a10 – Reflections on a fallen forest

By Big Yew

In late June 2023, mourners gathered at the site of Box of Rain, a publicly owned legacy forest in northern Washington State. Until a few months ago, the temperate rainforest eco-system there was moving towards recovery after being logged over a century ago. Big ferns and little white three-petal trillium flowers blossomed like mandalas in the green mossy undergrowth, as Clearwater Creek splashed at the forest’s base in a perpetual tumble towards the Nooksack River. All that is gone now.

Box of Rain was a public forest, owned by the people of Washington State. Many were opposed to the clearcut, and perhaps that is why the logging began suddenly, in the middle of the night, during a wet cold snap. The trees were gone before allies could be properly rallied, the land ravaged and ripped apart. 

The logging was arranged by public officials, specifically the Washington State DNR (Department of Natural Resources) under the leadership of Hilary Franz. Many have shared sassy tweets from the Washington DNR Twitter page without realizing that this very agency has been offering up our public forests wholesale to be clearcut by the highest bidder.

Presently, over a dozen publicly owned legacy forests are under the threat of clearcuts in Washington. Each forest is unique and important. Clearcuts must be resisted for many reasons — to protect ecosystems, to maintain carbon sinks to help mitigate climate change, and also, in the case of forests near rivers, to help prevent flooding that continues to increase because climate change has already begun. 

You may remember the deadly Nooksack River Floods of 2021. University of BC studies have shown that that logging next to rivers worsens flooding, and these floods were preceded by a series of alarming clearcuts of forests in the Nooksack River watershed. Box of Rain was just the latest of these. This new clearcut will make the next floods worse.

Back in 2021, we celebrated a huge victory, when, after a concerted campaign of publicity and public comment, another publicly owned legacy forest in the area, Upper Rutsatz, was saved. It seemed as if perhaps Washington State was finally going to end its lamentable policy of clear-cutting public forests. But then they came and chopped down Box of Rain brazenly, despite public pushback.

The felling of this forest is part of a larger pattern of deforestation that is causing great harm to all life on Earth. The Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated that deforestation is responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Many are coming into awareness that the only true wealth is the planet’s habitability. A legacy forest is more precious than jewels or stocks. Our planet’s living ecology is the only true wealth we have.

Many of us became emotionally frozen after the loss of Box of Rain. It boggles the mind to try to understand why others would destroy something so precious. It is truly terrifying to be aware of the value of a forest like this, while others seem to be caught in a trance, a sort of trauma-fueled death march, making our planet less habitable for temporary individual gain.

As we do our important work to defend the planet and all living things, it is vital to remember to stop and grieve. Taking time to grieve together is a way to help our hearts heal, a necessary thing if we want to be able to keep fighting for what is left.

On June 27, 2023, a ceremony was held on the former site of Box of Rain, amidst the barren stumps. As part of the ceremony, we evoked our ancestors and brought water from our homes and poured it upon the ravaged land. Some of us shared poems, stories, music and things we’d created to honor the fallen forest. On this page,you can find words that were offered that day by Jillian Froebe. Unless we learn to make time and space for these forms of grief, these things will keep happening.

In Washington, we hear the line that “clear- cuts are necessary to fund public schools.” Yet school officials admitted to the Seattle Times in 2021 that these brazen acts of deforestation barely fund a percentage of a sub-category of school budgets. These acts of ecocide are being “kid-washed,” with schoolchildren being told this is happening in their names, when that is simply not true. Adults need to step up and find smarter ways to balance the budgets. Schoolchildren would be far better served by having a habitable planet to grow old on.

The tide is rising. May we soon find a way to heal these earth/self-destructive patterns. 

No system but the ecosystem.