Thursday, December 1, 2016

How We Treat Our Trees

My daughter’s steep-sided backyard in California has a strangely shaped tree. It grows out of the hillside naturally but then bends, forms an arch, and follows the ground down the hill to the patio.

This isn’t a vine. It is a Coast Live Oak with a trunk you would have trouble wrapping your arms around. It is one weird tree, worthy of a Stephen King horror story. (In fact if he is reading this, which is a ridiculous fantasy, he should take some notes).

I imagine the plot. The tree, driven mad by human abuse of nature, extends its trunk down the hill toward the house. It eats the house then moves on through town eating everything in sight as revenge.

Trees have good reason to go nuts. We abuse them badly. We continue to clear cut for convenience and better profits. Our lifestyles are changing the world climate, resulting in bug infestations and droughts that are killing trees by the millions.

In California, 62 million trees have died this year alone in the state’s drought-stricken areas. The U.S. Forest Service says the California die-off is unprecedented in modern history. It estimates total California tree deaths from drought at 102 million since 2010.

This is only the start of this particular ecological disaster. All those dead trees are tinder for wildfires and heighten the danger of dangerous erosion events. Stay tuned for more disastrous wildfires and floods.

Tree losses and the dangers they present are not just a California problem. In 2013, Canada lost 24,500 square kilometres of forest, mainly to wildfires, according to a report from Global Forest Watch. That was the second biggest loss of forest in the world that year. Russia had the most loss at 43,000 square kilometres.

We need not go far from home to see the losses. I stand on my deck at the lake and look across to see dozens of pines dying, presumably from lack of usual rainfall over the last two years.

The large balsam to the right of the deck died this year. As did two or three balsams down the road. I don’t know what killed them but there are plenty of things attacking our trees: invasive species, fungi and dozens of threats from changing weather.
Natural Resources Canada says things will worsen for trees. Droughts and other weather extremes are expected to become more frequent, triggering more forest declines.

The more dead trees I see the more I wonder about our forestry practices. I wonder if they need to change.

The forestry industry, and government folks who regulate it, believe that dead trees and slash should be left to rot. Nature will take care of it. The rot nourishes the earth helping the forest to regenerate.

I question that, especially when I wander the bush around the Margaret-Dan Lake roads near the Frost Centre. Piles of slash and unwanted logs from logging are everywhere.

Hunters have complained that the logging residue makes it difficult to walk through the bush. I worry about a fire starting in all that dry brush.

I also wonder if saying that logging debris helps forest regeneration is simply an excuse for not cleaning up. Another rationalization for our wasteful, throwaway culture.

And, I wonder why some use cannot be made of the slash and unwanted logs. Chipping it, or doing something to provide useful products of some kind. Making use of the slash instead of letting it rot also would provide more work in an economy where jobs are becoming fewer.

Maybe my thinking is way off base. But it seems to me that with the world changing before our eyes, we should be questioning everything.


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