Opinion

Destroy the trees, kill the root hairs

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Remember Dr. Don Huber?

He's the microbiologist who says Monsanto's herbicide, glyphosate (Round-Up) does more than kill weeds by reducing their ability to absorb nutrients. It nukes the same micro-organisms in the soil needed for food plants to absorb nutrients.

This includes the corn and soy we eat – most is genetically modified to survive glyphosate – and the alfalfa that meat animals are fed in the U.S.

Huber warns of fewer nutrients in our food, and negative health affects from consuming herbicide indirectly. The eco-system is a complex community of interdependent organisms, and we are what we eat.

Enter, Herb Hammond, a self-described "recovering forester" who co-founded the  Silva Forest Foundation, a B.C. organization that helps communities implement responsible conservation-based economies.

Hammond's focus in timber use is not on targets for production but, "on what to protect ... and then on what to take."

The ecosystem remains functional. Biodiversity is maintained, beginning with life in the soil.

These ideas form the sacred ancestral knowledge of aboriginal people like the St''at'imc Nations near Lilloet. In June, Hammond was there to address the International Indigenous Leaders Gathering, an open four-day event called Protecting the Sacred. Its aim was to honor ancestral wisdom – a lifeline for Sta''at'imc troubled youth – and to enlist people of all cultures in sustainable resource practices before it's too late. The Lilloet report diseased farmed salmon in their river now. Mother Earth, they say, is in crisis.

Hammond knew about Huber's research of micro-organisms, and had a story of his own about the importance of microscopic entities that are essential to trees.

"In Labrador, I was teaching young Inuit how forests function," Hammond says. The topic was the carpet of fungi in the ground; trillions of organisms in the soil. These fungi are connected to the roots of plants. They transfer nutrients to them through osmosis. "It's a symbiotic relationship," says Hammond.

Destroy the trees, you kill the root hairs.

At one point, Hammond was surprised by a young Inuit who told him his people had always known about this, but didn't use the word, fungi.

"They called the unseen entities, soil hairs. Indigenous culture doesn't have to take things apart to see how they work. It just accepts that fact. It's the starting and ending point for an ethic that won't change."

Hammond says this is a kincentric, or people-orientated approach to life. It's the belief that people and nature are one interdependent family. Any resource development, therefore, "is caring, inclusive, and welcoming," says Hammond.

People are seen as benefits, and the economy is community-based. Talk to anyone who lived through the Great Depression. Folks looked after each other; they shared the goods and services they actually needed. That's a community-based economy.

Kincentric principles guide the St''at'imc Land Resource Use Plan regarding the consumption of fish, wildlife, berries. It stipulates, "all resource development

"The forests provided indigenous people for millennium," says Hammond. "All they had to do was maintain it and they had berries, deer. All basic needs – air, food, water, shelter – came from forests."

Contrast this ethic with the B.C. government's relaxation of clear cutting restrictions in forests and its impact on the ecosystem. Streams will be muddied, churned up by vehicles, buried; the potential for salmon spawning decreased even more.

"Small streams," says Hammond, "even the small ones where salmon don't spawn, produce the water temperature and clarity salmon need. They multiply to make the habitat."

The Enbridge Pipeline has destroyed forest, according to Hammond.  "Extracting oil from the tar sands has resulted in the destruction of thousands of hectares of boreal forest, the most important terrestrial ecosystem for regulating global warming."

Hammond says resource practices like this are anthropocentric – human beings are the centre of the universe, and everything else is there to serve them. "It's an ethic that drives the consumer focus, the clear cuts, the urban sprawl."

In anthropocentric thinking, people are not seen as benefits, and opponents are the "costs" of doing business. They're dismissed, called "radicals," derailed by legislation. Ad campaigns are ramped to convince the public that it needs corporate products.

"Corporations have created false needs," says Hammond.

The resulting products that reflect those needs, "are taken out of the trees, the rocks, the soil. We can't do that anymore."

People are finding ways to promote the kincentric ethic within their own communities. Hammond says they will "build a critical mass leading to dramatic constructive change.

In June, we saw proof of that in Richmond when council joined five other B.C. towns by banning genetically modified crops within its boundaries. Monsanto, who had representatives there, lobbied in vain against that decision, but it was heralded by a packed chamber of citizens who don't want GMO vegetables or meats.

The next battle will be to have all GMO foods labelled. Dr. Huber will be smiling.

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

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