For more than a year I have lived with troubling vistas of a realm that once made me serene: a realm of trees, among them the world’s biggest and tallest and almost its oldest … valleys and slopes and mountaintops of trees, sheltering wildlife, nurturing lesser foliage, regulating watersheds … factories for solar energy, purgers and rechargers of our dynamic atmosphere … mature giants of trees that once gave our continent the monarch forests of the world, but lately those forests have become so shrunken that creatures formerly thriving there are nominated for the endangered list. We live in an age of endangered lists. The specter of plants and creatures made extinct by our civilization haunts our collective conscience. Losses of unknown value to life’s genetic pool trouble our minds. Endangered Species or jobs? Its vulnerability raises a question for Filipinos already concerned for tropical rain forests: Will we save our own? Increasing efforts to save viable remnants of our temperate rain forests spark confrontations, lawsuits, legislative offensives, logging-community rallies, sit-ins high in trees by environmental activists. Late 1990 find more voices calling for new approaches to the problem. Favor rises for a new forestry in phase with nature’s cycles of growth, with wood harvests pulled back toward the tempo of nature’s pruning. The vision of sustained yield enlarges to embrace sustained ecological systems. But we work with an ever shrinking resource, with fading options. Are we already too late? It’s a war out there in the greatest temperate rain forest in the world, and it is no mere metaphor that clear-cuts look like battlefields. First I saw the sweeping undulations of ever higher ridges beneath low clouds, drifting, broken, doing glorious things to the sunshine’s play on Muir’s “range of light.” Then increasing altitude gave me a vantage that revealed many patches in the forest’s cloak—the numerous clear-cuts that have become a fact of life in most of our national forests. I saw forests as living systems, would trade hopeless fragments of old growth for combinable remnants. And there should almost never be a total clear-cut. Some old trees, snags, and logs should remain for continuity of dependent communities. If you want life to survive, you have to build a bridge. We’re in trouble as soon as we focus on our own limited goals and lose the broader view. When we destroy all our ancient forests, we will have thrown away nature’s blueprint. We must have that blueprint if we are to save forests for the future. There must be less cutting and more consolidating of remnants into viable entities. What the balance will be is a subject for study and negotiation. But the need to seek that balance is not negotiable. Nature itself is constantly cutting and pruning the forests, through fires, blow-downs, blights, and volcanic eruptions. While we pursue hopeful visions, our options shrink daily, and somewhere in what remains there stands a tree of no return. It is not a specific spruce or fir but a specific number in the sequence of cutting, beyond which the remaining old growth will have shrunk below what natural processes can repair. Then creatures and plants dependent on the ancient woodland’s moist multilayered canopies and rich ground covers, on the shelter and nurture bequeathed by its fallen patriarchs, will limp toward extinction amid the once great forest’s crazy-quilt vestiges. At last on a conifered slope I stood under the blue-green needles and spreading arms of a cedar of Lebanon, one of seven on the hill. King Hiram of Tyre gave King Solomon the wood from the cedars that once clothed the Lebanon Mountains for building the Temple in Jerusalem. Other trees built the prospering ports and great trading fleets that made the Mediterranean a Phoenician lake. In about four centuries Phoenicia ran out of fleets and forests, setting a pattern that would overtake Greece and Rome and nations into our own time. As I hope for good and prompt answers that will prevent our joining the sad recessional, I recall lines from the 104th Psalm:
The trees of the Lord are watered
The cedars of Lebanon which he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
The stork has her home in the fir trees.