Sprucing Up Canadian Forests

Human beings are not just 'another species' in the 'circle of life'



I sometimes wonder if the problem with liberals is that they have extraordinarily guilty consciences but lack a confessional to unburden themselves in. Well, that is not wholly true; they have the op-ed pages of liberal newspapers, which alternate among confessional, psychotherapy couch, and street corner (where one signals one’s virtues).

Case-in-point: “We Thought We Were Saving the Planet But We Were Planting a Time Bomb” [here] in the New York Times (Sept. 15). The author, Claire Cameron, bemoans having planted spruce trees some 30 years ago, not knowing they were not trees but “thousands of blowtorches” that may have contributed to this year’s Canadian forest fires that spread smoke over parts of North America.

Back then, the author was a college student with a summer job. That summer job involved planting spruce seedlings in northern Ontario on forest land previously harvested for lumber. Our student “cleared $6,000 in a summer.” (That was half my year-long starting salary teaching theology at a Catholic university in New York a few years earlier.)

The author was convinced she was doing her piece to save the planet (or at least part of Canada): “we were working hard and replenishing the earth… The Canadian actor Will Arnett spent a summer planting trees, of which he has said, ‘There’s a sense of giving back, and a sense of obligation [to] create something bigger than yourself.”

Now, she’s disillusioned. Black spruce “are so combustible that firefighters call them ‘gas on a stick.’” She feels coopted and duped. Planting trees made people feel good but, in her opinion, the original forest never should have been logged in the first place.

I defer to tree experts on best forestry practices. But my instinctual reaction is that trees—like all of nature—are under human dominion and stewardship. Man, made in God’s image and likeness, shares in God’s work of creation. And, sometimes, creation involves turning a black spruce tree into a desk.

Human dominion involves responsible practices, and for that, as said above, I defer to forestry experts. But I want to hear from forestry experts, not climate fundamentalists, about what are “best practices.” Because I doubt that leaving all forests in their pristine state is either tenable or even desirable; that despite good forest management over recent years, it was fickle climate change and greedy lumberjacks that spread wildfires across the True North; and that Canada’s standard of living would not be adversely affected minus the $39.2 billion its forests made for the country in 2021.

I fear that there is no small part of the environmental and climate movement that rejects the idea that God gave the world to human beings for their use. I insist that “use” does not mean “exploitation” in a negative or irresponsible sense. But I also reject that human beings are just “another species” in the “circle of life.”

On the latter point, I admit to planting a tree (full disclosure: a maple, now a nice 30-foot) in front of my house when my eldest daughter was born and replanting a Christmas tree in Poland the year after my son was born.

But, pace Ms. Cameron’s musings, “gas on a stick” a.k.a. black spruce has existed for thousands of years and will likely exist for thousands more, long after Ms. Cameron may be resting under one of them. And people will be harvesting forests, be it to build homes, make “pine boxes” of the kind that we all will one day require, or even become a page in a Claire Cameron novel for which she will be paid with paper currency.


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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