Forest as Machine? The Working Forest?

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Thanks, Bill, for posing the question. What do you think?

(By the way, no familiarity with Organic Machine or any other literature is considered necessary to chime in, everyone.)

Is the ‘forest’ an abstraction that might be replaced by another, such as energy? How is it like or unlike rivers in this way? Is the forest an organic machine – a hybridized blend of ‘nature’ and people that produces energy? What are the implications if we label it thus?

Some random thoughts as follows:

I think of the term ‘the working forest’ immediately when I reflect on this. In British Columbia, this was deployed by the Integrated Land Management Bureau in 2003 to describe a proposed policy that ‘enhances long term forestry management’ and provides land use certainty to protect jobs and investments. It was opposed by environmental groups and considered to be giving the land to corporate interests.

See its objectives in more detail here if you wish: This phraseology was taken up and used by some companies, notably Canfor, to depict the forest as a productive place, and forestry management as essential to that. (It’s also reminiscent of arguments that old growth forests are decadent and wasteful, and that harvesting and management of them makes them into valuable, more efficient and ordered forests.)
What does the working forest mean? How does this term elide certain other definitions of the forest and promote certain agendas?

On another tangent, energy and work certainly are central themes to forest history. However, they have been so in a way that garnered for forest history a reputation, as Nancy Langston puts it, as being ‘mired in detail that appeals mostly to retirees who share an unusual obsession with steam donkeys and railroad lines.’ There are a lot of ways in which the idea of what is considered productive labour in nature is at the heart of debates over forest land use. I point to Richard White’s “Are You an Environmentalist, or Do You Work for a Living?,” and to the arguments of workers who claim a productive and knowledgeable relationship to the forest through their physical labour.

Richard Rajala also does something to amend this reputation of forest history with his trenchant analysis of labour and of the factory regime in the forests of the northwest. Might his book, for those who have read it, hint at the forest as machine?

Featured image: Photo by Jack E. Boucher from the Library of Congress.

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