Standing up for forests, in Ireland, Nth. Ireland and Tasmania

The hottest day so far so the wood was the perfect place to be
Recent forest public protest walk at Jenkinstown Wood, Co. Kilkenny 8 June 2013, against the sale of public Irish Forests. Protest walks, talks, events were organised all over Ireland recently.


A stunning victory for people power and public protest.” Richard Boyd Barrett (June 19, 2013), Irish politician and one of the main organisers of protests around Ireland against the sale of the harvest rights of public Coillte Forests

Right around the world people today are celebrating the power of community action and what we have achieved for Tasmania’s forests” said Ms Miranda Gibson (tree sitter activist, on today’s announcement that areas of Tasmania’s forests achieved the status and protection as World Heritage Forests, 24 June 2013).

Last week I like so many of you would have heard the great news that the Irish government abandoned its plans to sell the harvesting rights of our public (Coillte) forests. A day later I heard that Northern Ireland has more protection for its woodlands and forests (felling licences were re-introduced for the first time in almost 45 years, following a very long campaign by the Woodland Trust). And now today, after 30 years of bitter struggle I heard that areas of Tasmania’s unique old growth forests have been given full World Heritage status (some of you following my work on my Facebook/ecoartnotes page will know I have been sharing the activities of Tasmanian Miranda Gibson who spent over a year in a tree in Tasmania to highlight this issue to the world – she blogged, gave interviews, from high up in a tall Eucalyptus tree to the world – it was her ObserverTree). What communities of courage have developed to stand up for forests, here and there.

So, many reasons to celebrate. Well done to the many thousands who signed petitions (over 48 000 for the Irish online petition), the thousands that came out on protests walks in our forests (and in previous years across the UK), the many groups, forest NGOs and politicians, journalists, who raised their voices!

To give you a flavour of local efforts here is an update from FutureProof Kilkenny (a TransitionTown initiative) who with local activist Mick Greene organised such a wonderful forest protest walk and picnic  at Jenkinstown Wood  in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland a few weeks ago. I was invited along as a local forest owner and Green Party Forest spokesperson. Speaking to the general public on forestry is not something I have done that often but I briefly said how great it was that people were engaging in this issue and highlighted that this was also an opportunity to think of the forests we need for future sustainability.  I mentioned how I’m working on new Continuous  Cover forest management to transform my conifer plantation into a forest and how that is a key point in the new Green Party Forest policy (2012).

Something I have quoted in my thesis writing recently in regards to forests and a deeper sustainability is echoed the World Food and Agriculture Organisation State of the World’s Forest Report (2012), that concludes that there is:

‘growing recognition that forests and their use lie at the centre of any serious discussion of a sustainable future for planet earth.’ Furthermore it ‘must be clear that including forests at the core of a strategy for a sustainable future is not an option – it is mandatory’ (FAO 2012, p.x[1])

Worldwide much deeper understandings and practices of how we relate to forests (and other ecosystems) are urgently needed. Ones that speak to the long term, that act to acknowledge and relate to ecological systems, their limits and complex dynamics if we and other species are to survive and thrive. A move to acknowledge and practice  ecological perspectives however runs counter to the tenets of industrial capitalism and will require major shifts in how we perceive, represent and relate to the ecosphere.

We need to remember too that recent developments, such as the u-turn to not sell Ireland’s forest harvest rights (and similar actions), as welcome and as positive as they are, may only be temporary reprieves. Such actions quickly pale into insignificance too when you begin to look more closely at the extent of how much of the earth’s ecosphere we have destroyed and that is degraded further at an accelerating rate since the 1950s (the time from when mass global consumerism and world populations have exponentially grown). Looking at forests or any other ecosystem can tell us pretty much the same story, that something is inherently unsustainable with our industrial mono-culturalising, fossil fuel dependent activities.

When one begins to look at forests for instance, one encounters environmental loss at scales that are hard to comprehend. For e.g in NZ all the pristine lowland forests were cleared for grassland; in the US, 97% of original forests have been destroyed and Ireland is only just beginning in recent decades to reforest after mass deforestation centuries ago – deforestation and land degradation accompanies industrialisation. The rate of species extinction loss worldwide is closely connected to forest degradation too; an estimated 10 000 species a year are being lost. Keeping to current trajectories of ‘necessary’ economic growth our global biodiversity at 2050 maybe halved. So looking at forests can therefore bring up a lot of uncomfortable questions and anxieties, ones that reveal that this is truly an unprecedented point in human history. There are no easy solutions either; techno-fundamentalism looks unlikely to remedy our global predicaments in the short time frame estimated by scientists. What is needed instead are practices that relate to the ecological realities in each bioregion.

So what concerned me a lot about the proposed sale of Coillte’s forests  was the potential abandonment of thinking and beginnings of forest practices that have begun to step outside the industrial framework. I wondered about the possible loss of the recently established COFORD (Irish forest research institute) Low Impact Silvicultural  Systems database and project. This database of mainly Coillte sites (along with some private sites, my own included), is providing important longitudinal studies of transforming plantations of conifers on different Irish site conditions toward more ecologically based Continuous Cover forest management.  To me, in what will be increasing pressures to ‘realise’ our natural assets everywhere, such studies are the groundwork for new actions and policies, that may help us move from an industrial to an ecological age.

Realistically its hard to think that isolated forest ‘victories ‘will change the dominant  and now globalised industrial paradigm …but we can’t use that as an excuse to not engage with these concerns.  I think  if one can empathise with other peoples and even other species, we really don’t have a choice not to act and get involved in beginning to do things differently. Even if our efforts are futile, perhaps some of these actions will form an ecology of change.

[1] UN Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) State of the World Forests 2012 report. Accessed 29 May, 2013

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