Friday, October 21, 2011

The Forest and the Trees at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival

Fall colours on Granville Island

Charlotte Gill stopped counting after she had planted one million trees. She worked 17 seasons as a tree planter and describes the job as one that gives a person full contact with the natural world. I’m really looking forward to reading her memoir, Eating Dirt. At the writersfest yesterday, Gill said she has learned that people can’t put back a forest; only time can do that. About a thousand years. Canada still has 1.5 million square miles of tree cover remaining and Gill would like us to view this as a planetary treasure.

West Coast art on Granville Island
Andrew Nikiforuk talked about a different kind of logging company, one that’s been around for 300 million years: bark beetles. These small creatures – "tree managers without PhDs" – are part of the renewal process. Like all beetles, they are the world’s garbage men. I like the way Nikiforuk compared a tree to a well-defended fortress and bark beetles to medieval knights and peasants, swarming the castle. Humans have aided bark beetles in their work through logging practices that remove biodiversity in forest make-up and through decades of fire suppression in parks. Nikoforuk explained why the government response to the bark beetles has probably been more destructive than the beetles themselves.

Book table at writersfest event
Nikiforuk’s Empire of the Beetle is sure to be a fascinating read. He talked about scientists working with sound to “stress the hell out of the beetle.” They tried Rush Limbaugh and Guns & Roses, but found that it was low frequency amplified insect sounds that completely changed bark beetle behaviour, such as cannibalizing each other and not laying eggs. Another solution Nikiforuk offers is community-based ownership of forests, rather than ownership or lease by multinationals. Trees are the lungs of our planet and as their numbers go down, so does the oxygen in the air we breathe.

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