A balanced view on forestry

If only Save Old Growth protesters had bothered to learn tree basics before appointing themselves experts on the much more complex matters of ecology, policy, and politics...

We now know that the Save Old Growth highway blockades aren't actually about saving old growth forests. The campaign is merely a step toward an extreme radical plan the group has in store for us. In case you missed it, here's the rambling "regime change" rant of the group's leader, Zain Haq:

It seems like the Save Old Growthers have latched onto the forest policy bandwagon because they think it will win them sympathy with those who have views on the issue of old growth.

So let's peel the next layer of the onion. What ARE the issues with old growth? 

A good place to start is to see what bona fide knowledge holders say. A June 2022 National Observer article provides a great example of this type of understanding. In the comment piece below, trained forest expert Geoffrey Scott responds to the idea (from a non-forest-expert, wouldn't you know) that old growth forests are like big air conditioners.

What's that, did someone say it's not so simple?! 

If old-growth was the magic air conditioner as claimed here, why is the CoastalWestern Hemlock Biogeoclimatic Zone, the ecosystem in which all of Vancouver Island’s rainforest occurs, experiencing warmer weather and year-over-year summer water deficits? Isn’t the definition of rainforest a region where water deficits NEVER occur? Indeed, it never has on the outer Coast until just the last few years.

But eulogization, personification, theofication, partisan-politicization, and polarization are the propaganda of radical preservationists these days. I guess we can add air-conditionerization to the growing list of unhelpful fantasies and distractions.

Anything which casts shade on the ground keeps the local environment cooler. Forests—any closed- or semi-canopy forests, not only old-growth, do the same thing as efficiently as they have evolved in order to capture sunlight. The value of urban forest canopy in cooling terms is very well known.

I suspect this piece is yet another appeal to readers unfamiliar with forests that makes OG the saviour of the planet, slayer of climate-change, mother of all nature, and goddess of all souls. The design, I guess, is to motivate voters to pressure governments to preserve more old-growth, never mind the falsehoods and misconceptions fostered. It’s unethical to that extent, at least. Citizens should base their political action on facts, not fairy tales.

I’ll keep rebutting the canard that preserving OG will ameliorate climate-change in some way. It will not: the atmosphere is way too big and OG far too small to measure any such notion.

I’ll keep telling the simple truth that forests do not absorb atmospheric CO2 indefinitely, that OG does store CO2, but only to its capacity and no more, and that fungal decay typical of old stands respires their stored CO2 back into the atmosphere. I’ll keep reminding ideologues that many OG stands are net emitters of CO2 as a result of low-to-zero growth rate and increasing fungal decay, the latter eventually succeeds the former.

Who doesn’t know this? In my experience, most people have a very fuzzy understanding of trees. silvics and silviculture. An acquaintance who worked with logs and wood most of his life once explained to me that the scar at mid-log we were considering must have been human made because it would have been within human reach from the ground when it was made and thence progressed up the tree as it grew. Naturally this doesn’t happen. I’ve met others who thought trees only photosynthesize, only absorb water and atmospheric CO2: in fact, all plant growth is a result of respiration, the ‘burning’ of the solar ‘fuel’ the tree made when the sun shone and uses to get the work of growth done—that is, they respire like animas and fungi—mostly at night, as one would expect of organisms long evolved to intercept sunlight as efficiently as possible during the day. The net difference between photosynthesis and respiration being the built and assembled biomass, the plant’s ‘profit,’ as ‘t were. Some people I’ve met are astounded to discover that only an inch or two of the thin bark and cambium of a red cedar bole is actually alive, the rest of its great bulk being dead as a door nail —and definitely not absorbing CO2. I was educated for and employed by the forestry industry so I know, like most of my colleagues should and do know, a lot more minutia than that—in fact, if one is doing cher job properly, chi will discover something new almost every day out there. Everybody should know at least tree basics before self-graduating to the much more complex matters of ecology, policy, and politics.

Preserving more old-growth is a good thing to do, too, but by way of misinforming citizens and stokIng their ire is wrong. It will lead where all lies do. And then, of course, wrong attitudes have to be corrected in order citizens understand what’s at stake and what are the best options to achieve a preservation policy.

The demand by radicalized preservationists to stop all OG logging immediately or the planet is doomed is like the boy who cried wolf to Chicken Little. Not only is it incorrect in carbon terms, it is so fantastic as to ignore one big problem: the great big climate has changed a lot In the last 40 years and will continue to change—only even more rapidly— for the foreseeable. That’d be true if all fossil-fuel combustion magically stopped tomorrow, which, given that unlikelihood, means much OG will find itself maladapted to the new, fast-approaching environment. Even f all OG logging were stopped immediately, the atmosphere and ocean’s (don’t forget the ocean is a much bigger heat sink than the atmosphere) momentum will undoubtedly change the climate in such a way.

Naturally, radical preservationists don’t want to acknowledge these facts because they don’t gin emotion as well as alarmism in the face of serious challenges. So what if all OG is saved from the axe tomorrow? What’s the plan, then? I haven’t heard, nor do I expect to hear a cogent plan from reactionary orgs like Save Old Growth. They don’t know what they’re talking about—unless they do an spout falsehood on purpose—but because neither do most of the people they alarm, so it’s okay? No, it really, really isn’t. SOG and their ilk are a menace rather than a help.

Whatever the target for OG preservation, it needs to be done in context of rapidly changing ecosystems. OG itself cannot stop this, but some locations, elevations, and aspects of stands will have a better chance of surviving these approaching changes than others.

The complexity of forest tenures, private lands (the private E&N Land Grant, for example, covers most of the east slope of Vancouver Island), and indigenous nations’ unsettled sovereign claims is daunting, but overlying a forest-cover map to see what’s feasible in silvical terms is an easy first step. Anything else is unhelpful, counterproductive and bound to fail, even at its most modest objectives. Simply demanding the moon and the sky cannot be taken seriously—except where risk of life and limb in the perpetration of radical action are concerned. Ramping up disobedience and sabotages of ordinary people’s lives and livings is going diametrically the wrong way.

Nice pic of second —or maybe third-growth, BTW. I can almost feel the nice, cool shade...

What do you think? Let us know in a comment at this link, which btw can also be used to send us any information on harms you experienced in the ongoing illegal highway blockades.