Chronicles

Private Woodlots

        I took a run the other day up to the back end of our farm. I rather wish I hadn't.

        Last summer, several neighbours decided that it was time to harvest wood from their properties. Some of these properties abut our own, while others are merely "in the neighbourhood." The owners contracted one of the local professional companies to do the work and it began in earnest late last summer and continued until the snow finally deepened in January. I have no doubt that it will be starting up again any day now. Over the winter I travelled through the area that had been harvested on numerous occasions. Snow is a great masquerade; a clear-cut in winter doesn't look terribly different from an open field, except for those piles of brush which are too large to be buried completely.

        Early spring presents an entirely different picture. It was raining the day I chose to run back there, which probably did not help my mood any in the first place. The road, which had been especially made to haul out the wood, was a quagmire. Gumbo mud over my ankles in many places, rocks and ruts everywhere, smashed and twisted pieces of wood along the sides, sloppy streams of brown sludge running down hill, eroding deep gullies as it went, torn and gashed trees here and there, too poor, I guess, for harvest even in an operation such as this - everywhere I looked I could see only total devastation.

        I had been talking with one of these neighbours a couple of months ago. "This is not clear-cutting, " he assured me, "it's silvaculture". When I see him again, I must remember to ask him for a definition which can make the difference clear to me.

        "Wait until you see all the new growth in three or four years!" Yes, of raspberry canes and aspens, which, no doubt, he will be wanting to treat with herbicide.

        But, I think that what disturbed me most was the road itself. Now, I have seen six and eight foot wide slashes through the woods before, haul roads to get the wood out. They are not pretty, but they do not completely destroy the canopy of the forest. Furthermore, they are adequate for getting even the largest trees out to the main road. But what we have back there now is closer to the dimensions of a country road, complete with ditches (which don't work!). I would venture that such a road destroys the potential for regeneration and regrowth in that area for at least the next one hundred years. Not only has it been pounded flat, it has been scraped clean of any soil (most of which will now be found at the foot of the hill). Even worse, it was unnecessary. This road runs parallel to an existing road which would have served any rational purpose as well as this new monstrosity.

        Now, I have talked with landowners and contractors alike. I know that they are decent, hardworking people who face the same financial challenges as do the rest of us. I find it hard to think of them as monsters. But I am finding it equally hard to excuse their actions when I am confronted, time and again, with such mindless brutality toward the land. "Lots of wood in Pt. La Nim", one of them said to me a few years ago. Well, not any more.

        We are witnessing a ravaging of private woodlots here in the north right now that I think has been unprecedented. It seems as though there is a mania to cut, slash, and destroy whatever might still be standing, as though there will be no tomorrow. Unfortunately for the integrity of the woodlots themselves there will be no tomorrow. I fear that that applies to those few that will survive as well; certainly our land has been compromised by what has happened along our back border. It is now open and vulnerable to all sorts of predation and vandalism that, until last summer, had seemed a remote threat.

        We all believe that it is important for landowners to maintain ownership rights. However, we have to realise that rights confer responsibility. Neglect of the one may soon have to result in loss of the other; it will be that, or we will have no forest left at all in the private domain, only scarred hillsides, endless mosaics of hideous, eroded and impassable roads, compromised rural water tables - and a legacy of callous brutality to pass on to the future.

        This article appeared in the Campbellton Tribune, in Mike's "Grains of Sand" column. It is reproduced with Mike's permission.

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