DeForestation: Take no prisoners: Leave no witnesses

Nameless Creek North
Image by fred1st via Flickr

There must be careful forest product extraction (perhaps somewhere in this world, I’m not at all sure about this) and there is what’s going on on our ridge even as I sit here pretending not to hear the clank of the iron treads of the bigger-hammer machinery on our hillside, where our property——raped over by loggers itself in 1994——meets our new neighbor’s 120 acres. It is a spine of a ridge where the boundary runs, and visually, it was of a single piece, a place we went to feel enveloped by the whole of this place.

The pillaging started about a month ago. Yesterday we climbed several hundred feet to the top of our ridge, to this spine of high land, to look down into the adjoining valley and we were sickened by the sight. This is not a figure of speech. No forest logging is beautiful but some is hideous, and this is hideous.

The felling we saw was not selective, cutting was not careful, and I’d guess at least half a dozen trees were severely debarked,  root—damaged, pushed over or splintered for every tree trunk put on one of two trucks that rumble past here several times a day, spewing white smoke as if they were fogging in Miami for mosquitoes. The logging gouges called roads cut across contours in the clay soil without water-lets, and the silt and erosion in Goose Creek will be horrible, all the way to the confluence that forms the south fork of the Roanoke River.

I’m disappointed in the neighbor/property owner for not placing restrictions on the loggers. Might be, he bought here more with the intention of making a profit than making good neighbors.

I wish I could say I expected anything more from these loggers, but other than Jason Rutledge, our local horse-assisted woodsman, I’ve never witnessed anything other than this kind of disregard for the forest by the “industry professionals”, living trees extracted as a commodity and a paycheck, Once-lers like Seuss’s Lorax deforesters, with no thought or regard for the next generation of life on that piece of dirt once they were paid and gone.

I’m disappointed with the county forestry office, who confers meaningless approval and permit on operations like this, then looks the other way. I have seen this before, sad to say.

The worst thing is that this careless, wanton plundering of natural resources is happening on a massive, worldwide scale every minute of every day. It is making a few rich, who live where they do not have to see the results of what they’ve done. It’s just more poignant to see and hear and smell it from one’s front porch. And I’m feeling very sad just now.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. No doubt a bitter pill to swallow. Worse, way beyond your personal control. Careful extraction, the utilization of common logging trails, and CAREFUL work by loggers is all too rare.

    The good news is that forests recover remarkably. Perhaps a chance to document this type of recovery. It seems miraculous.

  2. Recovery is, indeed, remarkable, but so much more resilience is needed when the soil is compressed and eroded and 95% of the overstay is removed, releasing weedy plants that will take much longer to suppress by shade made by surviving stump growth. Even when logging is selective, it tends to be taking the best and leaving the culls, rather than the other way around. We just must start thinking seven generations into the future. I wish we were capable of being selfless and farsighted. But this seems to fly against our animal nature. We talk the part of being hom sapiens but live the part of being homo autoindulgensis.

  3. Fred: I feel your sadness acutely. Something similar has happened in my little hamlet over the past month or so. A forest of huge white pines that used to greet me as I drove up my road, and which filled me with the relief of “Ah, I am home at last!,” has been decimated. Since it covered a steep hillside, erosion is next — unless the landowners have a plan to re-plant it with something. Given the lack of respect for the trees, the soil and the neighbors that is evident in the way the forest was logged, I am not optimistic. It is so sad to know that never again in my lifetime will I see that hillside covered with majestic trees.

  4. Heartbreaking. 🙁

    When we moved from our home in the country to Greensboro, the buyer of our land in the country soon sold the 3 acres of woods that we had bought to adjoin our other 3 acres. He built two houses on that patch of woods, and sold them, to make money. Hell, I could have done such, but while we lived in the country that little patch of woods meant so much to us, just for the wildlife and such.

    Greensboro is going the same way. Every month or so, another patch of beautiful woods is destroyed, if for nothing else than a road or parking lot. It is enough to make one physically sick. I am a grown man, and I almost cry every time I see a patch or acre or so of trees destroyed. And, you hit the nail on the head, about the developers do not live where such crap is going on. The developers live elsewhere, way off, in their own paradise.

    God Bless Our Country Side and Trees 🙂

  5. Brings to mind one of my favorite poems: Trees by Joyce Kilmer:

    “I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.
    A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
    A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
    A tree that may in summer wear A nest of robins in her hair;
    Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.
    Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.”

  6. I memorized this poem (because I was forced to) in elementary school, and decades later, along with three other adults, encircled a single enormous tulip poplar tree in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in western North Carolina. Joyce was a guy, by the way, who probably hated his parents for sticking him with that one.

  7. I’ve been to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, and I’ve seen that enormous poplar tree. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any photographs of it, or the other huge trees in that section, as it poured a drenching rain while we hiking that section of the trail. Never been so wet from a soaking rain, before or since. I’d like to go back there sometime, on a sunny day.

  8. A logger was killed in a felling accident on Lick Ridge; much of the other wreckage will regrow as nature fills the gaps. Timber harvests are necessary, forests recover, landowners and mills earn a living and people build with wood; but there is a standard of practice which is constantly shifting, and you can influence this.

    I believe that there are requirements for stabilization of the skid trails, and the Forest BMP’s that offer protection for the watershed are to be enforced by the DoF. Preventing some off site impacts are the responsibility of the landowner, and whether absolutely required a reasonable effort is the responsibility of any landowner.

    Pictures of the devastation are needed Fred, not just for us, but for you. The recovery of the lands around Mt St. Hellens is a study in ecology, a extreme analogy perhaps but you have the opportunity to share your witnessing of this event.

  9. When people say forests recover they tend to look superficially – it is the whole forest entity that often gets destroyed.
    Throughout the World we are seeing forests ravaged and the effects are a lot more significant than what people tend to observe.
    I am in New Zealand and we too have seen the continuing efforts of not only loggers and big companies but also the constant “nibbling” of people keen to take ever increasing amounts to develop their own properties.
    Often people do this destruction and then just “move on” when their aspirations are not realised.
    It’s a cancer often brought about by ignorant, short-sighted people.

  10. I am so sorry, Fred. I hope for your mental health that you can let go of your anger, grief, etc. about this mindless destruction someday rather soon, and focus instead on the things you intend to do with your remaining years of productive living.