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Forests, Woods, Plantations, and Groves
A Woodsman's Lexicography

by Jim Britell


One of the many problems in talking about the forests is the way words are used and defined. This is not an abstract problem. A large timber sale recently flared into increased prominence when a large tract that had been described to environmentalists as "second Growth", and assumed by them to be a plantation or a replanted area, turned out to be "native forest". It had never been logged. It was an area that had come back after a fire perhaps 150 years ago. The expression "second growth" had radically different meanings to the parties.

Some language problems are exacerbated by what seems to be a persistent tendency by "foresters" to use language to conceal rather than reveal. For example, take the expression "harvest unit". The word "harvest" has many warm and comfy associations: turkey, a warm fireplace and the family farm gathering in the crop before the winter. In fact this word originally meant "Autumn" -- actually September -- and describes the act of gathering or reaping of crops. A "unit" means any one of a number of things that are identical or equivalent. Most environmentalists believe that this term is used to romanticize or mask the true meaning of the word which usually is to clearcut an area. Increasingly the word "harvest" is being used to mean to kill. As in "harvesting" deer or bears.

In agriculture words are often used to soften acts which domesticated man finds repugnant; for example, we eat beef not "cow meat"; pork not "pig meat".

Abraham Lincoln once asked his cabinet, If you call a dog's tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? When his cabinet responded "five", he laughed and said that no matter what you name a dogs tail, it only has four legs.

Actually this problem has become widespread. It seems that the people who name things try to always label things the opposite of what they are to shape and mold the way we think about them. For example, the most unsanitary thing in Curry county is the "sanitary" landfill (the town dump). Another example is the War department which was renamed the Defense Department. Or they renamed the Unemployment Office with a host of upbeat titles all of which the public refuses to use. In a recent meeting a "timber beast" referred to me as a "preservationist". Actually I like that word, but had the impression that it was being used as a pejorative label, so I said that I wasn't a "preservationist" I was an "environmentalist" and that we saw ourselves in the middle between the "preservationists" and the "devastationists". We didn't hear the "P" word any more THAT day.

One word that gives a lot of trouble is "forest". The definition of this word is: an extensive area preserving some or all of its primitive wildness, usually having wild animals. An extensive plant community in all stages of growth with a closed canopy, having the quality of self perpetuation and of potential development into an ecological climax. It comes from the Latin word meaning "outside". Similarly, a forester is a person who watches and protects the forest. "Deforest" simply means to "divest of forests". Now if we have a 500 acre block of old growth fir I think we all agree that we have a "forest" and if someone is out there protecting it with all the required silviculture skills then we would agree that this person is a "forester". But if we begin removing the trees in many places of the forest then are we not "deforesting" or perhaps "disafforesting" if not the whole forest, at least portions of the forest. And would one not agree that whole parts of states and whole forests have been actually and practically deforested using the same practices and planning systems that are now in use in our local forests?

But, as my favorite Ranger says, "The trees are replanted, the area is reforested!" This argument fails on three grounds. First, an area can be deforested even if no trees are removed from it because reducing the size of the forest will bring it into the proper definition of a "wood", which is a small forest less wild in character. If reduced even further, it becomes a "grove", which is a small "wood". Checkerboarding an area with clear cuts could "deforest" the cutover and the uncut area because none of it is forest any longer. Secondly the trees planted are mostly the same age and so fail to meet the critical test of uneven age. The fact that the trees are never intended to grow to ecological climax means that another critical test is failed. "Reforestation" usually means the creation of an area of cultivation which is sometimes erroneously referred to as a "plantation". This word is not exactly accurate because the word plantation has an implied aspect of continuous cultivation and tropicality. There is a proper word for what is created by so-called reforestation and that is "tree farm".

A tree farm is a tree covered area managed as a business enterprise under a plan that makes continuous production of timber possible. Thus, "foresters", whose function is to "deforest", may fairly be called "deforesters", and the resulting product "Deforestation" -- or perhaps they could be called "Plantationeers" or "tree farmers".

Actually there is another word for a person whose job it is to be the foreman in charge of the felling of trees and the removal of logs. In older times these persons were called "woodsmen". In todays more sensitive and enlightened parlance, we might modernize this to "woodspersons".

In summary much of Oregon's native and Ancient forests are being deforested by clear cutting the forests in order to create tree farms. This process is being supervised by woodspersons and tree farmers.

©1992 Jim Britell
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