And What of the Trees?

One year into the Trump presidency and it ain’t pretty.  Minority and immigrant’s rights are being trampled and verbal assaults are commonplace.  It seems more like a school playground than America.  Black Lives Matter (BLM), #MeToo, Sh*thole countries, Joe Arpaio, Steve Bannon; dissing “the other” is suddenly okay.  Chauvinism is not confined to people.  I’ve witnessed decades of interspecies prejudice and the consequences are just as hurtful and sometimes lethal.

We must point out this ugliness when it occurs in the barest terms.  What I’m referring to is the heretofore unlabeled tree classism that I call bigo-tree.  Both professionals and neophytes arbor-trarily place some species above others. Thus, we have an established system of Linnaeus’ classification occurring alongside a crudely promulgated arboreal intolerance.

Honestly, I have my own tree biases.  I carry no great love for nonnatives that enamor our city planners.  I’ve rejected those over-planted blue spruce (Picea pungens x domestica) so favored by town folk bent on establishing overnight shade.  The symmetrical blue spruce of Butte, Boulder, Bountiful, or Baker looks nothing like it’s wildland relative, though it may now exist in greater abundance than its natural cousin.  Be it spruce, linden, ash, or sycamore these foreigners exhibit insatiable thirst while tapping regional aquafers at a sprawling pace.  Tree-litism takes many forms.

It’s easy to pick on imported or crossbred specimens of our humanized world.  What gets under my bark are the demeaning proclamations on native trees; as if vocational title—forester, range manager, botanist, fuels specialist—endows god-like powers to decree good and bad in the tree world.

As European-based forestry marched across America in the early 20th century resource extraction was king and only fast growing ‘timber’ species were favored.  All others were banished to the apartheid of arboreal under classes.  This caste system committed the “unmerchantables” to a fate of staggering abuse, if not outright genocide, in the name of progress.  In the West, aspen, birch, cottonwood, piñon and limber pine, and others were burned, bulldozed, bashed and otherwise berated to make way for preferred stems.  In a sort of Jim Crow of forestry, these species were figuratively spit on for decades.

My farther-in-law, a trained forest hydrologist, considered cottonwood a “weed” in the early 1960s and he did his best to denude the Black Hills of this troublesome broadleaf.  Across the West, aspen too was thought to impede production forestry.  Down it went by way of D9 Cat, clearfell, stem girdling, even chemical warfare.

Piñon-juniper forest are common in the West, yet many managers continue to disparage these trees because their twisting and multiple stems don’t conform to silvicultural standards.  Undeserving of industry standards, they’re often debased as “woodlands” or “pigmy forests.”  Of no use upright, they’ve been assaulted by massive “chaining” projects because they had the nerve to “encroach” on rangelands.  This parallels the pithy slurs on Haiti while propping up Norway.  Bigo-tree is a festering canker on western values!

“Ecosystem management” was supposed to redeem us from past embarrassments and inject a new spirit of objectivity and egalitarianism in our forests. Once we found ecological value in the previous outcasts, however, new tree outcasts emerged.  Now aspen, mountain maple, and Gambel oak give us diversity.  Fire brings diversity AND rids of those now-nasty…firs and pseudo-firs!  Sometimes called “piss firs,” these demons are encroaching on our less-than-healthy forests.  We found a new tree enemy and persecution, name-calling, and subjugation is the obvious solution.  Down with ‘overly dense’ firs and up with ‘park-like’ pines!  Ethnobotanic cleansing replete with clean imagery.

And on it goes.  A new era brings another round of dendro pariahs.  Like the parade of nationalities crossing Ellis Island they look different and don’t act like we expect them to, so we denigrate their very existence.  Maybe their fruits are too big, too abundant, or just messy.  Perhaps they burn readily when we build too close to them or their self-pruning limbs clutter the forest floor.  Humans, the great arbor-trators, may never see the forest for the trees, so absorbed are we in how they should look and perform to our liking.

Bigo-tree is palpable as we hominids selectively cull bad from good.  Ask the grizzly bear about the whitebark pine or the eagle about the cottonwood.  Trees, like humans, animals, and water play many roles. Forests are an infinite tangle of roots, processes, and notions.  As we tinker with trees or fiddle with forests, it may benefit all to consider letting firs be firs within the larger morass where we are only one, often prejudiced, element.

Paul C. Rogers is the Director of the Western Aspen Alliance and an academic ecologist.  He lives in Logan, Utah when he is not traveling and working around the West.


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Do We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring