Compelling Ground

Dr. Tom Wessels speaking on the development of forest soil communities

EEC Forest Stewardship’s main mission is to restore a forested ecosystem capable of climaxing through climate change and human development. Our landscape was once Temperate Rainforest, with thousand year old canopy in a thriving network of complex systems. Within less than 100 years, European settlers had completely leveled the forests and today, less than 10% of old growth is left on the entire West Coast of The United States. I say this with little conviction, because studying a list of parks and protected areas listed as old growth on the west coast, I find examples like Seward Park near Seattle- 300 acres. Well, the entire park is 300 acres, but the “old growth” spoken of is a few scattered trees within a twice logged forest of much younger stands. In fact, there is more oak savanna in Seward than old growth rainforest. National Parks are truly protected, but state forests, though often forested, are usually in commercial logging contracts, and do get cut. Below are several satellite photos of forested areas where logging is very active within national forests and around national parks.

Please take some time on a satellite map online- google maps is what I used for these pictures- wander around the country, and the world for that matter, look at forests and see how much is missing- it’s hard to tell where they once were in many places- let’s just say, before European settlement, most areas of The West Coast were covered in old growth forests. Now, there is a vast opening, development, human settlement, and expansion continue to carve up what’s left of our forests. Trees are natural resources to be exploited, by bad management practices, that put prophets above long term human survival. In my lifetime, the last of our old growth will be gone in North America, with the exceptions of a few token places already in national parks- but for how long? I cannot even say with strong confidence, that even the land at EEC will forever be a forest. Even with protection, after a few generations and the whim of politics, any land can become a dollar amount on spread sheets. Then, it’s easy to turn public gaze away for just long enough to rip out the ecosystem- once its lost, there’s nothing to do but dig-dig-dig and drill-drill-drill.

We cannot yet fully measure the endless biodiversity in an intact, old growth forest. Some people make it all about the trees themselves, but they are just the surface fluff, much like the fruiting of a mushroom- what’s really happening lies below the soil’s surface, out of sight and mind of most people. When the trees are cut, that soil, and everything living in it begins to erode away down hillsides and slopes. Forests still around are often on slopes, that’s because we cleared them out of all the bottom land to grow crops, and no forests remain in vast river valleys across the world, where once, giant primeval realms of massive canopy spread above. People tend to settle near freshwater, on flat ground. The trees found sanctuary along the hills and mountains, until we followed them there to harvest for our endless consumption. Look at the island nations across the northern hemisphere- The British Isles- for instance- very few stands of trees, none of them old growth, and most grown for commercial industry, or protected in small parks. After they cut their own trees over a few thousand years, England came to North America and fell more grate forests, slowly at first, but in time, with the advent of more colonial migrations from Europe, the seemingly endless nature of “The New World” was almost completely gone in a few hundred years.

We’re still only looking at trees- if you look at the loss of top soil- we’re way ahead, less than a few inches left from tens of feet lost due to tilling. It takes thousands of years for an intact ecosystem to create topsoil, and in less than 100, here in the USA, we’ve taken most of it off and thrown it down divers and into the air where it disappears into oceans. If I take any time talking about oceanic collapse, we’ll get very depressed. My mind can only take so much desecration, so I do take comfort in knowing this planetary evolution climaxes and collapses occasionally, clearing the slate, so to speak, and that new chemical combinations in future might recreate thriving habitat millions of years into the future. It has in the past. Right now, we are conscious of our destructive actions as a species, and can change course to the best of our abilities. Each positive action towards regenerative ecology gives us stability for that much longer- I hope. EEC Forest is building fertility now, with little outside input, and a lot of animal help. The vegetation gets thicker and greener each year, with over 4 acres of replanted native growth. Blackberry retreats to reforestation, and canopy will soon shade the land, offering a place for water to stay in the soil and soak deep underground.

Again, it’s what’s happening out of sight that makes everything growing out of the ground possible. Take a close look at the ground around you- is it mostly paved, are the landscapes artificial, cultivated, or wild? How compacted is the soil, if there is any? What species are eking out a living, or thriving? Where does your drinking water come from? Where is most of the food you eat grown? When we shift from general nature questions into personal survival reflection, the truth about our species becomes very clear- most of us have very little to do with the ground we live on- literally. When was the last time your bare foot touched bare ground- not an artificial ground like cement or carpet? What privileged access to soil and growing things do you have? How important are your surroundings? These are just a few questions to ask and reflect on, a way to gauge the health and stability of your environment- as well as your personal mental and physical health. When we take time to look at the ground we live on, and connect to it, we become more rooted in self identity, common cause with our community, and more sensitive to environmental factors like pollution, urban decay, and social renewal. As Dr. Wessels pointed out- the most divers part of our ecology is out of sight- as is the diversity of any living structure, even human society. Keep your mind open and look beyond the surface structure, you’ll usually find compelling ground.

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