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The Code of Survival

by Nicholas Reynolds

The great green thumb will soon slip from its glove and busy itself gardening under the spring sun. For those of you who are backyard stewards the rewards are plenty; be it the smell of tulips in May or a plate of potatoes come winter. Indeed backyard stewardship has been a measure of civilization. Planting a garden and cursing the slugs is like being part of a collective journey whose origins are as mysterious as human intelligence itself. Since the dawn of the Fertile Crescent, we have tamed and tormented any plant or animal that could serve as a crutch for survival while depending upon technology to ensure that the fruits of our labor could sustain us. Which ever resource our ancestors relied on, they adhered to a philosophy which gave a persuasive incentive to work - stewardship - a stewardship based upon custodial principles that involved restoration, maintenance, observance and the cultivation of resources to sustain us. This code ensured survival. It is strikingly obvious on Haida Gwaii that modern times has neither detached us from resource dependence, nor have we ceased our unending allegiance with technology. However, philosophies about resource sustainability have been substituted with an industrial strategy. As much as a healthy global economy is a measure of modern survival, national and global short-term interests have long overshadowed the principles that left a wealthy inheritance for the people of Haida Gwaii. In the words of U.S. congressman Steward Udall, "ecologists are the ultimate accountants." Today there are a growing number of these stewards, especially within the changing climate of the forest sector.

The ethics and philosophy of stewardship are far from enshrined within current forestry practices. Stewardship implies the protection and inclusion of interests throughout the full spectrum of human interaction. Since 1983 'special interest groups, (including indigenous people, tourism, environmentalists, etc.) have been disempowered by the governments 'partnership' with industry. Stemming from a paper entitled "Forest Management Partnership Proposal", the Ministry of Forests delegated powers to the private sector in setting overall timber management standards, while reducing the size of the Ministry though centralization. Since public interests have been legally subservient to industrial interests in the forests of BC, timber management has become dependent upon global financial rotations rather than ecological cycles. Turning forests into farms is hardly a new concept. However, there have been irreversible consequences in accrediting industry as being stewards of public forests. After succumbing to public pressure, the government has attempted to enforce new standards of sustainability. For instance, the 1988 "pre-harvest silviculture prescription" was an attempt to hold tenure holders accountable for restoration management after cutting the trees. Nevertheless, restoration management has neglected to treat the cause of ecological degradation and only dealt with its symptoms. "Liquidating old growth forests is not forestry", says Chris Maser, author of The Redesigned Forest, "it's simply spending our inheritance."

The old 'waste not, want not ' belief has long been scrutinized and swallowed by carefree consumerism. However, certain communities have heeded to those old ways, and their fruits are growing as fast as their labour force. These are working forests that have not compromised the principles of stewardship. "Whole forests, from the largest tree to the smallest bacteria, from vibrant life to death and decay - all are required to produce the timber yields that human's desire and claim to sustain." - Herb Hammond, Professional Forester/Ecologist.

The Windhorse Farm at New Germany, Nova Scotia has been a 48.5-hectare working forest for the last 150 years. While harvesting 50,000-board feet annually, the farm also teaches sustainable management by offering courses such as The Practicalities of Restoration Forestry and Timber Cruising and Growth Increment Calculation. In addition to the selective harvesting that maintains the standing volume of timber, they also saw, dry, and plane lumber, make furniture and custom moldings for income and employment. The practice of patch management' has been a 150-year-old experiment that emphasizes sustainability through the maintenance of forest ecology. The Farm's success under family management can be attributed to the fact that responsibility and accountability is community oriented.

Merv Wilkinson has often taught at the Maritime School of Ecoforestry. He has had practice managing Wildwood, his own 55 hectare woodlot near Ladysmith, BC since 1945. "There are two ways of going at a forest," says Wilkinson "you can destroy it, or you can harvest it sustainably." In the last 52 years he has logged Wildwood 11 times and today has 10% more standing timber than before his first cut. It is arguably a more public than private woodlot, as he supports a variety of public interests - from loggers to mushroom pickers. He has produced over 1.25 million board feet of lumber, while still maintaining the diversity of forest use.

Establishing an ethic through a process of management is what Wildwood is teaching and that is what the Alex Fraser Research Forest in the Cariboo is learning. The Alex Fraser Research Forest, an educational initiative undertaken by the University of BC, encompasses 9,000 hectares of various climatic and geological zones. This forest is a place to practice new silviculture techniques, alternative harvesting methods, and a variety of research projects in conjunction with government and the private sector. This has offered a co-operative learning approach to integrated resource management while incorporating a spectrum of interests that are concurrent with stewardship principles. Such an initiative helps to recognize that forest stewardship is as much based on what we don't know as what we think we know. This process brings together an array of professionals in ecology, forestry and university faculty, in an effort to understand a resource we so depend upon.

The Windhorse Farm, Wildwood, and the Alex Fraser Research Forest have several commonalities. For one, they all see the forest beyond the trees and there is an emphasis on maintaining and restoring all of the pieces of a functioning forest. Sympathy towards biological diversity allows questions like:

Another aspect of these ground breaking old philosophies is maximizing the employment per unit logged. A 1988 study, by the North Cariboo Community Futures board found that in a 12 hour working day, low impact selective logging moved 6 to 10 cubic meters of wood, as opposed to industrial methods moving over 400 cubic meters. The deduction is clear; more forest workers and greater labor intensity equals an added value of harvestable timber. Aside from employment, these kinds of forests include others - like trappers, tourism, and public recreation, cultural heritage, rural water users, and future generations of Canadians. Ann Hiller, the director of Forest Renewal BC's environmental committee eloquently states this idea, "the health of our forests is the health of our province."

The inseparable link between a healthy economy and a productive forest has been very clear on Haida Gwaii. However, since forest interests have become saturated by industrial strategies, there has existed a fallacious myth: either protect the woods or protect the wallet. Merv Wilkinson estimates that two people could be employed in perpetuity based on the wholistic management of 250 hectares of coastal forest. This economic formula could then create 320,000 jobs, (about 4 times the current industry employment levels) based on the 40.9 million hectares of available forestland in BC. Unfortunately, 90% of the forest base is held by a few companies, while small woodlot owners, some 500 in BC, account for less than 1% of the provincial Annual Allowable Cut. Moving the management of forest lands onto an ecological foundation, let alone community governance, is a different pile of slash altogether. Stewardship can never be 'implemented' through policy and politics. Rather it is a process of personal adjustment, recognizing our intrinsic interconnection with resources and need to survive. Gordon Robinson, a professional forester, sums it up; "You don't have to be a professional forester to recognize bad forestry anymore than you need to be a doctor to recognize ill health."

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