The Game of “Cutting Trees”

I just listened to a podcast featuring C. Chi Nguyen, as heard on the Ezra Klein Show, that was fun, interesting and transformative (listen HERE). It talked about how governments and businesses strip out details and nuances on topics/issues/programs/actions, and reduces them to quantifiable numbers, such as grades, profit margins, clicks, etc. He goes on to say that when we play that game, then the game plays us, and we start to measure ourselves by how many “likes” we get, how many steps we take, what were your sales, and on and on. 

Orientation at the start of the hike

A short time ago, I took a short hike with 29 other people to a place called “Unit 2 Upper Rutzatz” that was recently slated to be clear-cut of all but a very few, very large trees. The Center for Responsible Forestry surveyed the area, and found it was a “Legacy Forest’; one that had been logged by white settlers around 1880, and subsequently regrew into a mixed species forest with trees now over 4 feet in diameter, and 200 feet high. It is also a watershed first least two forks of the Nooksack River that merge just downhill. 

Onward and upward!

The Center for Responsible Forestry (C4RF) mobilized their members, local residents, and members of other interested groups like the Mount Baker Group of the Sierra Club in writing letters to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to try and save this biologically rich and diverse area.

So, the DNR sees this as its game; how many board feet of lumber can they get from cutting the trees down, and how much money can they get by selling the rights to cut the trees? They DO have to abide by some rules in this game; how many trees over 4’ in diameter are there? Not many, but they must be saved. How many Cedar trees are there? Are there protected species there?

Made it to the end of the road

But this is a multi-player game, and environmentalists can play as well. How many letters opposing the sale can we get? How much testimony before the DNR committee will be heard? (And DNR changed the rules; only one hour of public input instead of two, and only two minutes per person, down from three. Announced on the day of the meeting). How many articles can we help get written? In the Upper Rutzatz game, enough public opinion was generated to get the DNR to postpone the sale from March to April. We will see what April brings.

And then we took our hike to Section 2. Here is a quote from C. Thi Nugyen that spoke to me:

“And games are toxic for me when we just get hyper-narrowed on the point system and we never think about the larger outcome of the point system. We never think about what our life is like or what the activity is like under that point system. We never think about what follows from it. The big worry with the impact of highly gamified external systems is it encourages us not to step into a game and [then] step back from it and think about the richness of the activity and whether it was worth it. What I’m worried about is those cases when the point system blocks out everything else from your universe and you don’t see any of the other stuff.”

C. Chi Nguyen as heard on the Ezra Klein Show

Our group walked about two miles up a steep logging road to reach the contested area. We saw a couple of trees with blue rings spray-painted around them: I asked Alex, one of the group leaders, what they were for. “Those are the trees that will be saved,” he said. Presumably they will be one of the eight trees per acre they are required to leave due to the rules of the game. Everything else will be cut down to ground level. 

Once we made it to the top, we found a small clearing where we sat and drank in the stillness of the forest, and in our minds’ eyes, compared this organically mixed-species regrown woods to the tree-factory feeling of a monoculture forest. As we sat there – men and women, boys and girls, and happy cavorting dogs – we were learning about this Legacy Forest, and others like it, and the benefits of preserving it.  A group of mountain bikers passed through; it was obvious we weren’t the only ones who saw the beauty and restorative properties in this area. 

Learning in and from the forest

Immersed in regrown nature, we found ourselves unplugged from the “Game of Cutting Trees” and let our thoughts and spirits wander amongst the Douglas Fir, Cedar, Hemlock, Broadleaf Maple, ferns, Oregon Grape and other plants. We were “thinking about the richness of the experience (of hiking and being in the woods) and whether it was worth it.” And it was, and our lives were enriched by it.

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