Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Desertification and Deforestation
As a forester, the subject of good forest and land management has always been the compass by which I am guided. To the layman who perhaps only observes the state of affairs of environmental circumstances by a cursory or passing viewing of snapshots or short documentary videos, an underlying analysis or the pros and cons of land management may never rise to the level of contemplation beyond what is offered in the photos or videos themselves. That is why good communications are important in the process of forming consensus land management decisions and more important in gaining consensus support among corporate and political backers. Make no mistake about it, even professional land managers act as political proxies when they present their plans to corporate, institutional and governmental authorities who have the power of the purse.
Without transmitting a clear understanding of what is good management, what is bad management, and what proposed improvements might look like, land managers are constrained in their ability to proceed without the financial and administrative support needed to maximize their effectiveness. All too often, that support is tied directly or indirectly to political encouragement and backing at the local, state and national levels. When it comes to support at the national level, the needed resources are almost exclusively tied to political support, from which financial backing flows. Or not.
As a personal anecdote, there was a case where a local governmental administrator accompanied the Footloose Forester to several sites where afforestation plantings of forest tree seedlings had just begun. Desertification was the issue at the time, as Cape Verde was in the midst of a decade-long drought. In passing a very small plot of local shrubs that were not part of the planting campaign but had, nevertheless, managed to survive beyond the mere establishment stage and were actively accreting and stabilizing soil, the administrator said, “show me results like this and I will support your efforts.” The Footloose Forester replied, “support this afforestation project and we will show you results like this.” The difference between our two views was temporal vision versus a projected vision.
Issues of desertification and deforestation touch the lives of people all around the world, whether or not the individual lives in a region where the effects can be observed first hand. Society at large pays a price for the effects of desertification and deforestation. Among the initial effects are degradation in soil fertility and soil erosion, and loss of forest and rangeland vegetative cover.
It matters little, in my opinion, whether layman or politician relates to the exact levels of desertification or deforestation in any given country. But support at the local level is indispensable in getting corrective action underway; and local people are often the ones who undertake the work at each stage. They certainly are the ones who bear the consequences of failure or enjoy the benefits of success.
On a grand scale, market forces, both local and international, drive rehabilitation initiatives. Market forces such as demand for animal products from rangelands and forest products from mature forests, wherever they are, are hidden factors that influence the worldwide decisions to augment the productive capability of land.
Land management issues may be vitally important in the scheme of local, national, or even global priorities, but public opinion still counts in getting and keeping interest high. One way to stimulate interest and guide next steps is through the use of survey polls. Polls have their place but unfortunately, even popular polls can distort the actual significance of proposed and ongoing projects. That is to say, going beyond the philosophical background of forest and land management practices as intellectual and practical precedents, the pedestrian viewpoint may always be the controlling stimulus.
A few raw observations may be used as examples. When boiled down to mere hackneyed slogans like DEFORESTATION is bad for the environment or REFORESTATION is good for the environment, the context of positive polling must be translated into action. The onus then is shifted to actually securing the funding, the workforce, and making an ongoing commitment to see things through. There is just as much concern about failure as there is hope for success. Therefore, pertinent research should be part of the grand effort to combat both desertification and deforestation. At stake are current societal needs and projected needs of the future. Meeting those needs, ideally on a sustainable basis, and within the context of the present-day biological imperatives of climate, soils, and population pressures are huge challenges. The factors that caused the land to become desertified or deforested in the past may be the same ones that newly afforested land may face in the future, not least of which are the demands made on the land by uncontrolled access by humans and grazing animals.