Green Tip # 3: Eco-friendly wood and paper products

An old growth cedar in Avatar Grove, Vancouver Island. Probably older than the Magna Carta.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to visit the annual fall fair in my hometown of Langley, British Columbia- Canada. The event, Country Celebration has been happening as long [if not longer than I have been alive] in one of Langleys’ most well-known and loved parks Campbell Valley; which is only spitting distance from the US-Canada border.

Usually it isn’t until the annual Country Celebration that I finally get into the fall mood and accept the demise of summer, by begrudgingly putting away my summer wallet in favor of my more practical winter wallet.  This year, having missed the festival since moving to Victoria for university, I was especially looking forward to re-living some of my childhood memories, such as visiting all the vendor and environmental advocacy booths. It was at one of these booths [in the past] that I was first made aware of the importance of the Pacific Salmon run and harvest to the indigenous and non-indigenous people of my province.

So, as you can imagine, it was good to see that this tradition was alive and well, at the 2011 iteration of the Country Celebration; as the kids were not only learning about the salmon but also about ‘alien’ invasive species in between stuffing handfuls of cotton candy into their mouths. The fair isn’t just a family event though it is also very important for the seniors in my community. This annual fall fair gives them an opportunity to connect with our fading agricultural past, not just in the Langley but across the Lower Mainland.

On a related note, I spoke to one gentleman a week ago in front of the municipal government building following a town council meeting. Apparently his granddad was one of the original non-native settlers/farmers in my community back in the 1800s. Before last month I had no idea that you could grow wheat in Langley, I didn’t think that the rainy climate would permit it, but apparently back in 1897 Langley produced approximately 1700 tons of wheat. Wheat was likely one of the crops that this older timers’ grandfather grew. I was flabbergast when this same individual told me, that his granddad tried to haggle with the Hudson’s Bay Company- who was in the land speculation business in the Lower Mainland in the late 1800s. Apparently the mans’ grandfather thought that $22 per acre was too prohibitive to start a venerable farming enterprise with. Can you imagine?

A nurse log in Avatar Grove, which has become part of the trail.

Anyway, back to the main story, so as I was ‘hob-knobbing’ with two old-timers from the Langley Farm Machinery Museum discussing there buggies on display,  which where the equivalent of the family minivan and the Ford F150 truck a hundred years ago. I broached the subject of lumber which has become a favorite interest of mine  after reading the Golden Spruce by John Valliant this summer; so I have been trying to find ways to split my own cedar shakes [for roofing and siding purposes] with an old fashioned furrow and a mallet. Sadly though, they informed me that even if I could find a furrow and mallet it would be of little use to me, because the 2nd generation Western Red Cedars that are still being harvested now are substandard. Apparently, without being treated- the most that can be expected out of them is about ten years of life before they begin to rot away.

This was slightly off-putting to me, because as I had learned in university, I thought that cedar was a naturally available and waterproof material that was frequently used in the construction of housing and the creation of water-resistant clothing by the First Nations people in British Columbia for centuries. I had heard somewhere that first growth cedar, used as shingles will last upwards of thirty years- my parents home is proof of this.

Scorched earth. One of the sadest and most maddening experiences of my life thus far. This usable wood, was burnt and left to rot. This shot was taken by Jessie on an abandoned logging road about 15 minutes outside of Avatar Grove. The road was at about a 45% grade.

This as it turns out was the case when we had a bounty of old growth cedars left in this province as late as the early 1960s, but since the 1980s there has been a precipitous decline and an almost total disappearance of old growth cedars for logging and construction purposes. Things are so bad now, that the odds of finding a needle in a hay stake [a favorite fall far activity by the way] are greater than finding a stand of unprotected old growth cedar trees. The one gentleman said, that if I was lucky I could find some old growth cedars on Vancouver Island. Unknowlingly on his part, I had this summer.

In a place about 45 minutes outside of Victoria called Port Renfrew on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, is a magical place called Avatar Grove. Corny I know, but an apt name. Standing in the shadow of giants is the only way that I can best describe this experience, teetering across nurse logs the size of my old basement suite was one of the most humbling experiences I have had or likely will have.  Sadly though without the continued conservation work of organizations like the Ancient Forest Alliance and the Western Wilderness Community- my unborn children will only be able to see these majestic trees in power-point slides.

That is why the presence of the Forest Stewardship Council and their sustainable wood harvesting certification process are so important and vital. Although we don’t have much old growth to protect, we can and should do a better job conserving and utilizing the stock of second growth trees that we have left in North America. So,  when you next visit Home Depot ask the sales representative to direct you to the FSC certified wood. Here is some food for thought when your considering buy timber or even paper products:

  • Try to buy paper that is made of 100% Post Consumer Recycled (PCR) material.
  • It takes 19 full grown trees to produce 1 ton of virgin office paper.
  • Chlorine bleach used to make printer paper creates dioxin a carcinogen.
  • Buying pulp, paper and wood products with Forest Stewardship Council certification (FSC) supports sustainable forestry practices.
  • Purchasing FSC products increases demand and supply of sustainable wood and paper products.  
  • It takes 70-90% less energy to make recycled paper than virgin paper.

Hopefully together we can prevent clear-cuts such as the Carmanah-Walbran on Southern Vancouver Island from ever happening again. As John Muir, co-founder of the Sierra Club understood humanity and nature are co-dependent, this is something I will be considering the next time, I walk through the woods with my friends and or other loved ones.

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