The Fruit of the Earth: Reality and Religion

Here's a follow-up to the post on "How to Build a Wildlife Habitat Snag".

After a short segment on fighting birds away from their cherry tree (with that great view of Mt. Ranier in the background), Wranglerstar gives us an update on the wildlife that has moved into his snag. It's a great lesson on the forest food chain...from plant, to bug, to bird, to carnivore.

And then, he takes us on a trip into his back forty, where he had been working a small fireline around a brush pile that had escaped its intended spot. As he does so, he gets into a discourse on the realities of hands-on forestry that you might find interesting. In more ways than one.

Wrangler demonstrates that he really understands well the concept of forest management, at least from an ecological standpoint. But his short discourse beginning at 9:00 against "modern logging practices", which he calls  "an abomination against this earth, and an abomination against God" is where his practical knowledge of the subject, and his religious intuition reveal an inner turmoil that he hasn't yet been able to reconcile.

I won't get into the war raging in people's psyches between Mother Earth and Father God. But I would like to say that in this particular discourse, Wrangler exhibits a belief shared by many folks...that individuals are better stewards of the earth than companies that use its fruits for the benefit of mankind (and, to make a profit along the way).

Certainly, Wrangler is a shining representative of the notion that individuals, given a piece of land, a good education, and a strong work ethic, can manage that land sustainably and produce good outcomes from their effort. This stewardship model, perhaps first best codified in America by Aldo Leopold in his A Sand County Almanac and his numerous other writings, works well on a personal level, and it's not hard to see how folks like Wrangler who "return to the land" adopt those values. I relate to them myself, on my own tiny corner of the world.

But it is in criticizing other models that folks often go awry in their thinking, and wind up "conflicted", as Wrangler so obviously is in the final moments of the video. He can see how the techniques he uses work for his family on their land...but those techniques are not very productive, in terms of the number of people they support per acre. Therein lies the conflict.

Timber companies, like commercial fisherman, industrial farmers, mining companies, and energy companies, have to produce vast quantities of natural resources from the small portion of the earth that they manage. In order to do this, they have developed techniques, technology, and labor systems that allow them to produce and harvest more per acre than you or I would given the same amount of land. The visual impact of these systems can be stunning, and many folks have felt that sense of stunned outrage when they happen upon a large clearcut...or even when they view one from fifty miles away on a mountainside.

The emotional response felt in those moments is the source of the conflict. People's minds tend to frame the vision in terms of personal impacts...a clearcut forest is far beyond the physical impact one can cause, and so its magnitude is overpowering. Our mind has a difficult time processing the scene...we see devastation, and imagine dead birds and rabbits laying under all the dead trees. Bad...bad.

But professional foresters and loggers see something different, because they have experienced the long-term cycle of forest re-growth. They understand that those large, beautiful trees are, in essence, a mature crop, ready to be harvested for conversion and use by millions for homes, heat, and hutches. And the millions who will benefit from that harvest don't have the blessing of their own patch of woods to produce their own...they rely completely on the experience and work of the timber company to provide that wood.

Further, they understand that the scene that Wrangler calls "an abomination" in fact produces a thriving new forest in an incredibly short period of time. One that supports a far wider range of wildlife, with far higher rates of growth, than the mature forest just harvested. And all that new growth contributes to and  thrives on the carbon cycle, the key process in sustaining life on earth. It is difficult to see how a process that drives life can intelligently be called an abomination.

True, harvesting practices have not always been as good as they could have/should have been. But in the more developed countries, they certainly are getting pretty good. And it is difficult to point to damage even in the less developed countries that is resulting in permanent or irreversible damage to the forest. In that sense, the earth has shown an incredible power to recover from even the worse humans can do to it.

The 1,660 square miles of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has now become one of Europe’s largest wildlife preserves.
So, yes...Wranglerstar would not want a timber company clearcutting his land. Most of you would not want that. But that does not make their business of timber harvesting on land managed for that purpose an abomination, any more than miles of wheat harvested in Kansas, million of chickens grown in East Texas, or tons of coal mined in Alberta is an abomination.

A true abomination would be returning to the Dark Ages (or the 1930's Soviet Union), where only the wealthiest or well-connected had homes and good food, while the rest of us huddle hungry in our makeshift huts. Which is where we will be, if the industrial producers of the world are prevented from performing their business of providing for the world.

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Carla said…
Chuck, you always hit the nail on the head. Thanks for your continued contribution to the art and science of forestry.

Happy 4th of July!
Carla Harper
Chuck Ray said…
Thanks, Carla. Have a great holiday yourself.
Keville Larson said…
Chuck, this sermon deserves wide circulation. Well done. Keville
Andy B. said…
Agree w/Keville, especially among policy makers and educators.
Chuck Ray said…
Thank you, Keville and Andy. Please feel free to forward the link to your local online papers and other influential never know who will read it.

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