Forests called key to healthy watershed

One of the guest speakers at last week’s ManOMin Watershed Conference in International Falls rightly could be described as a true insider when it comes to forestry.
For many years, Herb Hammond was a forester in his native British Columbia as well as an instructor in silviculture and forest ecology at Selkirk College. He also is a consultant for indigenous and community groups, and the author of three books on the subject of forest ecology.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that he sees the future of the Rainy River watershed through the future of the forests that nurture and protect its headwaters.
What might be more of a surprise is the true richness of that ecosystem, as he explained it to those on hand at Rainy River Community College last Thursday morning.
“There is more biological diversity in the boreal forest and the temperate rain forest than there is in the tropical rain forest,” he told an attentive audience.
“When you take into account the fungi, bacterial, and small animals beneath the forest floor, you have the richest biosystem in the world,” he added.
It is this abundance of diverse life, he stressed, that is so necessary to sustaining and preserving the watershed, including its smallest sources.
Unfortunately, some of the damage already done may be irreversible. With the destruction of the original old-growth forest over the last 200 years, some of the functions those trees performed no longer are there.
“Large dead trees can stand for up to 700 years,” Hammond said. “Even dead, the standing wood catches and holds vast amounts of water.”
Hammond explained that while still alive, such trees capture up to 30 percent of the rainfall in the canopy and evaporate it back into the atmosphere instead of allowing it to run off the land and into the waterways.
He showed a number of slides and graphics to demonstrate how even the smallest waterways and tributaries can be effected by clear-cutting to the water’s edge.
The ecosystem-based approach to logging takes into account the particular vulnerability of the area in question and must take priority over development. In some situations, up to 60 percent of the timber can be safely taken whereas in others, 10 percent is too much.
The important thing, Hammond said, is to maintain an intact riparian belt around the waterway—however small.
“We must shift the emphasis from managing ecosystems to managing people,” he argued. “We’re not just talking about economic development for our own good, we need to see this in a whole new way—spiritually, culturally, and emotionally.”
Hammond said it is not enough to depend on the results of research. For too long, we have been ignoring our own instincts and intuition when it comes to managing the environment.
Emotional arguments are not only valid, but necessary to get the point across,” he stressed.
“We need to recognize that wise decisions are a combination of knowledge and intuition,” Hammond said. “We are the only animal that doesn’t listen to our intuition.
“It was given to us for a good reason; it’s like a warning system, but in our culture, intuition is educated out of us.
“Emotional arguments are merely intuition speaking to you,” he concluded.