Now for something completely different
Don’t be alarmed! Atlantic Forestry Review has not been transformed into a lifestyle rag aimed at the demographic of dog-walking, bicycle-commuting, park-picnicking city dwellers. But you can’t be blamed for thinking something weird is going on. This summer issue of the magazine looks pretty different, because it has a focus on urban forests.
We’ve never done this before. The idea came from Dr. Peter Duinker, a professor at Dalhousie University’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies. Peter has a longstanding interest in forestry, and is no stranger to the pages of AFR, largely due to his extensive involvement with the Nova Forest Alliance, a model forest program that sought to facilitate cooperation across various sectors of the industry and among diverse forest stakeholders. He proposed a special issue of the magazine devoted to urban forests, a topic that has become one of his primary research interests in recent years. We agreed, and made him guest editor for July AFR. Because he was on sabbatical, he was able to devote considerable time and thought to the project, assigning and editing a number of articles, in addition to contributing his own writings.
That photo of Halifax on the cover, where you would normally see an image of a person or machine industriously harvesting or processing trees, is meant to be a bit provocative. In rural Nova Scotia, grousing about the provincial capital – its halls of power, and its concentrated powers of public opinion – is a popular pastime. There it is in full colour, verdant with idleness and entitlement, right in your face.
To me, even the term “urban forest” seemed provocative some years ago when I first heard it bandied about. Sure, city trees are valuable for lots of reasons, but do they make up a coherent whole – either ecologically, or as a management unit? I think Peter makes a good case in favour of this proposition. Urban trees give us many of the same social and economic benefits as rural forests, with the general exception of timber. The scale is different, but the relatively dense population of cities means those benefits are more concentrated. We’ve grown accustomed to talking about “non-timber forest products” and “ecological goods and services,” so wrapping our minds around urban forests shouldn’t be too hard.
I think many regular readers of AFR would agree with me when I say that rural Canada is underappreciated as the source of wealth on which our national affluence and sovereignty depend. We often feel we get short shrift when it comes to government policy priorities, not to mention basic infrastructure and services, and this makes it hard for our small communities to reach their full potential. When you live on a gravel road that is barely passible in March and April, it’s a bit irksome to see non-essential public spending funneled into the city. But sometimes these grievances lead to a stubborn anti-urban bias out here in the countryside, and this also holds us back.
To state the obvious, urban and rural communities are mutually dependant. It bears mentioning that forest products are the number one export category moving through the Port of Halifax. The historic port cities of Saint John and St. John’s move a lot of goods too, and Truro, of course, has long served as a vital hub for land transport. As our society demands more education, better health care, and more sophisticated technology, people will continue to be drawn or driven to cities. To some extent, urbanization is a fact of life, so we should try to ensure it shakes out in a way that makes life liveable in urban and rural communities alike. Our kids or our grandkids are likely to end up in cities. Do we want them to be miserable there, just for spite? Of course not. Trash-talking or stereotyping urban dwellers is essentially a form of bigotry – the same as generalizations about back-woods hicks. I would love to see AFR reach more urban readers, in hopes they could gain a better understanding of the Atlantic region’s forest industry. So perhaps this special issue of the magazine is a suitable gesture – a step toward mutual understanding.
I have just returned from Sweden, where I was one of more than 200 accredited journalists from 24 countries attending the massive Elmia Wood forestry fair. (See pg. 40 for an overview of this mind-bending outdoor exhibition.) Because I had been talking to Peter about his research, and had passed through the elegant and well-managed city of Copenhagen on my way to the Swedish province of Småland, when I got to the fair I was tuned in to equipment that would be suitable for urban forest management.
In addition to all the latest in heavy machinery – the miraculous pairing of hydraulics and computer technology, which is largely what attracts international visitors to Elmia – there were lots of beautiful hand tools for pruning and shearing, harnesses and other climbing gear for arborists, nursery and planting equipment (including various coatings to deter wildlife from browsing on seedlings), and outstanding chainsaw skills on display. I checked out a pole-style tree jack called the RH-Pusher, which is apparently popular for precision felling in Stockholm, and would likely come in handy for woodlot owners who occasionally encounter a tricky situation when doing manual selection harvesting. Another cool product, on the small-scale side, was the Erasure brush-saw head, with a couple of U-bolts to hold a segment of old hydraulic hose – a more robust and cheaper alternative to trimmer line.
Anticipating the trip, I had hoped to be able to report that the Swedes are not subject to urban-rural conflict – that a rich “wood culture” pervades the whole society, resulting in a general consensus as to how their lucrative forestry sector should be managed. But I had a couple conversations that led me to believe this is not quite the case.
Productive forest covers about 57 percent of Sweden, and about half of that forest is in the hands of private woodlot owners who were, historically, farmers. But with intergenerational succession, a growing number of those landowners are now city dwellers who have other careers, and whose stewardship values may be somewhat less production oriented. I was particularly interested to hear one farmer complain about how, as a result of pressure from conservation-minded urbanites, the discovery of a rare mushroom could require changes to planned harvesting activities on a given forest site.
Of course, when you’re doing plantation management on 50-year rotations, you don’t get too much of that pesky biodiversity creeping in. A New Zealand landowner, who was also part of this exchange, scoffed at the idea that rogue biota should have any bearing on management activities. I found myself pondering which is more truly a forest – the New Zealander’s eucalyptus plantation, which is mowed down about every eight years, or a row of street trees in Halifax, which may provide bird habitat and sanity-saving shade for a century or more. It’s something to mull over – until September, when we will return to regularly scheduled programming. DL