One of These Things Is Not Like the Other
“The light! The light is incredible!” Words uttered in awe by a senior printing company executive as we walked with him into the depths of the ancient temperate rainforest on Canada’s west coast.
Sunlight filtered down through multiple layers of green, from the canopy of towering old growth cedars and spruce, through the understory of middle-aged and young trees growing amongst the thousand year old giants. The light dappled the ferns, salal, moss and lichen close to the forest floor. It is a light that has to be experienced to be truly understood, but it strikes our senses the way entering a cathedral with sunlight filtering through magnificent stained glass windows can affect people. The subtle beauty of this natural forest cathedral generates a state of wonder.
The rich smells of the forest permeate the senses. Fallen trees decomposing and decaying into soil serve as ‘nurse logs’ to support the growth of new saplings. The pungent smell of skunk cabbage, the damp air clinging to moss and ferns — the forest is ripe and alive with the scents and sounds of the living earth.
Our printing industry guest couldn’t resist — he hugged a tree. Just joking, of course, but there was no doubt the spell cast by the old growth forest had touched something in him. It touches us all.
Then we went to look at a second growth forest.
The difference is stark. When an ancient forest is cut and the land replanted, the trees that grow are all the same age, growing at about the same rate. The result is an even-aged canopy that closes in as the tops of virtually all the trees mesh, blocking out the sunlight.
With little light filtering down through the dense, interlocked canopy, the forest floor is virtually barren. There are no berry bushes ripe for picking, no medicinal plants, and no food for deer or bear. It is a tree farm, plain and simple. And while logged forests should be replanted — a tree farm is simply not a natural forest unless it is left for a few hundred or even a thousand years. The differences are unmistakable — and that’s before we factor in the ecological services ancient forests contribute to our world.
The planet’s ancient forests and forest soils store massive amounts of carbon, preventing its release into the atmosphere and the exacerbation of climate change. They provide a rich and abundant habitat for a wide variety of species that form key links in the chain of life and predator-prey interactions. Countless human communities depend on healthy, natural forests for food, warmth, shelter, medicinal plants, clothing and livelihoods. Furthermore, the benefits people derive from forest ecosystems — ‘natural services’ such as water filtration, air purification, pollination and much more — have real value.
It’s estimated, for example, that the carbon stored in the forests, peat and soils of North America’s Boreal Forest alone, combined with other values such as the lakes and rivers that make it the largest source of unfrozen fresh water on Earth, provide the equivalent of $700 billion per year in natural services.i
Road building, logging and replanting monoculture even-aged tree farms simply can’t replace the multitude of services offered by ancient, natural forests.
Yes, when we harvest trees we should replant — that’s a given. But when we look at statistics or maps showing the expanding ‘forest’ cover in North America or other parts of the world, it’s important we acknowledge the vast gulf between simple tree cover and ancient forests. As Sesame Street taught us, one of these things is not like the other. Which is why it’s so vitally important to plan, with the future of forests, people and species in mind, before we cut.
Canopy and our hundreds of corporate partners are working collaboratively for the implementation of this critical planning step in all the world’s last remaining ancient and endangered forests. It is essential to determine what needs to be conserved in order to ensure the continued health, vigor, diversity and resiliency of ancient and endangered forests and all the communities that depend on them for survival. Only then, once scientifically rigorous conservation planning, guided by local knowledge and community and indigenous rights is completed, should logging or other industrial development activity proceed.
We are constantly taught the importance of planning in our daily lives. Develop a savings plan, an investment plan, plan for our children’s college education, plan for our retirement, and the list goes on. Shouldn’t it be just as important to plan for the future of the planet that we depend on for our very survival?
Your business can develop a plan that minimizes your impact on the world’s remaining ancient and endangered forests while securing business stability and certainty of sustainable supply.
Canopy can help. Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org and together, let’s plan a brighter future.
Catherine Stewart, a corporate campaigner with Canopy, an independent not-for-profit organization, has over 25 years of experience in the environmental movement on issues ranging from fisheries and forests conservation to water pollution and climate change. She was a lead negotiator on the Great Bear Rainforest campaign, brokering the moratorium in over 100 intact valleys and playing a pivotal role in crafting the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements in British Columbia.
Working with Canopy, an independent not-for-profit environmental organization, Stewart is continuing her efforts to increase conservation of the world’s threatened forests by assisting forest product customers in the development of sustainable purchasing policies.
Formerly a small business owner in a resource-based community, Stewart understands the importance of both jobs and a healthy environment to the viability and long-term future of rural communities.