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The Importance of Science and Ancient Forests

I’m trying to have a relatively electronics-free day, reading a book I just picked up from the library, but I had to connect online to type up a passage from The Wild Trees by Richard Preston:

A piece of Lobaria [a lichen] the size of a child’s hand might take ten years to grow to that size. (Lobaria is a comparatively fast grower. Some lichens can take twenty years to become the size of a dime.) It can take years or decades for some species of lichens to spread from one tree to the next. “If a whole mountainside has been cut, it will be a very long time before the Lobaria comes back, ” Antoine said. “You start to see it after about two hundred years. But you don’t see big, juicy, drippy abundances of these lichens for centuries. You only see it now in old-growth Douglas-fir forests that are over five hundred years old.”

A stand of Douglas-firs may be three hundred years old, older than the United States of America, but it will still be a young patch of forest, devoid of many species of lichens. A stand of trees in a temperate Pacific Northwest rain forest that began growing at the time of the Magna Carta (1215) will only now be reaching a fullness of biodiversity. It will be loaded with a variety of lichens and mosses that don’t occur in younger forests, and it will also contain a much greater variety of animal life, large and small.

Marie Antoine’s research reminds us that the old-growth Pacific Northwest forests that have been logged away in recent years cannot return to a climax, old-growth state until A.D. 2500 to A.D. 2800, even if they are left alone. In the next five to eight centuries, no one knows what will happen to the earth’s climate or the conditions of life for people, but the great Pacific Northwest forests that are gone will not be seen again anytime soon.

Science has provided us with knowledge about what we’re destroying, but in so many cases we’ve yet to find ways to act with due consideration of what is known.

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