Biodiversity: the feedstock of evolution


You’ve heard the saying “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” When a person’s

You’ve heard the saying “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” When a person’s
livelihood depends on felling and shipping forestry products, there’s often a tendency to overlook the collateral changes to the ecosystem. When a forest is clear-cut and replaced with a plantation of one species of tree, the result is not a forest, but a crop, based upon a thirty-year prediction as to what the market will require. Such predictions are often wildly inaccurate. Take, for instance, the planting of Scotch Pines, which took place around the Pontiac in the early 70s which have proven to be fairly useless. They don’t grow tall and straight, are subject to insect and porcupine predation, are no good for lumber, and won’t burn.
There are many sites where former low-grade farmland was planted with those trees, and so removed from agriculture, and from diverse forestry as well. I inherited such a property, but was lucky enough to catch the last gasp of the pulp mill in Litchfield, and so what I had seen as a nuisance became a short-lived forestry product. We’re not often so lucky, so we get stuck with an area growing trees that have no monetary return and don’t contribute to the biodiversity of the area.
A forest is home to many species of trees, shrubs, bushes, as well as animals. The interaction of all those plants and animals is incomprehensibly complex, and when
one component or another is removed, the balance is shifted in ways that may or may not be beneficial in the long run. When a logger extracts a narrow range of types of trees, it shifts the balance of that section of forest. In a diverse forest, replacement seed stock is readily available – nature will try a bit of this and a bit of that, and will soon find a new balance for that forest. But if a forest is replaced with a single-species plantation, it’s like putting all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes. Betting that the future, at least thirty years away, is going to comprise the same climate and markets is a fool’s bet.
It is good business to leave some areas of forest unharvested. Those trees are not just standing around waiting to be cut: they’re hard at work, making the ecosystem of the present and future.  

Robert Wills