The modern urban life has made a fetish of the idea of wilderness, a landscape untouched by human hand. It is a powerful image that has done much good in the past century by helping preserve from grasping industrialists some real gems of the natural world in the form of national parks.
But one might argue persuasively that the very act of setting aside some land to remain “untouched” albeit with interpretive nature centers, hygienic toilets, washrooms and campgrounds and state of the art asphalt roadbeds for scenic motoring, has led to greater exploitation of the non-wilderness world. After all, if we are preserving some beautiful national parks then the rest of the landscape is fair game.
This fetish is one that we all have internalized. I know for myself how powerful the allure of wilderness is in how I view Cindy’s and my farm. But the concept doesn’t hold up upon closer scrutiny. The human species has impacted life and terrain across the globe. The unflattering term ecologists now use for the current epoch is Anthropocene: a period in earth’s history when the impact of human existence shapes both the natural world and its climate.
All of this brings me to discuss our decision to begin working our woods as part of our productive use of our land. The current model for woodlot management is to strip it of every tree of even the remotest possible economic value every fifty to sixty years. Bring in heavy equipment, build roads to get the logs out and abandon the land to heal itself. We only have to walk to the back of our property to gaze out at that example, fifty acres of former forest, denuded into gullies getting deeper after every storm.
I have many old farming texts in my library that remind me that the idea of sustainably managing woodlots so that they are in continual production is not new. It makes sense and I understand the concept intellectually and practically. But we both wrestled with the idea of cutting any trees down for base commerce. There was a sense that to care for our land meant farming the open pasture areas, that the woods were somehow sacrosanct. Even though the woods have been logged, and not well, countless times.
The man must surely get tired of being referenced, but a recent article by Wendell Berry on sustainable logging had us rethinking our relationship to our woods. It inspired us to devise a template of sorts to allow us to harvest firewood and timber on a rotating basis. The template divides our woods in eight woodlots with a two-year harvest timeline.
This is all in the preliminary stages of execution. The next two years are a learning period. And there is a lot to decide on and discuss as we move forward. The practicalities of selecting cull trees and market trees, cutting bulk firewood, cutting and felling trees safely and without damaging other trees, removing the logs without scarring the land or removing topsoil, dividing the woods into woodlots, selling timber on the market or to farm customers are things I’ll try and address in a second post in the next couple of weeks.
Reading this weekend: Garden Earth: from hunter and gatherer to global capitalism and thereafter by Gunnar Rundgren.