Saturday, January 14, 2012

Trees: In Memoriam

(The following post is lengthy, I make no apologies for that.

As always, click on the images to enlarge.  Not all will enlarge.) 

Byter John sent me an email just before Christmas that was headed "Loggers (Not for faint hearted tree huggers)".  This was an onsend, meaning that John merely relayed what he had received.  The photos are amazing, the heading sucks, the issues raised are sad.  I researched the photographs and they are genuine, more about that a bit later. 

The email is as follows: 

When the Northwest logging industry was still young. . .

Just look at the length of the hand saw they needed. . .

 . . . and look at the size of the heavy duty axes. . .

The work required very strong and courageous men. . .

After a tree was felled the real work began – week or more to cut it up. . .

Manoeuvring the logs down the mountain to the train was a complex job. . .

 Some of the logs were larger than the train engine. . .

A hollowed out log became the company’s mobile office. . .

Hollowed out logs were also used to house and feed the crews. . .

The photographs above either come from, or are part of, a website “The Gathered Grove”, which uses the slogan “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got. . . Until It’s Gone.”  The link is:

The site’s homepage comments that:

This website project explores — primarily by means of visual representation — the relationships between on the one hand environmental activism and nature preservation; and on the other corporate resource extraction and government politics, providing on these a perspective of environmental history.

The website is an appeal to help protect the last primeval forests on the Northwest Coast of North America, those rare and vanishing refuges with intact biodiversity that have hitherto escaped the tsunami of population expansion and resource exploitation triggered by European colonialism.

Following are some points, comments and photographs from that site, links being:

“Big trees remind us of the wild natural landscapes that have taken most of human history to evolve, and their destruction for pulp, paper and wood products is unconscionable.”

 "Big Fir," Cherry Valley, Wa, c. 1898.

“Today forest destruction is no longer carried out by loggers using axes and cross saws like those who made a fatal cut in the "Big Fir" (above). Rather the industrial mega machines are feller bunchers that annihilate all in their path. There is no longer any sport in downing an arboreal giant and the heroic logger myth that legitimated the slaughter of the native forests belongs to a bygone era. In British Columbia (BC) the survival of the grand big trees and their ancient rainforest habitats hangs on a silken thread. Having already liquidated 97 percent of the primeval forests of California, Oregon and Washington, the wood products industry continues its destructive path in BC, clearcutting to the point of economic collapse.”

 Industrial stumpage, Robertson River, BC, 1945.

 “. . .  half a century of relentless clearcutting and slash burning produced a wasteland, documented in 1945 by the BC Forestry Service (above).  ....  half a century of relentless clearcutting and slash burning produced a wasteland, documented in 1945 by the BC Forestry Service.  Within 50 years the wood products industry had converted the ancient forests on Jordan River to tree plantations (left). Wm. Withers explains how such ecological crimes are perpetuated for profit: "While trees, even as dead 'snags' and rotting logs, offer framework and habitat for a forest community, they account for a small minority of the thousands of plant and animal species in large - scale old growth or 'ancient' forest ecosystems. For industry, however, such ancient forests are inefficient. It is therefore cost effective to prevent their redevelopment, which takes centuries, and to replace them with short - lived aspen or plantations of other commercially valuable trees, to be 'harvested' when youthful growth rates slow. Such 'management', rather like slow motion lawn mowing on gargantuan scale, has provoked the derisive epithet 'fiber farm' from critics" The Forest Products Industry in Public Education.

“Even more horrifying than converting the old growth forest into industrial stumpage and fibre farms is the irreversible degradation caused by development sprawl. At Jordan River on Vancouver Island, the tree farm owned by Western Forest Products is being subdivided for lucrative real estate properties. . . . the second growth forests are being converted to vineyards “

Some photographs of the trees as they looked and the activities of loggers:

 Ancient Douglas fir ecosystem and awe inspiring big trees, Cathedral Grove. Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Ancient cedar, Cathedral Grove.

"The Fallen Monarch," and US Cavalry, 1899. Old postcard

Cavalry at Grizzly Giant, 1902.

"Big Trees of Kings River Canon."  Old postcard

"The Auto Log, Giant Forest," c. 1917.

Posing cars, horses and riders, groups and individuals on logs and stumps became a popular tourist attraction.  “Such dramatic scenes of autos parking on the prostrate corpses of fallen giant Sequoias emphasized the domination of wild nature by human civilization.”

"Del Norte Wonder Stump."  Old postcard, c. 1900

“Big stumps were admired for their indestructible qualities. A famous example is the Del Norte Wonder Stump (above and right). It represents two generations; the upright stump was from a redwood estimated to be 1500 years in age when it was cut down for wood products. The tree had sprouted from a fallen redwood "nurse log" which was eight ft in diameter and about 1000 years old. Remarkably it was ‘still sound’ and it too was taken to the sawmill. The stump was too large to be destroyed by the subsequent slash burning of the land and it remained as a landmark. Brazenly, logging companies used the so called ‘Wonder Stump’ to promote the durability of redwood lumber. The massacre of an ancient tree that might have lived for centuries for wood products robs future generations of a biological heritage that can never be recreated and the Del Norte Wonder Stump is evidence of an appalling crime against nature.”

The philosophical attitude of taming Nature by cutting down magnificent trees in one thousand year old forests was not only symbolised by photos of trucks on tree trunks and people on stumps.  Other symbols and tourist attractions included:

- Tree dwellings and offices:

"A Three Room Stump," Vancouver, c. 1910.

"Beautiful Washington, Big Cedar Stump."  Old postcard

Sitka Spruce Stump House, Queen Charlotte Islands, BC

Roads through trees:

Big Cedar Stump," 2007.  Highway 99, Washington

\Chandelier Tree, Leggett, California

Today there is precious little left of the grand forests and that which does remain is under threat.

Did the trees that were felled make thrones for kings and queens, dining tables for Presidents and Prime Ministers, seats for cardinals?

 A US National Parks Service article on the logging of Giant Redwoods contains the following:

“Although the wood's great resistance to decay was a distinct advantage, its low tensile strength and brittleness made it unsuitable for most structural purposes. When felled, the dry, fine-grained sequoia often broke across the grain, or in almost any direction. Steele (1914) described it picturesquely as breaking into "more wasteful shapes than so much frozen water." Consequently, as the cedar gave out, the king of trees was converted into such plebeian items as fence posts, grape stakes, shingles, novelties, patio furniture and pencils for Europe —ignoble uses for a most noble tree. While the storm of resentment gathered, whole groves were cut down for these purposes beginning in 1856 and continuing intermittently until the mid-1950s.”

The logging of old age forests continues to the present day.  Because the trees in old growth forests are economically valuable, they have been subject to aggressive logging worldwide, highlighted by disputes between logging companies and environmental groups.  Australia is no exception with logging in Tasmania, the State with the largest amount of temperate old-growth rainforest, having been the cause of protests, political activism and polarisation of the population.    Many Tasmanians support logging for the jobs created, looking on protestors as interfering mainlanders, much like Eric Cartman’s description in South Park:

Most recently the logging industry in Tasmania has been logging old growth forests to turn the timber into woodchips, used for pulp production to make paper, and for garden mulch.

"Within the lives of these great trees empires have crumbled from the face of the earth, races of men have perished and passed away, and their tongues and languages have been forgotten; yet these grand old trees - living monuments of the handiwork of God - still stood the ravages of time, like the grave-stones of fallen greatness; they are indeed the living monuments of departed ages.
But these 'monarchs' are no more. The fell hand of the destroyer has been placed upon them, and now charred and blackened stumps alone mark the place where they once proudly lifted their mighty forms."
-           T J Butts, "The Sequoia of Sonoma",  1898


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