Mod­ern clear-cut­ting is too con­ve­nient a tar­get

Truro Daily News - - OPINION - By Gary L. Saun­ders gary l. saun­ders of clifton, is a re­tired dnr ex­ten­sion forester and wrote the award-win­ning mem­oir, “my life with Trees” (gaspereau Press, 2016).

Colum­nist Jim Vib­ert’s re­cent piece on clear-cut­ting (Last chance...” - Aug. 25/17) fell short of his usual high stan­dard. Be­sides scape­goat­ing the gov­ern­ment and its foresters, he re­sorted to al­most Trumpian alarmism: “Grab your kids and go see wilder­ness be­fore it’s too late!”

Last time I checked, Nova Sco­tia ranked near the top in Canada’s per­cent­age of pro­tected pro­vin­cial ter­ri­tory. We can still ca­noe Keji or kayak wilder­ness is­lands, we can hike the High­lands and ex­plore the Chignecto Sanc­tu­ary. And weeks ago, when I flew over east­ern Nova Sco­tia, the land was still well treed.

Granted, to­day’s woods dif­fer greatly from the lush Aca­dian forests Cham­plain saw in 1604. But to blame mod­ern clear-cut­ting for that is sim­plis­tic. After all, our forests were logged for nearly 200 years be­fore we ever had a pulp-and-pa­per in­dus­try.

Still, like Jim, I’m no fan of largescale, cut-and-plant agri-forestry. At best it de­grades soil, re­verses nor­mal for­est suc­ces­sion from com­plex to sim­ple, and favours short-lived species like fir.

At worst it dis­rupts wildlife and in­vites ero­sion and sil­ta­tion.

Then why is it still al­lowed? Well, it’s cheap and prof­itable, but three bet­ter rea­sons come to mind.

First, two-thirds of N.S. forests (and the best of it) are pri­vately owned, mostly in 30,000 small fam­ily hold­ings not eas­ily leg­is­lated into line.

Sec­ond, se­lec­tion forestry – piece­meal har­vests span­ning decades, the pop­ulist al­ter­na­tive to clear-felling – works best with long-lived, mul­ti­lay­ered, shade-tol­er­ant Aca­dian species now in short sup­ply. Be­sides, track­ing out­put by vol­ume is trick­ier and often leads to over-cut­ting and high-grad­ing.

Third, let’s not for­get mas­sive 18th- and 19th-cen­tury land-clear­ing by thou­sands of refugee Amer­i­can Loy­al­ists and dis­banded sol­diers (U.S. War of In­de­pen­dence), dis­placed Scots (High­land clear­ances), and starv­ing Ir­ish peas­ants (potato famine).

By the late 1800s most of those hard-won farms lay aban­doned and derelict. Their own­ers, lured by the new rail­way to Up­per Canada, fled in droves. Thou­sands more headed south to the “Bos­ton States.” And within a decade most of that land – what wasn’t later de­vel­oped for towns, high­ways and air­ports – had re-seeded it­self, mostly to soft­woods.

Then there were huge wood de­mands for build­ing a so­ci­ety and for wooden ship­build­ing – we once led the Com­mon­wealth in per-capita out­put – never mind fire­wood for heat­ing and cook­ing, char­coal for iron smelt­ing, and the rest. And, of course, hur­ri­canes, wild­fire and pest out­breaks left their mark.

Speak­ing of which, Jim fails to men­tion the dec­i­ma­tion of our beech, once our com­mon­est broadleaf, by the Asian Nec­tria fun­gus and bark aphid after 1900. (Iron­i­cally, the fun­gus ar­rived on Euro­pean beech saplings do­nated by Queen Vic­to­ria to Halifax’s Pub­lic Gar­dens in 1897, her Di­a­mond Ju­bilee, and spread across east­ern North Amer­ica from there.)

Nor does he men­tion the mys­te­ri­ous birch dieback, likely caused by in­dus­trial pol­lu­tion from New Eng­land plus early cli­mate change, which killed or de­formed much of our prime yel­low birch in the 1940s and ’50s. A sim­i­lar mal­ady hit su­gar maple, though less se­verely.

It’s a won­der we have any for­est left.

All these im­pacts, cou­pled with an amaz­ing nat­u­ral abil­ity, thanks to our moist cli­mate, to rapidly self-re­gen­er­ate, have skewed our for­est com­po­si­tion and age struc­ture to­ward even-aged soft­wood mono­cul­tures. To re­verse this would take mas­sive on­go­ing sil­vi­cul­ture in­puts span­ning gen­er­a­tions.

Mean­while, we still need wood and pa­per. The fact that Cana­di­ans rank among the world’s most waste­ful pa­per users doesn’t help. Nor will it help to ig­nore his­tory as we feel our way for­ward. We’re all in this to­gether.

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