carbon dioxide exists in the earth's atmosphere, and leading scientists speak of the effects of global warming. This is an oversimplification of the facts, but the basic tenets ring true.

It used to be that the only man-made object visible from space was the Great Wall of China. For the past several years, we have been able to see the fires from the rainforest of South America as vast tracts of forest are slashed and burned. Some scientists have suggested that the rainforests of South America provide roughly 20% of the world's oxygen supply, and that the Amazon river basin holds roughly 1/4 of the word's free fresh water. In Malaysia and Borneo, the forests have existed for millions of years, evolving but still maintaining their autonomy. The Penan people, the Native people of this region, have medicinal uses for more than 6500 different plants. The World Health Organization estimates that 85% of the world depends on plants for medicines. Many orthodox medicines in use today have their origins in the constituents of plants. Who's to say that the cures for cancer or AIDS are not lying in some tropical valley? Or, they may already be gone.

The health and fate of the rainforests have been a hot topic of discussion in recent years, but many people in North America are unaware of the health and fate of the forests in their own back yards. Logging rates in Canada and the U.S. are much higher than the rates of logging in a country such as Brazil. About ten years ago, a group of people known as Canada's Future Forest Alliance developed a fact sheet entitled:

 

Canada: "Brazil of the North" ?

Size of Canada: 9.9 million square kilometres
Size of Brazil: 8.5 million square kilometres

Acres of forest clearcut or burned:
Canada: 1 acre every 12 seconds
Brazil: 1 acre every 9 seconds

Percentage covered by forest:
Canada: 45% (4455000 sq km)
Brazil: 41% (3649000 sq km)

Hectares clearcut or burned in 1988:
Canada: 1,021,619
Brazilian Amazon: 1,382,000

Amount of productive Canadian forest that is now either barren or "not sufficiently restocked"
after clearcutting: 10.3% (458865 sq km)
Amount of Brazilian rainforest that has disappeared: 12% (437880 sq km)

Estimated number of Aboriginal people and Metis in Canada's boreal forest: 100,000
Estimated number of Aboriginal people in the Amazonian forest:170,000

Amount of forest officially protected:
Canada: 2.6% (115830 sq km)
Brazil: 9.4% (343006 sq km)

Brazil of the North: The National and Global Crisis in Canada's Forests.

Canada's Future Forest Alliance, New Denver, B.C.

 

Logging practices can be loosely placed into three categories: selective cutting, clearcutting, and salvage logging. Each of these has different effects on the forest, and each needs to be looked at individually.

Many people see selective logging as the most harmless method of 'harvesting' timber. With selective logging, individual trees are selected for harvesting and the surrounding forest remains largely untouched. This method should please even the most ardent environmentalist, but the way in which the trees are selected needs to be reexamined.

Each living thing is an individual, and although each individual plant or animal may share certain traits with others of the same species or biotype, the individual has characteristics that are uniquely its own. To make a correlation with humans, each of us has our own special gifts but not everyone has the mind of Albert Einstein nor the speed of Donovan Bailey. In the forest there are some trees that will grow larger and faster than the surrounding trees, though they may be of the same age. In forestry terms, these trees are considered genetically superior.

With selective logging, the person who is 'managing' the forest chooses trees that have reached a certain size, and leaves the smaller trees behind to grow. In essence, the largest and 'best' (genetically superior) trees are removed from the forest, and those that are not as fast growing, as straight, or as tall, are left behind. Over time this cycle is repeated again and again, each time removing the best of what the forest has left to offer. Over an extended period of such removal, all the largest and strongest trees, the best genetic materials to maintain the health of the forest, are taken away. Eventually, what is left is scrub, an unhealthy forest of what foresters would consider 'inferior' trees.

Most logging done around the world today uses a process called clearcutting. Chainsaws and heavy machinery are used to cut all of the trees in an area, and the branches and smaller wood are left behind to litter the ground. Some large clearcuts can cover several thousand hectares, and on this level the micro climate of the area is affected. Roots that once held the soil in place function no longer, and the soil is left to the mercy of the winds and the rains. In many areas, the soil is thin or poor, barely covering the rocky substrate hidden beneath. The life of the forest literally holds the soil in place, and when the roots are gone, the soil disappears also. In most parts of British Columbia, the trees are removed from steep slopes with shallow soils. Where does this soil go when the roots are removed? The soil is lifted and carried away by the rains, following gravity down to the brooks, streams, and rivers. This influx of soil particles settles where the current slows, clogging spawning beds and killing the fish that live in those waters. Removing trees from the shorelines of these same waterways also removes the shade that the trees provided. This results in an increase in water temperature, and changes the quality and quantity of life of those for which the waterway is home.

Water is an important part of any form of life, and forests are no exception. Trees suck in water from their roots, and absorb it through their leaves. A large tree can take in hundreds of litres of water each day. As the trees exhale, some of this water vapour is released back into the atmosphere. The water is collected back into clouds, and returns to the ground again as rain in a continuous cycle. Removing all the trees from an area interrupts this water cycle. After clearcut logging, the trees are no longer present to balance the flow of water through the ecosystem. In some cases the rains continue to fall, but without roots to take in the water, the area becomes a marsh or swamp. In other areas, since the trees no longer breathe water back into the air, the rains stop falling and the land becomes a desert.

Legislators have defined "salvage logging" as the act of logging unhealthy forest stands, considered to have a probability of experiencing extreme insect and disease infestation or catastrophic fire. However, no scientific consensus exists for describing an unhealthy forest, predicting or classifying a catastrophic fire event, or classifying the resultant damage of an insect and disease. According to Chris Maser <http://www.uidaho.edu/e-journal/ecoforestry/ijev12n1maser.html>, "There is no such thing as biological waste in a forest. But, the economic concept of waste, which excludes non-monetary social values and all intrinsic ecological values, has spawned the industrial concept of salvage logging, usually in the form of clearcutting. Clearcutting, in turn, is an economic expediency in which I find no biological justification--it mimics nothing in Nature, such as biological investment. We must learn to reinvest part of Nature's biological capital, including some large merchantable trees, to maintain soil health, which in large measure equates to forest health. Forest health, in turn, equates to the long- term economic health of the timber industry. (To "reinvest" means to leave, to forego some potential short-term profits in the forest in the form of merchantable trees--both live and dead--to assure, for future generations, long-term soil fertility and thus the long-term productivity of the forest.)"

Timber industries and legislators proposed salvage logging as an alternative way of meeting timber demands and generating revenues without much opposition from the public. This is because the laws permitting such logging practices are so vague and confusing. Legislators suggested that the sales of trees from salvage logging would bring in money while rendering the forests more "health." Proponents claimed that harvesting timber would reduce fuel-loading to reduce the intensity of fires and thin-out forest stands to relieve inter-tree competition. Though this sounds credible, the criteria for determining what sort of trees would be removed, and who would make the decision still remains unanswered. On the surface, removing dead or dying trees seems to be an argument that everyone could back. Unfortunately, the practice of salvage logging proved to be anything but a panacea. Some have called salvage logging 'logging without laws'. In the U.S. it exempts timber companies involved in salvage sales from most environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. It allows for clearcutting of huge forest areas. It also prevents citizens from exercising their right to challenge illegal logging plans. According to a leaked U.S. Forest Service memo, "Even if a sale is totally green, as long as one board comes off that would qualify it as salvage, under the salvage sale plan it should be called salvage. It's a political thing." Moreover, many logging plans also include a large component of what is euphemistically called "sanitation" logging, which means that they will log healthy trees if they have physical flaws such as forked crowns, broken limbs, and other characteristics typical of ancient trees.

In Canada, several provinces have adopted policies relating to salvage logging, and the story is the same. In Alberta and the North West Territories (N.W.T.), for example, the Forests Act is broad enough to allow salvage of any crown timber (i.e., this could include timber on non-tenured Crown forest).

Legislation regarding salvage logging, for the most part, exempts such logging from the amount of trees the government would normally permit a forest company to cut in a given year. Under Alberta legislation (Forests Act -- Timber Management Regulation -- Sec. 26) the Minister "may allow" salvage to be counted against an annual harvest requirement. This would suggest that salvage would normally not be considered as part of the harvest, thus supporting the view that such harvesting may affect the long-term sustainability of the established AAC. Regarding salvage logging in areas where no AAC has been set (i.e., outside forest management units), legislation is largely silent, although the N.W.T. have indirectly provided for a process to ensure that forest values are considered. Harvesting beyond the AAC could affect the long-term sustainability of the harvest at planned levels. Adjustments of the AAC in future years to compensate for salvage harvesting in prior years could reduce the supply of timber needed by industry. Governments have not usually controlled harvesting in areas outside existing industrial forest tenures through an AAC. Forest managers must ensure that limits are set on salvage logging to protect forest ecosystems.

Legislation also provides incentives to forest companies who engage in salvage logging. Forest companies have to pay a royalty to the government for the timber they cut, so called 'stumpage fees'. Under Alberta legislation, (Forests Act -- Timber Management Regulation -Sec. 78) timber companies pay at a rate of 25% of normal dues or reduced stumpage fees for salvage logging at Minister's direction where harvesting is exceptionally expensive, except as otherwise specified in a Forest Management Agreement. Under N.W.T. law (Forest Management Act -- Regulations - Schedule B -Part 2 - Fuelwood and Fence Posts), there is a reduction in the order of 50% for using dead timber.

Harvesting beyond the AAC could affect the long-term sustainability of the harvest at planned levels. Adjustments of the AAC in future years to compensate for salvage harvesting in prior years could reduce the supply of timber needed by industry; governments have not usually controlled harvesting in areas outside existing industrial forest tenures through an AAC. Forest managers must ensure that limits are set on salvage logging to protect forest ecosystems.

Finally, since salvage logging can be seen as the most lucrative form of timber harvesting (lower fees, no public input and exemption from existing legislation), such practices encourage arson as a means of accessing timber that would not otherwise be accessible.

Since logging is seen as 'big business', one would naturally assume that large forest companies and the government are turning a good profit from the sale of cut trees. This is not necessarily so. The annual report of the White House Council of Economic Advisors in the U.S. show that the Forest Service spent $234 million more than it collected in timber receipts in 1995. "Generally, the Forest Service subsidized timber extraction from public lands by collecting less timber sales revenue than it spends on timber program costs," the report says. According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GOA) the timber sale program lost nearly $1 billion from 1992 - 1994. A Canadian group called Environment Probe has done several cost analyses relating to large scale timber production. During the debate over logging in the Carmanah valley in British Columbia, Environment Probe's figures showed that the timber company would have received higher return on their investment by simply putting their money in a savings account.

Another argument concerning higher rates of logging is that it creates Canadian jobs. There is certainly no denying this, but the issue is not so 'clear cut', either. Under B.C. legislation, the requirements of local mills must be considered before the logs can be considered for export. However, there is a sub-sub-section that states that if the mills do not require the lumber within two weeks of cutting, the lumber is considered superfluous to the needs of the local mills and is available to be exported. The cold reality is that the best lumber in the whole Keewatin region of southern British Columbia is sent to Chilcotin for dry sort, and then shipped whole log to Japan. Japanese factory ships process the lumber as the ships make their way across the ocean. Much of the best lumber milled in Canada is not used in Canada, either, but shipped to the U.S. Under the terms of the Canada-U.S. Trade Agreement, even if Canada were to decide that levels of logging need to be curtailed to preserve environmental conditions, we cannot diminish the flow of wood and wood pulp to the U.S..

After the trees have been cut, the land must be made green again. Even here our logic fails us. Roughly thirty years ago a man by the name of George Marek came to Canada from Czechoslovakia and began work for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a forester. Even then he spoke of using smaller cuts, and having proper seedlings with well-developed root systems for replanting. He became so outspoken against the Ministry's forestry practices that the Minister sent him a letter essentially telling him to keep quiet. Instead of bowing to the Minister's request, George sent the letter to a local newspaper and quit the Ministry.

First of all, we must realize that we cannot replant forests. We can replant trees, but there must be a recognition that a tree farm is not a forest. Forests are wonderfully diverse, complex ecosystems. After logging, sometimes the ground is prepared for seedlings by either burning slash or crushing the remaining branches, stumps and other litter with heavy machinery (scarification). Often, no soil preparation is done. Some replantings use seedlings grown in nurseries from the 'best' genetic stock. Even in these cases, one must realize that by cloning seedlings the natural genetic diversity and resistance to disease and insect infestation is lost. Sometimes areas are 'replanted' by aerial seeding, and often the land is left to reseed itself as best it can. So, the earth attempts to make the ground green again. Plants shoot up, such as aspen, raspberries, blueberries or buffaloberries. However, foresters do not want aspen or raspberries or other plants competing with the pure stands of spruce or pine that they have planted, so they spray the areas with large amounts of herbicide to 'discourage' this growth. In plantations, they plant trees in neat rows, roughly 2 metres apart. An even age stand grows out of this, but beneath the plantation of trees is a biological desert. In some countries in Europe, forest biologists have begun the task of trying to help forests create themselves again by using companion plantings of shrubs and other plants in addition to the trees.

There are many other issues surrounding large-scale industrial logging. To name a few:

In northern Alberta, a Japanese forest company (Daishowa) is cutting millions of hectares of aspen, turning them into pulp using environmental practices that would be illegal in Japan.

In some European countries, before anyone can cut a single tree, the person responsible must obtain a permit for each tree. Before they will issue a permit, the authorities want to know what the person will cut the tree into, and for what the wood will be used.

Logging of remote areas requires roads to move the heavy machinery in and the logs out. In the U.S., the length of logging roads in the U.S. National Forests is roughly 8 times the length of their national highway system.

Is there a better way? Certainly. There are many small scale woodlot operators who are working with the forests to remove timber while maintaining the strength and the diversity of the forest. Such eco-forestry requires first an admission of our limited knowledge of forest ecosystems and the complex interrelationships of their inhabitants. Eco-forestry proponents base a program of harvesting logs solely on working with Nature to decide not only what trees can be removed, but when. No tree can be cut down before it has past its prime and been naturally selected for removal.

So, how does logging imitate fire? Quite simply, it does not. Forest fires follow an age-old pattern of rejuvenation, recycling, and renewal. Nutrients and minerals locked up in dead trees and leaf litter are taken and returned in a process that fertilizes the earth and prepares the soil for new growth. With logging, there are none of these benefits. First, there is a net nutrient loss as the biomass, the 'life' of the forest is removed, carted away. Removal of all the trees in an area loosens the hold on the soil, allowing it to wash away. Heavy machinery damages the soil crust and compresses the soil, leaving a cold bed for seedlings to sprout. Foresters liberally apply powerful poisons, insecticides and herbicides to keep out 'undesirable' plants and animals. Logging patterns do not leave a forest mosaic as is left by fire, but rather leave forest fragmentation and loss.

We stand today faced with an important choice. We can continue to squander our heritage at an alarming and unprecedented rate, or we can begin the process of recognizing our place on this planet and working with the natural forces to obtain our needs at a price that will not bankrupt the earth. This planet may be 25,000 miles in diameter, but everything we have comes from this earth; if we screw this up, we have nowhere else to go.

 

I have used information from several references for this report. While they are not all listed, the research and information provided has been invaluable to me and is greatly appreciated.

(Mike has three diplomas from Sir Sandford Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario, two in Fish and Wildlife Technology. Over the last twenty years he has worked on environmental assessment and related work in five Canadian provinces, and is an outspoken advocate of environmental stewardship).

 
 
 

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