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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Loggers of Hollywood

Went home for lunch yesterday, and walked in on my two littlest (ages 9 and 5) and another 9-year-old watching Rio 2, a colorful movie about a bunch of birds fighting for the jungle...against, you guessed it, a bunch of bad guys logging illegally with huge chainsaws and graders. Here's the plot, as its given in Wikipedia...

"Blu and Jewel enjoy life in Rio with their 3 kids, the oldest and music-loving Carla, book smart Bia, and the youngest and mischievous Tiago. Meanwhile, Blu's former owner, Linda Gunderson and her ornithologist husband, Tulio are on an expedition in the Amazon and eventually discover a quick-flying spix's macaw that loses one of its feathers. When word gets out about this through television, Jewel believes that they should go to the Amazon to help find the blue macaws.
Meanwhile, the leader of a group that is in a line of illegal logging named Big Boss, discovers Linda and Tulio's expedition to find the macaws and orders his henchmen to hunt them down to avoid disruptions to their work...While searching for the macaws, Linda and Tulio are eventually trapped by the loggers...Blu visits Tulio and Linda's site, where he discovers a broken CB Radio. After discovering the loggers are destroying the jungle, Blu sends Roberto (who followed Blu) to warn the flock as he saves Linda and Tulio. Blu persuades the macaws to defend their homes, and they easily outmatch the loggers with help from the Scarlet macaws and the other animals. Big Boss tries to blow up the trees as a back-up plan, but Blu steals the lit dynamite...[Finally] Big Boss is eaten alive by a boa constrictor." 
Good old family fun. I happened to walk in right when the loggers were chasing Linda and Tulio with their saws. The kids were glued, eyeballs wide as silver dollars.

That's how Hollywood sells movies these days. I'd be willing to guess that Corporate World has been the "bad guy" in 90% of the action movies since 1970. That makes at least two generations, now, that have been raised on a steady diet of producers killing the world.

It wasn't always this way. Movies, at least movies put out by the government, used to promote technological advances in industry as good things, to be aspired to and worked at. We saw one of them about two years ago in a great short about woodworking in the 1940's.  Here's another in the series, an excellent look at logging in 1940. In it, you'll hear that yes, logging and related practices were once wasteful and hard on the land...but that America had awakened to the danger and was now (as of 1940!) practicing productive, sustainable professional forestry. It's pretty much been just as depicted in the video, for the past 75 years!




Which is why we now have as much standing timber as we had 150 years ago. We adjusted our harvesting to sustainable practices, and the forest recovered after having supplied the wood for every city, town, and home in our booming country.

The next to last line of the movie is a pretty succinct statement of what foresters have been trained since, well, forever...
"If you do go into forestry or one of the industries, you will be part of work that has a future, for the aim of all foresters and far-sighted owners of timberlands is a perpetual supply of products through proper management."
Modern portrayal of the logging profession and timber industries paints the whole barrel in the same light as the occasional bad apple, and extrapolates the negative impact to mean permanent deforestation the world over. Which will happen, I suppose, about the time that Richmond, Virginia, becomes a coastal resort. My 5- and 9-year-olds will not let that happen. They will save the world, right along with the millions of others that don't seem to understand that demand must have a supply to be met, or things will get ugly. Ironic, isn't it, that the Battle of Rio to save the rainforest is set in a country that today has riots in the streets as people starve in massive ghettos.

I started to walk out of the room after watching a few minutes of the birds battling the loggers. But I couldn't resist turning back and saying to the kids, "You guys know loggers really aren't bad guys like that, right?" To which my son replied, "They're chopping down all the trees!"

"Well, loggers only chop down enough trees for us to use to build things out of wood. And then the forests they cut down grow back..."

The 9-year-old neighbor girl cut me off at the pass. "They're going to build a city there!" she exclaimed, her eyes bright with passion. "But they wouldn't build a city in the middle of the jungle," I kindly explained. "Yes, they're going to cut down the whole jungle!"

I was defeated, right along with Big Boss and his Amazon loggers, and retired to do battle another day.

I retreated back to my home office, where, while pondering this exchange, I happened upon the following video. It's an excellent, high-quality story produced by the BBC about the story of the forest ecosystem...how a fish feeds trees, and how insects feed Canadian lynx.



The video is a full hour, and I suggest you watch when you have the time. But I want to take you to a sequence beginning at 24:30, where begins an interesting explanation of the relationship between the Canadian lynx, the snowshoe hare, and the spruce budworm.

The British host tells an interesting story of the Canadian lynx, and his preference for a tasty snowshoe hare now and then. And how the hare depends on low-growing forage and cover, that wouldn't be there if it weren't for timely infestations of the spruce budworm. He explains...
"Now...the springtime assault by these caterpillars is bad news for the trees...but for other inhabitants of this forest, these caterpillars are heroes." 
"Whilst these dramatic natural events might be a catastrophe for the established trees, for anything trying to grow on the forest floor, they're an absolute bonus. In here where it's dark, there is little, very poor diversity, just some mosses and a few ferns. But as soon as there's a break in the canopy, and the sunlight can flood in, well, look at the difference.  Lots of wild flowers, there's a young maple coming through here, there a mountain ash, and most importantly of all, regenerating spruce and fir.
Now, the hares essentially need these regenerating conifers as shelter. And of course, what's good for the hares, is good for the lynx...And that's why the lynx needs the caterpillar." [Cut to shot of deer grazing in an open meadow. Point proven.].
Now, any resident of Maine and Quebec can tell you that a little spin is being applied here. The story infers that the spruce budworm is a convenient forest pest, one that opens nice little openings in the forest floor that shelter bunnies and feed deer, thereby creating a link in a cozy little natural cycle of life.

The reality is slightly different...
"Bob Wagner, a University of Maine forestry professor, describes Maine’s upcoming spruce budworm infestation as a slow-moving hurricane. The state’s large landowners, forestry experts and policymakers know it’s coming and can track its path south from Canada. They estimate the pest will start destroying forest stands in northern Maine within the next two to four years. And they know from previous experience that the damage to the forest products industry and, therefore, jobs could be extensive."
- Bangor Daily News, 12-29-2013 

So, in essence, the spruce budworm is poised to be, as it has been in past cycles,  a reason for forest devastation on a massive scale, magnitudes of order larger than any modern logging operations. And yet, the BBC can tell a pleasant story about the budworm opening a nice little opening in the forest canopy, while a logging operation that accomplishes the same ecosystem effect on a controlled basis, is demonized by Hollywood.

We have to get past the idea that if man does it, it must be bad. Millions of little minds, and their future means of having a good life, are at stake.

The birds won't be able to save us from misguided education and entertainment. Let's turn the story around.

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