Loss of forests shouldn't become normal
To the Editor,
We here in Canada have an enormous abundance of land and space, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to mismanage what we have. I was pleased to receive a survey in the mail this past week from the County of St. Paul soliciting input for an upcoming review of land use bylaws. I’m sure there are many aspects of land use I can address, but there is one that has irked more than the rest that I want to examine.
Every year, when classes are done and I am back home from university, there is without fail something missing from my last time back. Whether it’s a ditch entirely cleared of foliage or a corner of a quarter plot cleared for more farming or a new subdivision, I see fewer and fewer trees at every turn, and no real effort to replace what was cut down. You might think these changes are so small and gradual that there’s no reason to be alarmed, but this type of small, incremental changes to our natural landscape that fall under our radar are indeed dangerous.
Some academics have described the effects of the “Shifting Baseline Syndrome,” which I learned about through an excellent TEDxTalk by Dr. Daniel Pauley from the University of B.C. Though he talks mostly about fish populations, the principle is the same for any natural resource: when a loss is slow and gradual enough, we do not perceive it as a loss. Instead, we readjust what our idea of “normal” is (i.e. our “baseline”) and keep readjusting our standards lower.
Try to consider how you might react. Would you feel differently if all the trees from your area were clear-cut in one month compared to slowly pegged off over the course of a decade or two? Over generations, this effect is compounded because what our children think of as “normal” is set by current standards, and they do not see the past as a loss. In my own case, I had no idea that there were such astonishing old-growth forests in existence so close to home until I took a walk this past month on a relative’s quarter this June. I can hardly imagine that the whole county may have been covered with such forests only a century ago.
Our forests are valuable habitat for wildlife and they provide valuable recreation opportunities. They help prevent topsoil erosion, something which when lost, can take generations to replenish. A team from the University of Alberta led by Edward Bork and Scott Chang have recently begun research on how valuable forests in area like ours is key for carbon sequestering. Even though as a whole, Canada may be fumbling the ball when it comes to taking care of our natural environment (as most recently shown by our performance at Rio+20), that doesn’t mean we cannot try to push the envelope here on a local level to recognize the value of keeping trees and protecting their slow, gradual loss. Whether it is setting a minimum percentage of tree cover per rural plot of land, setting a county-wide goal for forested area, or giving property tax breaks to landowners who keep higher levels of forested area or keep all borders of their land forested, some measure to provide incentives for the conservation of forested land should be part of the land management bylaw revision.
This is one of the many issues I will be voicing my opinion on with the county’s survey, and I hope you and your readers will do the same before July 15th.
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