"Mister!" he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
"I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues."
The Lorax, Dr. Suess
I grew up in the murk and mosses of Black Creek, and trees are never far from my thoughts. This week they were front and centre.
First there was the proposal to turn a big chunk of Vancouver Island forest into rural sprawl in the name of shareholder profits. I admire the chutzpah of the big multinational making the pitch. But I shake my head in wonder: in what dark and ancient hole is this corporate head stuck?
We're talking about our communities' historical (and perhaps, hopefully, future) source of wealth: some of the best Douglas Fir ground in the known universe. Turning this into rural sprawl-type development flies in the face of all that we're learning about:
• how best to grow our communities;
• the value of natural capital to human settlements;
• sustainability (including the need for long term economic as well as environmental strategies), and;
• the need to adopt a "new business-as-usual" approach to land uses.
I'm not surprised by the lack of imagination. During the past 15+ years the company has been studiously liquidating its inventory of second growth on private lands. Most of these lands sit next to communities feeling huge growth pressures. For speculators and investors, these remnants of the E&N Land Grant still have the sheen of 19th century nation-building promise. 140 years ago, building towns and villages and marketable real estate out of clearcuts was a reasonable strategy. Today, it isn't.
In the early years of the 21st century we're facing some "inconvenient truths." These forest lands are one of the few leverage points our communities have when it comes to sustaining quality of life. In recent years I've done a lot of research and writing about sustainability on Vancouver Island. In most quarters I'm finding little enthusiasm for get-rich-quick schemes built on private forest lands. But, the question remains: Is there any town or city with strong enough policy and leadership to handle this affront to the long term sustainability of Vancouver Island communities? If so, this is a good time for long term public policy to trump short term profit taking.
My second bit of "tree news" is of a very different nature. It comes out of a far-flung conversation I had with a third generation truck logger this past week, as part of an article I'm writing for the coastal forest industry. On the face of it, there is not a sexy industry from a sustainability perspective. Typically, the industry is pilloried as a big part of "the problem." Any conversation about community sustainability on the coast, however, needs to include the industry, if for no other reason than it remains the biggest single contributor to the standard of living all of us enjoy.
But there was more than making money (a big challenge for the industry these days) in our conversation. What was exciting was his attitude to risk and taking unusual approaches to challenging situations. He is taking these situations - locations loaded with environmental and First Nations issues - and creating new ways of doing business. His company's practices are helping to set the terms for what is now called Ecosystem Based Management. His approach to working with First Nations is credited with helping a number of communities move ahead on their social and economic agendas. Most of the private sector, whether in logging or land development, is not comfortable living on this high risk edge. To meet the ones who are is inspiring.
The third "tree" topic of the week came as an invitation to participate in the upcoming April 1st "Celebrating the Lorax" fundraising event. It's hosted by one of my favourite local NGOs, the Comox Valley Land Trust. I'm inspired by these folks. They're also on the edge of what NGOs typically do, breaking new ground in how they're engaging local government and the private sector in creative and imaginative ways to look at land use issues. For this event they've teamed up with BC Hydro's "Caring for the Trees" youth leadership initiative. This honours local kids, and it'll see a tree planted in Simms Park. Tickets are available at My Tech Guys in Comox, the Green Room in Courtenay, and Dark Side Chocolates in Cumberland. To get a youth nomination form for the "Caring for the Trees" award, email firstname.lastname@example.org (deadline March 23, 2009).
Trees and forests have been central to my life. My mother was born into the stump farm in Black Creek, the leftovers of the great Block 29 Douglas Fir forest. My father was a logger from the time he arrived on the Island at age 18. Once upon a time I was a treeplanter. Before that, a logger. Now I live in town, and am slowly reforesting my little bit of the E&N Land Grant. I'm not sure if I passed on this love of the forest to my kids. The girls helped me plant a few trees on land I'd logged for lumber and firewood. At 13+, my youngest son is one of the most politically and environmentally astute young people I've ever met. I'm curious how he will interpret "sustainability" in his life, and whether he has an affinity for the forest. At his age, I wandered through the woods of Black Creek, trying to imagine what that great forest once looked like,...
Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean,
and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space...
one morning, I came to this glorious place.
And I first saw the trees! (Dr. Suess, The Lorax)
Our relations to trees and forests is complex. The presence of our settlements on the East Coast of Vancouver Island is a testament to the richness that the trees have given us. We would do well to speak more of and about the trees, the forests, and how we sustain them, that we may be sustained.
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Originally published in The Island Word, March 2009
©hanspetermeyer.ca / 2009