March 1st, 2017
This is a guest post by Jack Walsh
– the plane’s descent from above a Pacific Northwest cloud cover revealing the geometric incisions into hillsides; interrupting the dark green uniformity of Vancouver Island’s craggy peaks, deep valleys, and stony inlets like missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. And behind the procession of tugboats bound for lumber mills on the mainland, the cylindrical profiles of tree trunks stripped of inconvenient protrusions with a ruthless efficiency similarly stand out against the Strait of Georgia’s cold blue waters.
In a society where supply chains for even the most basic goods are negotiated on a global level, this panorama of a developed production cycle is both a rare transparency and a sobering reminder that the affordability and abundance of goods we take for granted comes at a tremendous ecological cost.
To quote Charlotte Gill in her book Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe,
“In British Columbia we live among clear-cuts like people of the tropics live in the sugarcane. When we fly over our province, we see shaved slopes. When we drive, slash and stumps are a highway blur through our windshields. Cut blocks they are called in the logging trade, like something you could snip at with scissors”.
However, the impact that unsustainable and unrestrained logging practices has had on the forest ecosystems of Vancouver Island – and British Columbia in general – ranges far beyond what a casual observer can perceive.
This article is not going to attempt to analyze in depth the catalog of chain-reactions caused by deforestation because that discussion deserves a far longer and more knowledgeable insight than what I can offer, but in tracing the interconnected nature of these bionetworks, clear-cutting checks off nearly every environmental issue we are confronted by today – soil disturbance, species diversity, water quality, carbon emissions.
Perhaps the most disruptive effect however is that of soil erosion. A keystone species in the Pacific Northwest, salmon play a major role supporting wildlife such as birds, bears, and otters, and represent a transfer of nutrients from the ocean; rich in nitrogen, sulfur, carbon and phosphorus, to the forest ecosystem.
Grizzly bears alone are estimated to leave up to half the salmon they harvest on the forest floor in densities that can reach 4,000 kilograms per hectare – providing as much as 24% of the total nitrogen available to the riparian woodlands. But salmon are also vulnerable to changes to their environment, and in areas with very heavy rain like BC’s temperate rainforests, the layer of leaf litter and humus that becomes exposed after clear-cuts is quickly washed down hillsides, in turn winding up in lakes, rivers, and streams, and rendering them uninhabitable to aquatic life. The primary food source for an entire region’s worth of carnivores can be wiped out in weeks if a logging operation neglects to establish proper buffer zones at the base of its cuts. And the effects can’t be mitigated once it happens.
So what can we do? The crux of the problem is that logging companies cannot be held accountable for their actions as long as we implicitly support them through our wallets and votes. So long as West Fraser, Canfor, and Tembec are licensed to exploit ecologically vulnerable areas and profit from irresponsible management of our forests nothing will change.
If you care about the stewardship of Canada’s old-growth forests, wildlife, and streams, take the extra time and maybe spend the extra money to ensure that the wood and paper products you purchase are harvested sustainably (The Sustainable Forest Initiative is a terrific program that certifies lumber, definitely check it out). Look at your MP’s voting record – does he or she consistently back timber interests? If so, get involved and vote him out.
--- Jack Walsh
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