The End of Normal. An argument Against Forestry.

https://amandachristmas.com/life-1/f/the-end-of-normal-an-argument-against-forestry

November 16, 2021

Our weather in BC is out of control and as a direct result of the logging industry’s overzealous harvesting practices and greed we are witnessing too many once in a lifetime events in rapid succession. We need heavy forestry reform, and to adopt the practices of the original people who protected this land for tens of thousands of years successfully.


“The storm starts when the drops start dropping / When the drops stop dropping, the storm starts stopping.”

-Dr. Seuss


As I write this, my province is underwater. Friends and family have been completely evacuated or trapped in their homes, and the city I grew up in has been completely cut off by land to the rest of the country. Railways and highways coming into Vancouver have been wiped out by landslides. Water has saturated the ground so heavily that the roads are buckling and bridges are collapsing. The wind is so harsh an unmanned barge crashed into a seawall at Stanley Park.

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As a child I remember four distinct and predictable seasons. Spring was always wet and mild, the sky was a lighter shade of grey from February until May or June. Summer was a mix of cloudy days and bright blue skies, the temperature was warmer than spring but completely reasonable. Around September we would fall into autumn once more. Halloween was usually cold and rainy and our costumes had to incorporate a jacket. I remember that in December it would usually be a wet, sticky cold and it would usually snow just in time for Christmas and would be gone by the end of January or February when the rain would start again. We barely ever saw droughts or had water restrictions. We have a love hate relationship with the name Raincouver.


It seems though, as an adult, my experiences about our climate and weather patterns are an anxiety inducing blur. We no longer have a truly distinct seasonal patterns, instead, the regulated seasons are just chaos. I don’t even recognize the place I grew up in which really started changing rapidly after 2003. The Okanagan had a massive forest fire and since then fires, pine beetle, flooding, and creatures facing extinction are the norm.


The world was hit with a pandemic in 2020 and because of the way we now travel and interact with each other, the virus spread far and fast. There were no longer geological barriers that stopped the spread. We had to create our own barriers within the walls of our homes, or the masks on our faces to attempt to slow nature down. The year was devastating for a lot of families, a time of reflection and self growth for others.

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Somehow 2021 has been worse. Just as we started to use an absolutely brilliant breakthrough of scientific technology to immunize the masses, our interlude began - a dance of earth, wind, fire and water: the weather phenomenon known as the "heat dome." BC was breaking personal and national heat records daily. Fires raged across most of the province, burning the town of Lytton to the ground and terrorizing many others. Blake and I were in the middle of some of it. We were in the Okanagan for work and then we travelled to northern BC to film an interview. The fear of losing everything to fire was felt everywhere. It’s all any of us could talk about. The air quality was so poor in areas the masks we were wearing were a blessing.

As we drove around the province, the one thing that stood out loud and clear was that logging wasn’t going to stop. As the forests burned around us, logging trucks were still loaded to the hilt and rolling down the highways. Ancient trees were being cut down in record time to avoid the protection order that was coming. There were large scars in the mountains from various stages of clear cutting.**


Many of our friends and family were dealing with evacuation notices, uprooting their kids and pausing their lives. Their mental health started suffering even more than during the lockdown. They didn’t know if they’d have a home or community to come home to. But industry kept chipping away at the finite resources left.

Luckily the rains came and a lot of the fires were snuffed out by the heavy volume. We knew we’d be in for a long, cold winter. Perhaps this would be a break physically and mentally from the anxiety fueled year and a half we had all collectively lived through.


Cue the "Vancouver tornado", "bomb cyclone" and "atmospheric river" in rapid succession.

I sit here writing this while isolated from the rest of the province as I watch friends and family scramble to pack up their lives in camper vans and move to slightly less affected areas. Their motorhomes, campervans and go-bags have been packed since summer evacuation orders. All escape routes have their perils and people are in a panic navigating how to get to their safe houses without being carried away by landslides and raging rivers. High winds are knocking trees into power lines and creating volatile conditions. And once again, the topic of logging and deforestation is creeping in.


The Pacific Northwest and a brief history of logging in BC:

The pacific northwest (PNW), for those who are unfamiliar with the region, includes northern California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and British Columbia. Some maps also include the Prince William sound region of Alaska. This area is protected on the east by the Rocky and Cascade mountains, and the west by the Pacific ocean. It is classified as a temperate rainforest and this ecosystem is a subregion of the Cascadia bioregion. Due to it’s very unique conditions this subregion has existed as a conifer hotspot for about 200 million years. To put that into context, that includes the Triassic and Jurassic periods. Flowering plants were introduced in the Cretaceous period and flourished, again, due to the particular conditions.

According to David Wade, author of Rainforest: Ancient Realm of the Pacific Northwest (2000), the PNW is the only region on Earth where this ecosystem thrives in such a noteworthy size. We live in such a unique environment, we should be cherishing it and protecting it. Instead, we’ve sold it all to business. 60% of British Columbia's rainforests are considered harvestable land and is viewed as nothing more than a tradeable commodity by business.


In the early days of forestry in BC, around 1820’s, trees were harvested primarily for ship masts. The gold rush in the Caribou created a need for roads, rail, housing, heating, cooking and commercial establishments. Despite the gold rush going bust, other mineral and metal deposits were of value so the small towns built would often remain and demand for timber never let up. At this point in time logging was extremely labour intensive and slow because they only had human will and animal labour. Once the 1940’s introduced combustible engines, our forests started coming down faster than ever. That’s okay though, it was thought that this resource was so plentiful we could never run out.

The donkey engine and other industry related technology allowed us to get larger trees, and deeper into the forests from the roads. The harder the terrain, the more technology was invented to access the lumber for harvest.


Settling colonies created a high demand, and technology allowed extraction volume to increase steadily. Sustainability and any thought for the future was trumped by blind ambition, lack of foresight, disregard for any formal study around the impacts of industry actions, and greed.


Our current situation:

This brings us into our current era, and we are told that without this level of harvest, our economy would collapse, jobs would be lost and BC would go bankrupt. None of this is completely true. Our economy in BC is not as dependent on the forestry industry as the spin doctors tell us - in fact in 2020 agriculture, fishing, hunting, and forestry collectively only made up 2.23% of the GDP. Thirteen other categorized industries out grossed forestry by about 90%.

There has been a loss of 47% in forestry jobs from 2000-2015. 27% of that job loss is due to mechanization of specific tasks in the industry. The closing of sawmills has been devastating on the communities that relied on that financial support, however this just monopolized those companies that still exist creating record profits. I’d like to point out here, an additional 33% job loss has occurred from 2015 to 2020. The job loss is happening from within and the profits are benefitting the fewer hands at the top.


The Government is encouraging maximum productivity:

How on earth did we allow our province to be seen as one giant farm to be harvested at will by an industry ready to export most of the spoils? Forestry Tenures. An agreement made by mostly industry and government. While Indigenous communities are brought into the conversation, their opinions on the matter are mostly disregarded in favor of economic growth. Forestry tenures have a particular time frame that grants a company permission to harvest trees on public lands.

The government of the people are promoting “harvesting opportunities” offers to private corporations to harvest public lands. And despite protest from the people, the government's effort and decisions favour industry. The government encourages maximum productivity of the forests outlined in the company tenure. And while wildlife protection acts are included in the Ministry of Forests and Range Act, often the information is interpreted in such a way that the environment often suffers.

For example, Blake and I are currently working on a film project that took us to northern BC. What we are learning through our own observations and reading of scientific papers regarding the ecology of BC and forestry’s impact, as well as the information provided to us by those experts studying in their particular biological fields, are that the boundaries for various ecosystems are not clear and are then over-harvested which devastates the surrounding area. Even with good intentions, habitats are being destroyed by this industry.


Indigenous people did it right:

For tens of thousands of years this land was maintained by over 60 million indigenous peoples sustainably. Climate was regulated by the various adapted ecosystems, aquatic and land creatures flourished, and various tribes or bands (terms vary by region) worked congruently with the land. Plains people tended to move with the animals. Some regions thrived with some farming, some hunting. On the coast here in BC, the land was so rich and diverse that the people who adapted to the various biomes here were mostly able to set up a community in one place. Hunting, fishing and vegetation gathering were done by hand and the haul of food would be smoked, preserved, or eaten fresh to ensure food stability all year. Trees were utilized for building materials and transportation, however only what was needed was harvested, the final products were built to last, and there was a universal understanding that this land and time is only borrowed and must be protected for future generations of not only humans but all creatures and plants. Using the trees needed, and picking only a few select in the area falls under selective logging which is a far more sustainable way to manage forests.

As stated earlier, BC lumber harvesting started around the 1820’s. In about 200 years, we have found mechanisms and technology to make harvesting faster and more efficient leading the way to clear-cutting. Europeans also brought with them an 18th century concept that solely focused on a nation obtaining wealth called “economy”. Economy was and is the underlying motivator for the decisions made in the territory we now know as Canada and the United States. Technology and the never-ending search for wealth created a doomed situation for the health of the Pacific Northwest, and quite frankly the state of the world.


How is forestry affecting the environment:

Our stable weather here in BC is directly linked to the health in our temperate forests. When our forests are healthy and flourishing with biodiversity, we have four predictable seasons and mild weather. The land takes care of itself.

British Columbia is primarily new growth now with emphasis on money making varieties, and there are large clear cut patches littering the landscape that truly showcase the efficiency in harvesting large quantities of trees. A satellite view of the province shows a patchwork of various stages of this clear-cut process.

The state of our environment is currently abysmal. Our old growth deforestation and over extraction has created a space here in BC (about the size of California for those not from here) that is ripe for these extreme and previously rare weather patterns.

Clear Cutting is directly linked with our increase of forest fires. All of the elements that are normally a strong fire barrier like certain types of fire resistant trees, moss, moisture in the dead floor, mycelial networks underground and many other hard working systems are destroyed. What is left is dead soil and kindling. Silviculture creates conditions for catastrophic fires. I will discuss Silviculture in a future post in more detail.

Clear Cutting also disrupts riparian zones. Riparian zones (a perimeter of land around the edge of the water source) that are healthy have deep roots that protect the border of the water source and the land. When the riparian land is sick or damaged it changes the properties of the soil and often this will lead to the breakup of the land. This leads to erosion which can then lead to slides. We’ve seen just in the last few days run off on the Coquihalla highway that has taken out many trees, large sections of land and all of this erodes into the raging and bloated rivers. Healthy forests would absorb a lot of this rainfall and while flooding may still occur it would be at a less devastating scale.


Conclusion:

We need reform. Period. At this point, industry has had its say and has sat at the table with the government making decisions on our behalf. No more. Regular citizens need to make our move. Our planet is reaching critical mass where it can no longer sustain life as we know it. Ignorance, lack of education, greed, short-sighted decisions, narcissism, and this constant chase for a human derived concept of economic wealth is killing us.


We are playing God and we are failing miserably at it. We cannot manage nature better than she can manage herself.

Winter is coming. It will be long, cold, wet and dark for us here on the Pacific coast. The once in a lifetime events will continue to happen at a more rapid pace. We are creating larger pockets of unlivable dead zones. If we don’t start immediately working within our means, we will no longer be able to survive on this planet. I’m in my 30’s. I may see devastating famines before I retire, and who knows what else. We are destroying ourselves which goes against natural instinct. We exploit rare resources on this planet to make money for what? Ego?


-Amanda

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