Friday, April 22, 2011

Planting Trees for Peace

In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

I heard her give her Nobel speech one chilly December morning while I was flipping channels and was quite struck by her story.  This woman has such passion and strength, and had such courage in the face of immeasurable obstacles.  On top of all that, she is just plain feisty.  We need feisty.  Lisa Merton, the co-director of the film TAKING ROOT, attested to this feistiness when she came to our college to talk about the making of the documentary (clip above).  I invited Lisa to come speak about her experience working with Maathai and to share her film with our PSU students a few years ago.  I'm so glad I did.  It is a moving and epic story -- truly a testament to the power of ordinary people and trees to transform the planet!

Kenya was under a harsh dictatorship in the 1970's when she founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights.  Maathai made the connection between the environment and human dignity -- impoverished women in rural Kenya did not have access to the resources they needed because their forests were so degraded by decades of exploitive colonial land use practices which continued under the corrupt post-Independence government.  

When Maathai tried to empower local women by asking them to plant trees, she became a target of the brutal regime's attacks.  She was arrested, tortured, molested and subject to death threats by government authorities.  She would not be silenced, however, and the people rallied to her cause.

Today the Green Belt Movement has planted ONE BILLION trees on this planet.  Amazing what a little hope and a lot of hands can do!

Here is an excerpt from her inspiring Nobel Lecture, the full speech can be found at the Nobel Prize website, link below.  Take the time to read it, it is worth it:

In 1977, when we started the Green Belt Movement, I was partly responding to needs identified by rural women, namely lack of firewood, clean drinking water, balanced diets, shelter and income.
Throughout Africa, women are the primary caretakers, holding significant responsibility for tilling the land and feeding their families. As a result, they are often the first to become aware of environmental damage as resources become scarce and incapable of sustaining their families.
The women we worked with recounted that unlike in the past, they were unable to meet their basic needs. This was due to the degradation of their immediate environment as well as the introduction of commercial farming, which replaced the growing of household food crops. But international trade controlled the price of the exports from these small-scale farmers and a reasonable and just income could not be guaranteed. I came to understand that when the environment is destroyed, plundered or mismanaged, we undermine our quality of life and that of future generations.
Tree planting became a natural choice to address some of the initial basic needs identified by women. Also, tree planting is simple, attainable and guarantees quick, successful results within a reasonable amount time. This sustains interest and commitment.
So, together, we have planted over 30 million trees that provide fuel, food, shelter, and income to support their children's education and household needs. The activity also creates employment and improves soils and watersheds. Through their involvement, women gain some degree of power over their lives, especially their social and economic position and relevance in the family. This work continues.
Initially, the work was difficult because historically our people have been persuaded to believe that because they are poor, they lack not only capital, but also knowledge and skills to address their challenges. Instead they are conditioned to believe that solutions to their problems must come from ‘outside'. Further, women did not realize that meeting their needs depended on their environment being healthy and well managed. They were also unaware that a degraded environment leads to a scramble for scarce resources and may culminate in poverty and even conflict. They were also unaware of the injustices of international economic arrangements.
In order to assist communities to understand these linkages, we developed a citizen education program, during which people identify their problems, the causes and possible solutions. They then make connections between their own personal actions and the problems they witness in the environment and in society. They learn that our world is confronted with a litany of woes: corruption, violence against women and children, disruption and breakdown of families, and disintegration of cultures and communities. They also identify the abuse of drugs and chemical substances, especially among young people. There are also devastating diseases that are defying cures or occurring in epidemic proportions. Of particular concern are HIV/AIDS, malaria and diseases associated with malnutrition.
On the environment front, they are exposed to many human activities that are devastating to the environment and societies. These include widespread destruction of ecosystems, especially through deforestation, climatic instability, and contamination in the soils and waters that all contribute to excruciating poverty.
In the process, the participants discover that they must be part of the solutions. They realize their hidden potential and are empowered to overcome inertia and take action. They come to recognize that they are the primary custodians and beneficiaries of the environment that sustains them.
Entire communities also come to understand that while it is necessary to hold their governments accountable, it is equally important that in their own relationships with each other, they exemplify the leadership values they wish to see in their own leaders, namely justice, integrity and trust.
Although initially the Green Belt Movement's tree planting activities did not address issues of democracy and peace, it soon became clear that responsible governance of the environment was impossible without democratic space. Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya. Citizens were mobilised to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement. In Nairobi 's Uhuru Park, at Freedom Corner, and in many parts of the country, trees of peace were planted to demand the release of prisoners of conscience and a peaceful transition to democracy.
Through the Green Belt Movement, thousands of ordinary citizens were mobilized and empowered to take action and effect change. They learned to overcome fear and a sense of helplessness and moved to defend democratic rights.
In time, the tree also became a symbol for peace and conflict resolution, especially during ethnic conflicts in Kenya when the Green Belt Movement used peace trees to reconcile disputing communities. During the ongoing re-writing of the Kenyan constitution, similar trees of peace were planted in many parts of the country to promote a culture of peace. Using trees as a symbol of peace is in keeping with a widespread African tradition. For example, the elders of the Kikuyu carried a staff from the thigi tree that, when placed between two disputing sides, caused them to stop fighting and seek reconciliation. Many communities in Africa have these traditions.

It seems to me that the world can use a few more staffs made of the thigi trees just about now.  Maybe Mr. Obama, our own Nobel Peace Prize winner, has forgotten the roots of his ancestors.  It would be wise for all of us to remember the lessons once taught by the African elders and find a place for reconciliation and peace in our hearts...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Van Morrison -- making the forest cool, hip and sexy!

Somehow I missed this earlier... but one of my favorite vocalists has a song about the woods...

Thank you Van Morrison.

In the Forest 
(from the 1993 album "Too Long in Exile")

By the sacred grove, where the waters flow
We will come and go, in the forest

In the summer rain, we will meet again
We will learn the code of the ancient ones
In the forest

By the waterfall, I will hold you in my arms
We will meet again by the leafy glade
In the shade of the forest

With your long robes on, we will surely roam
By the ancient roads, I will take you home
To the forest

In the forest, in the forest
In the forest, in the forest

With your long robes on, we will surely roam
By the ancient roads, I will take you home again
To the forest

Satisfy the soul baby
Birds sing all day long of the mother lode
We can let it roll, in the forest

With your long robes on
I know where you’re coming from
By the big oak tree you’ve gotta come and go with me

In the forest, in the forest
In the forest, in the forest

By the waterfall
I will hold you in my arms, and we will meet again
By the leafy shade, in the, in the forest

Satisfy the soul
Birds sing all day long of the mother lode
We can surely let it roll, in the forest

With your long robes on
I know where you’re coming from
We will surely roam, down by the ancient roads 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Weeks Act story by Mr. Bennett's 5th grade class

Two days ago, this video was posted to YouTube by an area elementary school teacher.  What a wonderful piece of New Hampshire history.  KUDOS to Mr. Bennett and his 5th grade class.

I thought I'd share it with all of you as a follow up to the piece I wrote on my blog two weeks.  This dramatic reading says it much better than I could. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

High Stakes of High Power... Special Guest Blogger: Sally Manakian

FEATURED GUEST BLOG by Sally Manakian, 
Backcountry Resource Conservation Manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club, in New Hampshire

The high stakes of high power transmission lines, and time for public input 

In recent years, northern New Hampshire residents have struggled with the pros and cons of renewable energy proposals, from wind to biomass. These projects offer jobs, tax revenues, and a commitment to renewable energy sources, but also raise questions of environmental and scenic impact in an area dependent on tourism. Most of all, these proposals inevitably involve the strong land connection of North Country residents for their family farms and historic forests.

The most recent project is quickly becoming the most controversial: a high voltage direct current 1,200 megawatt transmission line connecting New England’s power grid with renewable sources in Quebec, known as the Northern Pass Transmission line. The line, projected to cost $1.1 billion in construction, would meet some of the needs of power-importer states hungry for renewable sources, mostly Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The proposed route of the line crosses the border at Pittsburg, and travels to Franklin by hugging the western border of the state. Using current rights of way, the 140 mile line would require 40 new miles as well as updating the current line to the high voltage direct current capacity towers that are 90-130 feet high.

(What does 90-130 feet high look like? If your average telephone pole comes ¾ of the way up a tree, that same tree comes only 1/3-1/2 of the way up a 130 foot tower.)

The 2010 release of the preliminary routes for the transmission line made the proposal a reality and a controversy for residents of Coos, Carroll, and Grafton counties in New Hampshire. The controversy began when they saw the line cut through scenic vistas and private land in Stewartstown, the local heritage and tourism destination of the Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, the quiet Town of Easton, and the Appalachian Trail as it crosses the Kinsmans in the White Mountain National Forest.

The federal process for this project requires a Presidential Permit for the crossing of an international boundary. The Department of Energy (DOE) must determine that the proposed action is in the public interest, weighing the various impacts as it does so, before a Presidential Permit is issued. AMC has intervened in opposition to the project.
Fight the Northern Pass t-shirts

The DOE accomplishes this through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), culled in part from public comments, either written or spoken. This past week the DOE held a series of public scoping sessions across the state: Pembroke, Franklin, Lincoln, Whitefield, Plymouth, Colebrook, Haverhill. They were attended by 200, 300, 400 and up to 700 at Plymouth.

If you are interested in submitting written comments, the deadline is April 12. Submit written comments here. In the uniquely New England way, the public scoping sessions were passionate displays of public engagement and politics. AMC staff attended most of the scoping sessions, and I myself attended Plymouth’s and Colebrook’s.

The proposed routes through Colebrook are new rights of way that would invoke eminent domain and the taking of land. Citizens spoke of their love of the landscape and their love of life, and a very tangible fear that their lives will be dangerously affected by this powerline project: affecting the view, affecting their forests, and affecting the land their grandparents are buried on.

One in particular was Mark McCullock; I worked with Mark in the woods in 2010 at Eliza Brook campsite, we ate backcountry meals and we worked as a crew and we built a shelter together. During that time, Mark spoke often of his home, 70 acres of maple trees, ponds, hiking trails, and the house his built with his own hands.

The proposed line would cut directly through his sugar orchard.

When Mark spoke at the EIS scoping hearing in Colebrook, he went over his designated three minutes as he spoke of the effects on his property and his livelihood. The moderator informed him that he was thirty seconds over, a minute over, and eventually that his time was up. Members of the audience shouted out to let Mark continue.

As Mark broke into tears, he said “thank you for giving me three minutes to defend my 25 years on my land.” There is a connection to the land that one develops as a trail worker, a caretaker, a steward. There is a direct feeling of shovel into earth, a disruption to land. The alteration of terrain, expressed at the human powered level.

When I consider the effects of transmission lines, I consider the alteration of terrain. The disruption to ecosystems, an impact that we can’t take back. I see the roads and infrastructure that are created to build the lines, and that stay behind to maintain the lines. I see the visual break in the landscape.

I do not own property in the corridor line, but a proposed route crosses the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in the White Mountain National Forest within half a mile of Eliza Brook Shelter. I have a deep physical connection with all AMC campsites because of the nature of my work, but I also feel an especially deep connection with Eliza, having spent the past field season dedicated to her renewal through rehabilitation and a new shelter.

AMC’s is one of many conservation organizations that have weighed in on the Northern Pass project, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and N.H. Audobon. In their motions to intervene, they speak powerfully of the need for intact landscapes, ecosystems, and wild recreational experiences. For example, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is currently facing pressure from energy projects all along the 2,000 miles of its length; the ATC and AMC both asked what the cumulative impact of powerline and wind projects would have on recreation as well as the primitive experience hikers seek during four months on the trail.

There are a variety of ways to educate yourself about the Environmental Impact Statement that the Department of Energy is putting together. There is, also, opportunity for everyone to comment on the process. For those who recreate on or along the Appalachian Trail in the Kinsmans, or who value intact landscapes, your voice should be heard.

Go here to comment in the public scoping period, which ends April 12.

Here are a selection of links to educate yourself more on the project overall: ; -  posted by the developer -  North Country opposition—Bury Northern Pass (North Country Opposition) -  Official U.S. DOE site ; -   North Country Council -  Conservation Law Foundation
Sally Manakian with her compost bin at one of the RMC's back country cabins.
Sally Manikian is the Backcountry Resource Conservation Manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club. She manages the Backcountry Caretaker program, which staffs AMC's remote campsites with caretakers in the summer. She is engaged in community and economic development initiatives in Northern New Hampshire that promote sustainable use and promotion of natural resources. She is on the Board of Directors of the Randolph Mountain Club, the Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority, and the Androscoggin River Watershed Council, and is on the steering committee for the Coos County Community Benefits Alliance, the EESE Board's Education and Outreach Committee, and Berlin's Local Energy Committee. She is a former adjunct professor for PSU's Social Science department, and is a current dogsledder. She lives in Berlin, NH.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Celebrating the Woods -- The Weeks Act of 1911

New Hampshire's National Forest featuring the White Mountains.
Pictured here: Mt. Washington, 6,288 feet tall.
Known as AGIOCOCHOOK or "Home of the Great Spirit"
before Europeans (and the General) arrived.

The Weeks Act, named for Rep. John Weeks (R-MA), was signed into law by  President William Howard Taft on March 1, 1911, and gave the federal government the authority to create national forests across the east, changing the face of New England through the establishment of the White and Green Mountains national forests. It is thus one of the nation’s most important pieces of environmental legislation.

John Wingate Weeks, 1860-1926 born in Lancaster, New Hampshire
has a footbridge over the Charles River on Harvard's campus named after him, too!

I live on the edge of the National Forest and, as you might have gathered from following my blog, I love the woods.  The White Mountains are my backyard!

I'm in Thornton (lower left hand side of map) and just a 10 minute
drive from the Kancamangus Highway with breath-taking views...

So the day before yesterday, when I heard a colleague and friend of mine, historian Dr. Marcia Schmidt Blaine, give a wonderful talk on the history of the Weeks Act and logging in New Hampshire on the NHPR (New Hampshire Public Radio), I was thrilled.  It reminded me how fortunate I am to live in this part of the world -- this part of the world where we celebrate WILDERNESS, where we love our woods!  

Folks come for all over the country (and especially from beloved Massachusetts) to visit our mountain tops, forests and pristine lakes.  How lucky can a person be -- to be at the center of all this!  What an honor to live here.  And what a responsibility to keep it safe for generations.

As the spring thaw sneaks up on us, slowly, like a lethargic, stealthy lamb (still being chased by that LION), I look at the water richness all around me.  As the ice burgs in the Pemi river shrink and as the snow melt rushes down from the mountains nearby, I'm reminded of how essential our rushing, bubbling rivers are.  One part of the Weeks Act focuses on water -- kind of important to the growing of tress and the biodiversity of our forests!  The legislation provides  "...for the protection of the watersheds of navigable streams, and to appoint a commission for the acquisition of lands for the purpose of conserving the navigability of navigable rivers."

We sometimes forget how important the health of streams and rivers are to us -- and how vital to our own sustenance these waterways remain still, though we often don't think of them beyond the aesthetic pleasure they provide to us on hikes into the woods.  Spending three weeks in India carrying buckets of well pumped water out into dry forests to quench saplings in the hot sun this past January surely helped me appreciate water in a new way.** 

More than just being pretty, I experienced first hand how water is life.  Maintaining strong clean networks of water flow is essential to keeping our aquifers healthy.  As ecology and Buddhism keep reminding us: it is all connected.

"The [Weeks] Act further allowed for lands so acquired to be preserved and maintained as national forests. Prior to this time, on 1 February 1905, control over the forest reserves had been transferred from the General Land Office of the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. Responsibility for these lands was given to Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot. With these lands he gained the power to issue permits for water power development on National Forests. The Weeks Act appropriated $9 million to purchase 6 million acres of land in the eastern United States!!" (wikipedia).

**Footnote: It may be interesting to note that India actually had one of the first scientific forest management systems in the world, introduced during British rule in 1864.  The British Raj created the Imperial Forest Department that year and appointed officers were sent to Germany and France to learn the most modern forestry techniques.

"In the north the two key northern proponents were the Appalachian Mountain Club (1876) and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (1901). Without their indefatigable coalition building, and persistent lobbying in public meetings, congressional hearings, and through the media, we would not have 52 eastern national forests.

Without these lands, our watersheds would be less green, potable water less pure, scenic vistas less stunning, and economic life less vibrant." -- Char Miller, Director and W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College

In addition to water, the Weeks Act focuses on fire.  Fire control, to be exact.  It was a HOT topic in the early 20th century.  Marcia Schmidt-Blaine discusses how, before the Weeks Act, timber companies clear cut whole swathes of forest and left nothing it is place but kindling.  Without trees and roots to hold snow and water, severe floods were common place in the springs.  Forest fires in New Hampshire in 1903 after a severe drought devastated parts of the forest.  Some towns were completely surrounded by forest fires and mills had to be closed down so all the men in the town could go fight the fires.  Ashes from this 1903 fire fell from the sky for days, like snow, in the middle of summer.

For photos and more on this story:

Stopping the wholesale destruction of the woods looked nearly impossible at the turn of the century.  There was a lot of money to be made chopping down trees.  Powerful timber companies had a lot of clout in the State and Federal Legislatures.  Big business and big bucks outweighed local concerns about conservation.  Legislative bills introduced to save the forests in the late 1800's and the first decade of the 1900's were largely ignored.  Logging tycoons bought up tens of thousands of acres of forest in New Hampshire, alone.  Another friend and local historian, Dr. Linda Upham-Bornstein, talked about the impact this had on the local economy.  Unscrupulous sawmill operators set up shop in remote regions, bringing jobs and opportunities for rural people for a few months at a time, before clear cutting the forests and clearing out of town with full pockets.  Rural economies boomed and then went bust.  Portsmouth and Boston were 'benefiting' from logging, N.H. was not.

The 'fire season' of 1910 greatly influenced this legislation because it raised havoc across the western United States, especially in the state of Idaho where fires killed 85 people (72 of them firefighters), burned more than 3 million acres and destroyed an estimated 8,000,000,000 board feet of timber and put the US Forest Service 1.1 million dollars in debt.
(wikipedia- "Weeks Act")  

Having seen the devastation of forest fires in the White Mountains myself, I appreciate this.  A constant reminder of the Weeks Act, and the good work that private-public partnerships have done to reduce fire risks, is the series of fire towers which dot the mountain ridges throughout the National Forest.  The Presidential Range is home to several fire towers, which remind us constantly (as oft we need reminding) that we are quite small when it comes to the ravages of natural (and man-made) disaster... but with diligence and care we can preserve our heritage.   To me, this preservation isn't just for tree huggers, it's for us all.

Carter Dome Fire Tower, 1938.

The Weeks Act saved the forests from bad business and the resultant fire threats clear cutting caused.  Legislation provided means for cooperation between the state and federal authorities when it came to fire control.  Wilderness conservation won out over big biz.  

Today, trained environmental scientists and forest management service teams regulate timber cutting in the National Forest.  The focus is on limiting development in the forest area and maintaining sustainable logging practices.  Since 1911, other protective legislation (the Wilderness Preservation Act, 1964 & the Endangered Species Act, 1973, etc.) helps maintain the multiple uses of the forest -- which include recreation and research, in addition to watershed conservation and lumber.  

Unlike a National Park, which emphasizes preservation, the National Forests focus on conservation and the careful attention to the 'multiple uses' that the forest has for the greatest number of people.  Logging continues to be a part of that conservation but it is directed by thoughtful and scientific forestry -- siviculture -- which promotes reforestation and re-growth, as well as responsible logging.  Today, we call the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire "The Land of Many Uses," in fact!  

This is a far more sacred and holistic way of living with the forests, in my opinion, than to just rope them off and restrict access to them, as some extreme preservationists promote.  The woods are living spaces, and as such, deserve to be seen as a dynamic and evolving place in which we, as part of an eco-system, can live out our social, spiritual, cultural, commercial life, in a balanced way.  Harmony of interests and identities isn't such a bad goal, in my view.

For more on "The Land of Many Uses" and my friends' amazing interview, see:

Providing habitat for wildlife and bio-diversity is also central to the good work of the National Forest.  As you may recall from my first blog post (December 26, 2011) my dog Rimbaud is especially grateful for the critters and the delicious smells they leave throughout the forests when we go hiking.  (For instance, he loves rolling in dead moose carcass).  Having not been out for a trek now for close to 4 months, I miss the thrill of discovery and the adventure of the mountain trails.  I miss the smell of trees and grass.

Now, as I sit outside glancing at the whiteness that blankets those critters and their tracks, 
I wonder how the moose are doing.  We're entering our 5th month of snowfall and I can't but help thinking they've gotta be almost fed up with the frosty flakes, too.

Snow falls in large wet lumps outside my window on this April morning, as I gaze out into the forest and I long for those days of dry, green, wilderness exploration...

My hard core, outdoorsy friends would tell me to shush up and strap on some snow shoes but I'm not that much of a winter wilderness girl (I confess) and on cold days like this I prefer to watch the woods from inside, at my warm fire, curled up with a history book (or web page).  It makes me a wilderness wimp in some folks eyes.  But it doesn't make me love the woods any less!  Even armchair ecologists can love the woods in the winter.

The Weeks Act reminds me of those forestry professionals out there maintaining the ecology and managing the forests (even as we speak) so that folks like you and me can be out and about, romping, appreciating, loving and learning in the woods.  They are a dedicated and spirited group of workers.  They love the woods in a way I can't even fathom.  And my heart goes out to them, especially during our long, frigid New Hampshire winters.


Happy April Fool's Day (no joking) to the good people of the forest: the down hill skiers, the snow shoers, the ice fishers, the snow hikers and campers, the timber management teams, the rangers and forestry professionals.  To all of you who love the wild woods, even when it sits buried beneath feet of April snow... I tip my toque.  You are wilderness heroes!

Hang in there, folks.  In a few months, it will look like this...