Monday, August 8, 2011

Culturally modified trees. Ancient loggers in Hardy Inlet

A "CMT" -  culturally modified tree – in the Hardy Inlet area, near Rivers Inlet. 
"What's that?" I asked my "tour guide," pointing to a clump of standing timber in the middle of a small cut block. We were driving up from the Hardy Inlet log dump into an area currently being logged by Ironside Contracting out of Campbell River, and Otto Schulte (the younger) is driving.

Otto is a forest engineer for Interfor, the company that holds the "chart" for this part of Hardy Inlet on BC's mid-coast. I don't think of myself as an "old guy," but hanging out with young guys like Otto makes me realize there has been a passing of time since my days in the woods. That passage of time is also evident in what I'm seeing as I fly over, and drive through, parts of Vancouver Island and the Mainland coast where active logging is taking place. The monster clear-cuts of my logging youth, and even the mid-sized clear-cuts of my early 30s when I was planting,  are now greened up. The new cut blocks tend to be pretty small compared to what I'm used to. They're often also interrupted by creekside leave strips, and clumps of standing timber, large and small. Right now I'm pointing at a small clump, with some big standing cedar in it. Why was it left?

"There's a CMT in it," says Otto. "Want to take a look?" And he pulls over and begins to answer my next question as we climb through the slash on a steep hillside towards the cluster of trees surrounded by logging waste.

What's a CMT?
Forest engineers are the people who hike through the standing timber hazarding encounters with grizzlies and cougars as they lay out the cut blocks, roads, landings, falling lines, etc with map, compass, and chain. As they go through the ancient forest they may notice CMTs – culturally modified trees. That is, trees (or, as in this case, a stump) showing evidence of First Nations' forest uses pre-dating the mid-19th century, perhaps evidence that points to habitation and forest uses up to 5000 years old. Often archeologists are part of the mix when preparing a site for logging. An engineer may happen on a CMT by chance; it's the archeologists' job to go find them, record them, and flag them. Once they're identified, they're ribboned off, as this one in the picture was, and an area around them is left standing, safe from the fallers' saws.

This CMT
The Owekeeno people have been in the Rivers Inlet area for a long time, using the forest as a resource for many things: canoes, fibre, poles, etc. This stump (about 1.5 metres across at the top) was quite a way up-slope and inland. Falling trees of this size is hazardous, hard work, even using chain saws. The tree that once stood here (how many 100s of years ago is hard for me to guess) was felled using stone tools.

The first log lay just down-slope. It too would have been cut from the large tree using stone tools. It looked like it had had planks removed from one side. Most of it was still lying there. Which also boggled my mind: all the effort to cut this giant to the ground, and then to leave most of it where it fell? What was the story here?

The engineer I was with suggested that the height of the cut, with no evidence of spring boards, suggests it may have been cut in the winter with considerable snowpack around the trees. A deep snowpack may have made it easier to move large pieces of wood down to the water as well. As for why so much of the tree was left, he had no guesses.

When was it cut? 
The age of the hemlock trees growing around and out of the stump suggests a long, long time ago, as does the degree of rot in this cedar stump (for those who don't know, Western Red Cedar is known for its resistance to rot). I'm guessing it was cut close to 200 years ago.

As I stood looking at the stump and the log that had been cut from it, in the midst of large devil's club and a handful of standing forest giants, I felt considerable awe. To my mind, I was in a sacred place simply because it was one of those places on the planet, like Stonehenge or the caves at Lascaux, that say, simply: others have walked, worked, perhaps worshipped here hundreds, even 1000s of years ago.

Things have changed in what happens in the woods today. Very cool.
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