There’s a right and wrong way to do everything
Finally, it’s becoming almost trendy. Understanding inner mechanisms to work in tune with nature is, of itself, energy efficient. Nature study is essential if we wish to take proper care of the little planet we inhabit. We can benefit simply by imitating nature—it’s called biomimicry. For instance Velcro was invented by imitating how burdock seeds hitch a ride on animal fur. There’s synthetic sharkskin with many practical applications; new adhesives that imitate gecko feet; ultra strong medical materials that mimic spider silk, and so on. We’re steadily gaining ground in using tides and wind and sunlight to produce power—allying ourselves with natural elements instead of despoiling them with carbon emissions and other pollutants and toxins.
Building a home and locating it within a landscape is a situation where we can work with—or ignore—nature. The Romans had design recommendations for temperate as well as hot climates. In our latitudes they advocated locating the house to face south. To maximize solar gain and interior space, 2,000 years ago the Romans calculated that the long side of the house should have southern exposure and be one and a half times its width (eg. 36 X 24).
The home I built is tucked deep into a hillside, tapping subsurface ground temperatures for warmth during winter, and coolness in summer. Facing south (instead of the road) enables both active and passive solar systems. Electricity is supplied by solar panels. Supplementary heat is provided by a few cords of local wood. Technically simple, and requires no fossil fuels.
Farmers who clear land and channel all of the soil and solar energy into one crop often learn the hard away about the diseases, insect infestations, droughts, floods and impoverished soils that can result. Herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers are enlisted in the battle to produce a crop. Many employ crop rotations, but organic methods are more ecologically sound by mimicking nature’s ways. Such farmers carefully develop a regime of animal grazing, applying manure and compost as well as planting strategies that avoid many of the pitfalls of large-scale monoculture farming.
Forests Converted For Pulp
Many woodlands in this region have been degraded by centuries of successive harvests. Rich associations of hardwoods, softwoods and ground cover plants that offered many wildlife habitats and produced good quality, freshwater for streams are being skinned alive. Clear-cutting has eliminated crucial local, original tree species seed sources. Clear-cutting exposes the forest floor to sunlight, impoverishes soils, alternately floods then dries up streams, and promotes poor quality tree species regeneration. Nutrients are washed or blown away, and soil fungi that promote tree growth are killed. Nature’s natural regeneration patterns are turned upside down.
After clear-cutting, site preparation and planting often follow. Herbicides are sprayed to kill hardwoods, often using taxpayer dollars. Hardwoods tend to be more deep-rooted and contribute valuable nutrients to the soils where they grow. Hardwoods are also better adapted to climate change than shallow-rooted softwoods.
Planted clear-cuts focus on single-aged softwood species and a monoculture grows. Softwood needles render soils more acidic and less productive. Vulnerabilities to fire, diseases, blow down and insect infestations increase as wildlife and their habitats become extremely sparse.
Unplanted clear-cuts regenerate in red maple, aspens, grey birch and poor quality softwoods like balsam fir and spruce. These were minor components of the Acadian forest.
Nature is being overpowered on a scale visible in satellite images.
Ecologically healthy forest management guidelines exist. Why are we not working in concert with nature regarding forest management? Clear-cutting is the cheapest way to produce fibre and generate the most short-term profits. At what long-term expense to the natural world? Successive provincial governments have not managed public forests in the public interest.
Forests Grown Naturally
More than 40 years ago I purchased 56 acres of former farmland that nature was busy reclaiming. Tree species that grew in on open pasture dominated—firs, spruces, wire birches, red maples and poplars.
Earlier farmers had left some trees for shade for domestic animals in the pastures. I gradually located a scattering of these original tree species—eastern hemlock, red spruce, white pine, black and white ash, yellow birch, sugar maple and red oak—characteristic species of the original Acadian forest.
Where these trees provided a seed source, I favoured their young seedlings by protecting them from porcupines, deer, mice, rabbits, beavers and even muskrats. I also opened a modest hole in the canopy of leaves and needles over each young tree to let sunlight stimulate growth. This imitates having an old tree in the forest fall down. Cutting down a few trees around them, I left those trunks and branches on the forest floor to replenish soil nutrients, similar to composting a garden.
Where no seed sources existed nearby, I cleared openings in the forest canopy and planted young Acadian trees that were suited to each particular site. I also planted tree species that might be the best climate change survivors.
Today, roughly 48 tree species are interspersed throughout the property. Many trees are producing copious quantities of seed and a new, healthy forest has been established. Native ground cover plants are recovering, and trees with wildlife cavities now abound. When the spruce beetle moved in and killed many of the original spruces, woodpecker populations swelled. A black bear adopted a den I built, and goshawks nested in a hardwood I favoured. As the waterway slowly improves, new fish species arrive from the harbour. A shallow dug well that supplies the house has never gone dry.
Working with nature pays off in many ways, for humans and for the many wildlife species with the misfortune to share a planet with a species like ours.