‘Wild Lands’ really was a voice in the wilderness in 1909

Too bad we’ll never know the real identity of "Wild Lands," as he signed himself in a lengthy letter to the Cowichan Leader in 1909. He’d written to suggest that British Columbia should institute a Forest Department in place of the existing free-forall as was the case of timber licensing in those days.

The editor thought his proposal "would help to maintain [B.C.] as the finest fir and pine producing country in the world". More than a century later, with all the benefits of hindsight, let’s see what Wild Lands had to say…

After identifying himself as a former civil servant in Britain’s "Indian Forest Department," he thought he might "do something towards showing to what extent such a department might be applied to this country," particularly as B.C. had "enormous forests still untouched; we have simply to preserve and not to reconstruct nature…

"How great will be the heritage of our children if, in view of the immense destruction elsewhere, we can by judicious management keep our forest area in full bearing, and how easily this may be done!" Curiously, he viewed most forested lands as being unfit for anything other than animal habitat. His answer to reducing the loss to forest fires was to create fire-breaks; not those spontaneously cleared by firefighting crews, but done on a large-scale, systematic basis by creating alternating blocks of standing trees during the logging process.

He then somewhat contradicts himself by championing selective logging as opposed to clear-cutting: "When the lumbermen have cut out and utilized the sound, full-sized trees then is the time for the forest department to step in and close the section until the undersized growth has had time to mature… This closure at the proper time must be insisted upon because the timberman having cut out all the good trees, will be strongly tempted before he sets up his mill elsewhere to make what use he can of undersized trees and portions of the damaged ones…"

Clearly, Wild Lands is out of sync with today’s avowed industry philosophy of extracting all salvageable wood and of value-added. As for the waste treetops and branches, they had to be disposed of, he wrote, as they impeded new growth and were a fire hazard. He didn’t specify how he thought this should be done but slash burning would seem a logical surmise.

Then he touched upon an aspect of commercial logging that is a nerve-point for many today: "I cannot understand the advisability of allowing logs to be exported from any part of Canada to the United States. Why should not our lumberman be properly protected and allowed to saw up the logs themselves? If it pays as well to sell logs as to saw them up, then I think that an export duty should be put upon them sufficiently high to keep the sawing in our hands, and by that means give employment to a much larger number of hands.

"It is a very great pity that so much timber is used up in the shape of pulp for paper making. [He’s certainly out of line with modern philosophy here. Bear in mind that he was writing of a time of primarily first-growth forest.-TW) The man who can invent an equally cheap and less wasteful source for paper-making would truly be a benefactor to mankind." Rather than those lands already logged being converted to pasturage, he suggested that they be allowed to return to forest thus "forming a continual source of revenue" to the Crown.

For B.C., "the extermination of [publicly-owned] forests to any large extent…would be productive of lamentable consequences. Our watersheds are very steep, and when the soil becomes hardbaked by long exposure to the summer sun, the rain, unable to penetrate, would rush down into the rivers and cause floods to which our present inundations are by comparison trifling.

"These consequences may appear far off, but if anyone will look into the yearly increase of our lumber output and the rapidity with which foreign forests are disappearing, he must readily perceive that the demands to be made upon our timber supply in the near future will be sufficiently great to cause serious uneasiness as to its permanence unless we act as other countries have long ago found it necessary to do.

"By proper management we shall not decrease our output – we shall simply render it permanent, while as competition lessens through foreign inability to meet demands, we shall be able greatly to enhance our prices..". That said, he thought cedar was doomed to near-extinction because logging upset its environmental balance, and that most second-growth was inferior because it produced more knots.

Deforestation, he warned, would mean decreased rainfall and deplenished watersheds (sound familiar?) and, ultimately, "not a sound to replace the ring of the woodsman’s axe save perhaps the clink of the miner’s hammer".

He thought that the decline of some great civilizations could be linked to the destruction of their forests. What do you think? Was Wild Lands on target in 1909 with his ideas as to how logging should be practised in B.C.? Was he Cassandra or heretic or a bit of both?


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples encourages groups and organizations in the city to take advantage of Duncan’s DOVID-19 grants program. (File photo)
Still lots of money left in Duncan’s COVID-19 grant program

Council has approved just three applications so far

Ultra runner Jerry Hughes circles the track at the Cowichan Sportsplex as he nears the end of his six-day Canadian record attempt and fundraiser in November. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Six days on the Cowichan Sportsplex track for ultramarathoner

Record bid misses, but fundraiser a success

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley was passed up for a cabinet position by Premier John Horgan. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Routley left off the list of NDP cabinet ministers again

Premier Horgan opts for some newcomers in key positions over experienced MLA

Protesters stand in front of a truck carrying logs to the WFP Ladysmith log sort. (Cole Schisler photo)
Protesters block entrance to Western Forest Products in Ladysmith

Blockade cleared by Ladysmith RCMP around noon, December 2

Cowichan RCMP rally against gender-based violence. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Cowichan RCMP mark campaign against gender-based violence

16 days of activism runs until Dec. 10

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Most Read