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Friday, January 22, 2021

Logging the forests near Rome: We know only the "overstory"


Above, at the foot of Monte Cavo (north side), practically on top of the via Sacra, 2019

Italians - like people everywhere - have been cutting down forests for centuries, if not millenia. As hikers, we have our own irritations with logging (described below). More important to us is the ecological damage of continually cutting down an essential natural resource. Italy is not exactly the Rainforest, but it has been a land of trees for centuries, and now it isn't so much. 

Besides reading about the disastrous burning of the Brazilian Rainforest, we've read other recent pieces that have brought to the fore the destruction of this natural resource. One we recommend is Richard Power's "The Overstory," a 2018 award-winning novel that fictionalizes Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Her thesis, illustrated in Powers' book and in a recent New York Times Magazine cover story, "The Social Life of Forests," is that trees communicate underground, and therefore have an "understory." What we see and live in is only the "overstory." 

The cutting of old growth trees - and any forest trying to establish itself - becomes a tragedy to Simard, both the real professor and the novel's central character. 

Quaresima Legnami is a timber- and wood-sales company;
Facebook page here. "Legnami" meaning "timber."

It's difficult to hike in the forests closest to Rome and not feel the  pain of this tragedy. At the top of this post is a photo of a not-very-old forest we saw being mostly denuded the last time we hiked Monte Cavo in the Colli Albani outside Rome. We were on the 2,000 year-old via Sacra when the path dumped us out into this horrific (to us) scene. A bulldozer was in action, and the operator got out and tried to wave us away from the destruction - as if he didn't want us to see what they were doing. The Colli Albani are rightly well-known for their timber, especially the area between Monte Cavo and Velletri (the "Velletri ridge"), where there are plenty of designated hiking and biking trails.

You can see the bulldozer on the right, back, in the photo above, and closer in this photo below:

The guy in the cab of this bulldozer is the one who got out to let us know we were unwanted.     

And here's where we ended up - from via Sacra (left) to these lovely bushes (below, right). My guess is - though I can't prove it - that the company bulldozed right over the via Sacra. (We featured a couple of these photos in a 2019 post on our favorite hike in the Colli Albani, complete with lunch spot.)

One can argue that the loggers are at least leaving a lot of trees standing - to form a new forest in a few years. Even someone as uneducated as I am in these matters can raise several questions. One is that the loggers are cutting timber that already is not very old. The second is that they are not providing essential bio-diversity (according to the writings cited above); and third, they don't tend to the trees left standing, which can become endangered. Evidence of that is these remaining trees that we saw in a nearby area from an earlier cutting: they are overgrown with vines that eventually will kill them (photo below).

2017, Colli Albani

One can also argue that, because logging is a centuries-old practice, it should continue. We still have plenty of forests in which to walk. Right is a photo of Monte Cavo from 2016 (couldn't resist what we like to call the "fauna") that shows trunks growing out of one space - in other words, from a tree that had been cut down earlier.

And, logging in Italy also takes us back to the carbonari - the carbon-workers, who logged trees to burn them and turn them into (then) valuable carbon.  We wrote about this in our post on Mussolini's bunker on Monte Soratte, about 25 miles (40+ kilometers) north of Rome. Left is our photo of a mock-up of a charcoal kiln on a "didactic" side trail we took on Monte Soratte. It
explained the "carbonari."  The practice apparently dates back 3,000 years, and is active in a few spots in Italy even today (see here for a nostalgic view and here for amazing photojournalism - scroll down for the photos).

I'm not in fact interested in the nostalgia, per se. I'm interested in what we humans in the 21st century - having learned a lot in the past 50 years - are doing to the planet. Our photos above of logged areas and logging are from just a couple of the times we've encountered vast expanses of totally logged areas of the once-gorgeous woods near Rome. We hope there's some effort to control this practice.

(A postscript below with some photos of my life with trees and logging. My Dad took me backpacking in the Cascades in Washington State, among old growth forests. I didn't know how lucky I was. He grew up at the foot of those mountains, in the small town of Snoqualmie - photo below of him with his two best friends and business partners in those mountains, clearly surrounded by those trees. My paternal grandfather worked for Weyerhaeuser outside of Snoqualmie, and had his own, private sawmill [photo below]. An uncle on my Mom's side [my Italian side], also photo below, grew up in a valley near those mountains, and was a lumberjack in these forests.)


Dale Bennett (the tall one in back) with Joe Proctor and Bill Norstrom, on their way to Deep
Lake, 1949.

My Grandma and Grandpa Bennett, me, and my Dad, at
my Grandpa's private sawmill (looks like a lot of logging
had taken place behind this spot).

Dino Andrealli and Dianne (woodhouse
for the family farmhouse behind);
he later became a lumberjack,
 a hazardous occupation that
ruined his health.

1 comment:

Dianne said...

from Anthony Miksak:
Could not agree more with your sentiments. Here in my northern California locale, we have many miles of (cutover) forest lands to the east, and a large part of it, our actual backyard in fact, is designated Jackson State Demonstration Forest.

Local people concerned that the forest continue and continue to be used as recreational land as well as some timber production have formed a wonderful group (link is here) to "steward" the forest. Yet despite the general sentiment, the state government has ticketed large tracts for cutting as soon as the winter rains end.

It's a sad and difficult story everywhere.

con affetto, Tony