Old growth forests in western Canada and many parts of the Earth are composed of very large trees whose diameters are measured in meters and whose heights are measured in football field lengths. The trees in these forests are economically valuable for their wood, and this has produced a conflict that almost all governments wish to dodge. I do not want to speak here as a terrestrial ecologist but as a human being to discuss the consequences of logging these old growth forests.
As I write this there are a mob of young people blockading the roads into old-growth forest stands in southwestern British Columbia to prevent the logging of some of the largest trees remaining in coastal western Canada. Their actions are all illegal of course because the government has given permission to companies to log these large trees, the classic case of ‘we need jobs’. We certainly need jobs, and we need wood, but if you ask the citizens of British Columbia if these very large trees should be logged you get a resounding majority of NO votes. The government is adept at ignoring the majority will here, it is called democracy.
My simple thought is this. These trees are 500 to 1000 years old. Cut them all down and your children will never see a big tree, or their children or perhaps 25 generations of children, since the foresters say that this is sustainable logging because, if left alone, the forest will regenerate into large old growth trees again by the year 2900. A splendid program for all except for our children for the nest 800 years.
The other ecological issue of course is that these forests form an ecosystem, so it is not just the loss of large old trees but all the other plants and animals in this ecosystem that will be lost. To be sure you can argue that all this forest management is completely sustainable, and you will be able to see this clearly if you are still alive in 2900. Sustainability has unfortunately become a meaningless term in much of our forest land management. Forest management could become sustainable, as many ecologists have been saying for the last 50 years, but as with agriculture the devil is in the details of what this actually means. And if the forest management plan to retain old growth is to keep 6 very large trees somewhere in coastal British Columbia, each one surrounded by a fence and a ring of high-rise hotels for tourists of the future to see “old growth”, then we are well on our way there.
Guz, J. and Kulakowski, D. (2020). Forests in the Anthropocene. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 110, 1-11. doi: 10.1080/24694452.2020.1813013.
Lindenmayer, D.B., et al. (2020). Recent Australian wildfires made worse by logging and associated forest management. Nature Ecology & Evolution 4, 898-900. doi: 10.1038/s41559-020-1195-5.
Thorn, S., et al. (2020). The living dead: acknowledging life after tree death to stop forest degradation. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 18, 505-512. doi: 10.1002/fee.2252.
Watson, J.E.M., et al. (2018). The exceptional value of intact forest ecosystems. Nature Ecology & Evolution 2, 599-610. doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0490-x.