Logging in Ecuador

I traveled in Ecuador this year. My companions were botanists, mycologists, cellular researchers, artists, museum managers and business owners. I directed the following letter to Percy, a botanist from Peru. If you wish to see photos of the plant, bird and insect profusion at Bella Vista, you can google search “bellavistacloudforest”.


Greetings, Percy!

I have a question for you. Remember our walk in the cloud forest at Bella Vista? Halfway through, Tomas, our guide said, “we are moving into primary forest now”.  The term for this in the United States is “old-growth forest”, forest that has never been cut down by mass-scale techniques. He said that what we had been in was forested for cattle pasture right after WWII, cut right down to the grass, like so many pastures we saw on the steep hillsides as we traveled. I could tell no difference between the primary forest and the area that had been logged. There seemed to be an equal profusion of plants and types of plants, and that bird life was identical. Trees were tall, undergrowth was prolific, variety was immense. It felt like the forest was lurking over us, hoping we would slow down long enough for the fungus to digest us so that the trees could drink us like milkshakes. It craved nourishment. It was robust!

So how detrimental is clear-cutting in that biome? Is it proper to be concerned about soil erosion, especially in the first years? How much soil erosion would a logged area experience, in the first year or two, and then in year five after many plants would have set roots?

My main question has to do with “bio-diversity”. By logging, what is the detriment to plant life? How much variety of plant life would be lost if 10% of the forests in that locale were clear-cut every decade? Can you make any estimate of this? Do you suppose that any rare species were lost when the 1000 acre plot we walked through was logged 50 years ago? What is the likelihood? Does anyone know? Can any guesses be reliably made? Or is general alarm over logging the best , and only response, lacking good estimates?

In the United States much controversy arises when forests are clear-cut. They do spring back in time, though. Bill McKibben documented the recovery of the Eastern Forest in the past century. Millions of square miles are forested more abundantly than in 1830, due to changing economic conditions. People don’t have to log to plant corn to feed their family. In the cloud forest, plants seem to spring back with a vengeance. Tomas said that the trails we used had to be cleared with a machete every month or they would be lost to view.

So to put my question another way, how much variety of species is lost when forests are cleared for agricultural purposes, in the way we saw the locals doing it, a section at a time? How much is logging of the cloud forest, and the rain forest for that matter, a concern? Are there ways for landowners to do it without sacrificing too much variety over the long term?

My amateur perspective, is that the logging done 50 years ago had minimal long-term effect, and that future logging could be carried out in a minimally detrimental manner. If you can correct or substantiate my view, please let me know.


Hard Work for Secular Humanists

It is hard work for secular humanists to make it through the end-of-the-year general celebration, that is to say, the Christmas Holidays. It strains them to remain philosophically pure. They can’t say “Merry Christmas” because the name of Christ is embedded within. They can’t say even “Happy Holidays” in good conscience because the word “holiday” is a modern version of “holy day”. Holiness, and reference to it, is impermissible.

Those who think that religion does not belong in the public square, or even in polite conversation, must not sing Christmas carols, or even hum along. They must not pray. They should shun downtown where the merchants and their downtown associations adorn their premises to stir joy and a festive feeling, lest they be seen to contribute to the gaiety. Not only should they not buy gifts, but they should find a polite way to refuse those proferred by others. They should shun the entire affair.

Since this is so impractical, opponents of Christmas find themselves impure. National Public Radio, a tax-supported agency, (think the public square),uses the word “Christmas”. They must grind their teeth every time they find it impossible to avoid. They broadcast the St., (Saint!) Olaf College Historic Christmas Festival. The American Civil Liberties Union, whose dogma imbues the content and tone of NPR, does not publicly approve of this. How can they attack our local high school choir for singing sacred music by Bach and others, and traditional Christmas music, while allowing NPR to bring notoriety to St. Olaf and Christmas itself? They are caught in a contradiction.

It is hard work being a secular humanist in a nation of believers, especially at Christmas.