Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Williams Lake Tribune.

Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Williams Lake Tribune.

Forest Ink: Working with nature’s resiliency

Natural systems have a great capacity to repair if we give them a chance

I recently read a well-illustrated book entitled The Working Forests of B.C. – Project.

The book, initiated by Gerry Birch, contains over 200 photos mostly of reforested areas compared to photos of the areas logged decades in the past.

The book also contains graphs and explanations of the state of B.C.’s forests in seven regions of province the 1990s. While there have been some significant changes in our forests since the publication of the book, in particular the wildfires since 2010 it does make the point that B.C. has some very productive working forest land that supports a vibrant timber industry.

While some of our denuded forest lands have been difficult to reestablish, it is small in comparison to many areas around the world as described in a new video from our local library The Age of Nature narrated by Uma Thurman.

One of the discussions is by Thomas Crowther and his team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) that the earth could sustain another 1.2 trillion trees, which would absorb 200 gigatonnes of carbon. This estimate is based on a combination of satellite images and ground data from contributors from around the world.

It is important to look for areas to plant trees that once contained forests and not in urban, grasslands or agriculture lands. Crowther and his team are also looking at nematodes and soil fungi that are important to carbon storage in soils.

The nature series describes a number of disasters around the world including nuclear testing, civil wars along with bad forestry and grazing practices that have caused the collapse of ecosystems and forced thousands of people from their lands. One example of poor forest practices is in the peat soils of Indonesia and Borneo where human activities on peatlands involved man made canals to make the land more suitable for agriculture and forestry.

One of the worst examples was the mega rice project in the mid 1990s where one million hectares of peatland was converted to rice production which now suffers from extensive fires each year. Many canals were also established for transport timber to processing points on rivers which also resulted in drying of peatlands and serious fires. Locals are now establishing dams to control the water and return the peatlands to their original condition.

Another example of recovery was in Gorongosa National park in Mozambique where starving soldiers and poachers in a sixteen-year civil war (1977 – 1992) caused the disappearance of 90 per cent of most large herbivores which negatively impacted the rest of the ecosystem. It has taken 30 years to restore the biodiversity necessary for the humans to be able to regain a ecosystem that can support close to their original numbers.

Park rangers now patrol and protect the wild animals which are returning to their former numbers with some female elephants evolving devoid of tusks which makes them less desirable to poachers and more able to survive in the future.

While the Age of Nature series presents some vivid examples of our human failures it does present some hope for future generations where young people have been instrumental in the recovery of many poor choices of past generations.

Natural systems have a great capacity to repair if we give them a chance.


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