A conversation in Daily Review last night about transitioning marginal farmland away from stock prompted this post about the values of wilding pines.
This is a 20 year difference:
Robert Guyton made these points,
… the way ahead is forward into trees, not back into livestock. Pinus radiate and its brutal management is the worst of choices and doesn’t represent the model I’m promoting, but neither does livestock farming. Foresters have a long way to go to up-grade their practices to something appropriate for the situation we find ourselves in now, but at least they are planting trees; moving them from monocultural thinking to multi-faceted, forest-based thinking will be aided by circumstance, in my view; the climate and the change in thinking resulting from that will force changes rapidly and that’s what I’m banking on and that’s why I cheer-on the planting of trees. Wilding pines reclaiming high country sheep stations is a good example of marginal land being turned into forestry, wouldn’t you say?
Robert then laid down a challenge,
Wilding pines are not useful in the conventional sense; they don’t produce straight timber for a start, but we are not thinking deeply or strategically enough about them. If we regard them as an enemy that has to be destroyed, we will lose the battle we’ve set ourselves. Better to harness the irrepressible force that they are and use them for our benefit, somehow. It’s that “somehow” we have to explore.
… I’m suggesting taking a different approach and looking at all the “weeds” of the world, not as enemies, but as allies. It’s not immediately apparent how this would work, in specific situations such as wilding pines, but that’s because we haven’t applied our clever minds to the problem using that lens; we’ve just stuck with the “bash our way through” mentality and that’s left much of the world bashed-up.
How about we have a go at applying our clever minds and deeper thinking. Comments welcome below in a similar vein. Here are mine.
A couple of uses for wilding pines that I can see. One is firewood. We already have some initiatives to use wilding pines for industrial fuel, as a more integrated solution. It’s certainly an improvement on the current slash and burn approach. But it’s unlikely to improved the local ecosystem because one of the drivers is to keep certain landscapes bare and iconic. End use biofuels have GHG emissions. Chipping for biofuel is an industrial solution to a problem created by an industrial mindset.
Instead we can take our cues from nature. Conifers have a strong capacity to be productive, and they are adaptive to landscapes that humans are having trouble growing things and where natives species are struggling to re-establish themselves. Pines are already there, giving a substantial headstart over humans planting seedlings themselves. Pines are better at selecting where to grow in order to survive.
An alternative to chipping/biofuel would be allowing wilding pines to create forests and then sustainably log them for firewood for locals. With the right management it would be possible to make this carbon neutral or even a carbon sink. Instead of seeing the pines as a problem that is isolated from their environment, we can see a reforesting solution with the pines integrated into a system of localised climate response. We need more trees, we need to restore landscapes and protect biodiversity. We need fuel for warm shelter, hot water, cooked food. We need climate resiliency for wind and drought events and so on. All those things in one design.
The other, related use then, is to use the power of wilding pines as a way to regenerate to other, mixed species. There are other plants that will share space with Pinus so long as the trees have enough space between them eg by selective logging for firewood. What that mixed forest then gets ‘used’ for would depend on the geography and local needs. We could for instance be reforesting this way for its own sake, for food, for recreational spaces. The above idea about firewood too.
Pine isn’t the greatest of firewoods, but we don’t have to burn it forever, because now we have changed the local ecosystem so it is easier to grow trees that are better suited to the task. A polyculture forestry profession arises. It’s easy to see how the above ideas would create jobs and support local economies. Lots of wins.
There’s a couple of issues here that make that difficult. One is the attachment to iconic high country landscapes. I think the solution to that is to choose as many of those landscapes as we need to and that are appropriate, put a philosophical and management boundary around them, and put resources into returning them to native spaces. This will alleviate the discomfit that many feel in letting pines grow everywhere.
The other is that New Zealanders have a love/hate relationship with Pinus species. We grow a lot of them, build our houses out of them, but hate them when they exhibit their natural piney-ness by expanding their range and by being allelopathic and preventing other things from growing. But our view of pines is skewed by our history of growing them in monocrops. What we need now is living examples of mixed forest where pines have a place but aren’t dominant.
There are lots of challenges to what I am suggesting. How to stop the spread of pines and other wilding species into native systems. How to manage different geographies with regards to climate, weather and terrain. But these problems become easier once we start working with nature instead of against her.