Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Environmentalist, Spawn of the BC Ministry of Forests

One day when I was in Grade 4, I came home from school with one of those colouring posters that shows a slice of forest ecology; here's an owl, here's a tree, here's a deer... In the lower corner of my poster was a logger. When I showed my mother my completed artwork, she said to me of the loggers "Your daddy builds the roads for those loggers." Thus, a piece of colouring homework provided the initial site for ongoing, sublimated feelings of guilty shame in my father and I.

My mother had no sooner uttered those words than I began a righteous tirade. I confronted my father, as much as it could be said I did so considering in Grade 4 my head barely reached his belt. I chastised him for allowing foresters into the forest to cut down the trees and indignantly asked him if he knew that he was damaging the forest ecosystem and ruining the environment. My father put in for a transfer to Highways later that week.

He didn't stay for long and my burgeoning environmentalism seemed to pass like a mere fancy, distracted as I was by things like ballet lessons, baseball and the transition of moving mid-school year. But as it turns out, when we each get stripped down to our core values my dad truly loves his job and believes in the purpose set for him by the Ministry of Forests and I am inevitably seduced by the call of conservationism.

Odd as it may sound, this schism of ideology doesn't hurt our relationship. In fact it has virtually no explicit influence on us at all. Our divergent and opposed beliefs work upon us by far more implicit venues. We are affected by a mutually held guilt that our beliefs let the other person down. The only evidence of its effects rests in two instances. In the story I have just told you, my dad felt he was somehow not living up to the person his daughter expected him to be and attempted to change. Over the past weekend, we negotiated the same dynamic.

The past year has been quite a trial for me in terms of career and life goals, the result of which has been a switch for me from studying Victorian Literaure to pursuing a career in environmental and animal studies (academic or otherwise). One of the catalysing factors for this change was a class I took on the fetishization of the West Coast forest. To make a long story short, I was lucky enough to present my final paper from that course at this year's ASLE conference, where it and I was embraced with open arms. I now have to offers for publishing, an invitation to join ALECC and a network of people in the field of literature and the environment to contact about future plans. David Suzuki was in the audience when I presented my paper.

Afterwards, I phoned my dad and shared my success with him. With a mixture of pride and embarassment on both sides, he congratulated me and told me to be happy with what I have accomplished. But not without calling David Suzuki a forestry basher and asking me if I told everyone that logging was evil and we should stop all human infringement on the forest. I said "No, I think we should log it all [it being the Pine Beetle forest], start processing our own lumber instead of shipping it to Japan or the States, and allow for natural burn-off." Then my dad was truly proud of me. We seem to have found some sort of common ground, united by pragmatic acceptance that it is in the best interest of all stakeholders to come up with the best possible forest management practice. The forestry industry doesn't want to dessimate the forest - that would be the end of their existence. And as far as conservation goes, I'm not a traditional conservationist. I do not believe that no forest management is the best forest management and I also don't think that preventing human use of the forest is a feesible option. I don't think this new position would have been inhabitable to me without the emotional tension underpinning my childhood. Perhaps it has helped pave the way for a new avenue of environmental education - for lack of a better phrase, conservational/environmental pragmatism.


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