It Doesn’t Make Sense Environmentally Or Economically, So Why Does Canada Continue To Cut Down Its Remaining Giant, Ancient Trees?

TJ Watt’s photos of Old Growth Trees before and after logging in British Columbia. Source: The Guardian

Trees are seen as the quintessential renewable resource. Cut one down, plant one, and it all evens out. But this isn’t exactly true. Consider the 1,000 year old giant trees that make up British Columbia’s Old Growth forests. Ontario used to to have trees like these, massive White Pines that were cut down to become the backbone of the British Empire as ship masts. Ontario’s massive White Pine forests are now all gone. Most Eastern North American Old Growth is gone, along with the huge number of creatures that depended on these forests for food and shelter.

Ancient forests are not something you can grow back. If it takes a thousand years, it is not renewable. This was a fact put forward in a recent Sierra Clube report on diminishing BC forests entitled, B.C.’s Old-Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity and was also acknowledged in a following government report on old growth: A New Future For Old Forests: A Strategic Review of How British Columbia Manages for Old Forests Within its Ancient Ecosystems.

Now sure, if you want to, you can point to the large number of protected forests and parks that BC has. You can argue that old growth will be conserved. That there will always be some of it left. My argument though is that we shouldn’t be getting rid of any of it. Let me lay it out.

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Pandemic, Pine, and Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree

Finding the “true meaning of Christmas” is something Hollywood wants you to think is more ethereal and challenging than it actually is. When I was young it was about presents and Jesus. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized the real value of the holiday winter break is simply because it is the only time of year were a large number of people collectively get a break. Yes, this isn’t true for a lot of people. But more of us get a break than any other time of year. The meaning of Christmas is getting a break with those you care about. Nuff said.

What I am really saying here though is I’m officially homesick for Southwestern Ontario. I hate it. I’m thirty-three hundred kilometers away in Vancouver and can’t go home for Christmas.

What really has me aching, is how different the landscape is in BC this time of year. Especially the trees. The otherworldly massive evergreens of the coastal forests of BC still stupefy me, but they also leave me yearning for the snow-covered deciduous forests of Ontario. The climate is much too wet for Ontario trees to grow here.

However, there’s one tree commonly planted in Vancouver’s smaller parks that still reminds me of home…. despite not actually being from my home. It’s the original Christmas Tree. The European Red Pine. Commonly known in Canada as the Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris.

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A Tree of Two Worlds- On the Novelty of Pine’s Shade Intolerance

man standing surrounded with tall pine trees
A pine forest – @riccardomion via unsplash

Pine (Pinus spp.) trees fascinate me. Somewhere along their hundreds of million-year evolutionary history they decided to radically change their growth strategy away from their fellow coniferous, needle-leaf, trees. Pine trees instead adopted approach that was surprising similar to the new kids on the block, a new type of tree that was dramatically changing life on earth, the deciduous, broad-leaf, trees.

Coniferous trees (spruce, fir, hemlock) take a slow and steady approach to growth. While deciduous trees (oaks, maples, ash) live fast and die young. They grow in big bursts and don’t make it anywhere near the ages ancient coniferous trees can. Conifers leaves/needles last multiple years and are incredible efficient in water usage. Deciduous leaves typically only last less than a year, and their broad, flat surfaces use a large amount of water. Coniferous trees focus on growing tall with a long trunk and small side branches. Forming a triangular shape that helps them obtain immortality. Deciduous trees chase the sun, forming large branches that stick out every direction and angle.

Now it’s worth noting here that there are exceptions for every rule when it comes to plants. Its easy to find trees that behave differently to above generalizations (especially in diverse, intricate forests like the Amazon), but typically my generalizations above are correct. Having all these exceptions makes it hard to talk about trees. It’s one of the biggest things I’ve struggled with when blogging. How to generalize without misleading. How to find patterns and conclusions when there are always exceptions. It’s a wee bit frustrating.

However, there’s a rule about pine trees that I haven’t found an exception to yet. Pine trees seem to be the only conifer genus that has no shade tolerant species. This doesn’t sound like much, but stick with me. As I mentioned earlier, conifers take the slow and steady approach to growth. This allows conifers to become “climax species’”, which means they are the final form of species that end up dominating a forest. Slow growth + water efficient leaves is a combination that allows conifer seedlings to survive under the dense shade of other trees in a forest, biding their time till they can take over. Deciduous trees prefer open areas and grow best under full sun. Typically. deciduous trees establish a forest and then coniferous trees take it over.

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A New Way of Happening – On Leaving Librarianship

“Looking for a place to happen, making stops along the way” – The Tragically Hip

Ok so, about almost a year ago now (a lifetime in this pandemic) I made the choice to quit my career as a Librarian and go back to school to be a Forest Scientist. Going through this process kinda tossed me into a tailspin. A tailspin that I don’t know if I’ve completely gotten out of yet.

It was strange. I loved librarianship and it was a passion that consumed me. All I could do was think and write about it. A lot of people were shocked when I told them I was leaving. Mentioning that they thought I was the last person would leave this profession. People kept asking me Why? And I kept giving them different answers, because… well…. I didn’t really know. All of sudden I just hated it. Hated reading about it. Hated doing it. Hated even the parts I even thought I loved the most.

Now though I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and I think these 3 things happened and are why I left. In no particular order:

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The Death of the Street Tree: The Elms of Winnipeg and Guelph

The Winnipeg Urban Forest. Photo by JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

It’s become a bit of a running joke among my friends how much I love the city of Winnipeg. To them its a frozen city in the middle of nowhere that’s the butt of a lot jokes, but to me – ever since I first arrived there on a freezing cold January morning to find I was locked out because my landlord had given me the wrong keys and taken off on vacation to warmer temperatures – it’s the greatest city in Canada.

Winnipeg is a regular target of the Simpsons

However, this blog post isn’t my “In defense of Winnipeg” masterwork that fundamentally alters how Canadians perceive their national geography (Keep an eye out for that though!). I just want to talk about one specific thing I love about Winnipeg here: The Trees.

Trees don’t do well in cities. Concrete compresses the soil and stops roots from expanding. Pollution stunts their growth and leaves them open to disease. In Canada they especially don’t do well because of the road salt over the winter. Come spring, leftover salt draws the incredibly important spring moisture out of a tree, deforming and essentially starving it to death. Ever wonder why you don’t see a lot of evergreen trees in downtown areas compared to leafy ones? No tree deals will salt that well, but it’s especially deadly to evergreens. Outside of cities (and away from humans) trees can live for a hundreds of years but in cities only about half of trees make it to 20.

White Pine (left) and White Spruce (right) are evergreens for which roadside salt is deadly. Images from TreeCanada

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How much are we undercounting Open Access? A plea for better and open metadata.

It’s still pretty early days for measuring open access journal articles. For a long time the only reliable way to determine if an article had an open access version available was via a Google Scholar title search. You can’t get at Google Scholar via an API or web-crawling (because of the Captchas they have in place), so any attempt to mass pull open access data from Google Scholar is a long and painful process.

There were/are a number of tools trying to mass capture open access though, ones that

  • pull and merge open access content from repositories (e.g. BASE )
  • index full open access journals and their articles (e.g. DOAJ)
  • capture journals that become free to read after an embargo (e.g. PMC)
  • collect individual copyright statements for published articles (e.g. Crossref)

The brilliance in Unpaywall  is in how it pulls these all these sources together to create one database (Green, Gold, Bronze, and Hybrid). One that allows mass gathering of open access data but also easy use for individuals looking to find an OA version of a single article.

Being able to mass obtain data about open access publications opens all sorts of doors that were previously closed. We can see what kind of information is available to those without institutional access. We can start collecting open access articles and do fancy analysis of them with text-data mining and algorithms. We can track Research Funder OA compliance. We can measure where OA research has practical benefit to researchers.

Unpaywall is only as good as the data in can find though and that’s what I want to talk about.
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Are Mirror Journals Just Hybrid Open Access Journals In Disguise Or Are They A Viable Route To The Open Access Future?

Developments in the open access world seem to be moving at a lightning pace lately. Plan S has added a realism and urgency to OA discussions. Never to be behind on any ‘scholcomm’ development, Elsevier has started a pilot program of launching what they are calling ‘Mirror Journals’.  Open Access (OA) ‘copies’ of existing peer reviewed journals. Journals that are “fully gold open access but share the same editorial board, aims and scope and peer review policies as their existing “parent” journals – and the same level of visibility and discoverability.”

Angela Cochrane gave a good analysis of Mirror Journals as a route to the full OA future in October. Worth a read! She argues that Mirror Journals have the potential to solve several problems publisher face when trying to publish OA, including accusations of double-dipping and the steep challenge of starting a new OA journal from scratch.

The double-dipping debate has always been one that has fascinated me. The argument goes that with ‘Hybrid’ OA- where the journal is by default paywalled, but authors can pay a publishing charge to have their individual articles made open access – that publishers get paid twice. Once by the institution subscribing to the journal, because most of it is not open access, and again by the author who chooses to publish open access and pays, with the institutions dollars, the publishing cost. The publisher dips twice into institutional funds. Institutions pay to subscribe to the journal, but don’t see a discount from the OA articles, and so they end up paying for them again.
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Some thoughts on Open Access’ ‘Bad Journals’ Problem and the APC Model

I’m always a bit surprised the way some researchers use the term ‘predatory’ to refer to any and all open access journals they think are of lower quality. Since trying to rebalance the conversation around these journals is kinda my shtick, I used to push back pretty hard on this, but I’ve been rethinking it There’s been a move lately to move to using the term “questionable publishers” when broadly referring to these journals. That way you can talk about bad journals and ‘journals that are actually trying to scam you’ together without conflating the two like ‘predatory” does.

I’m not sure though. “Questionable” still puts bad journals and predatory ones in the same box. It’s not really solving the problem (telling the two apart), just avoiding it. When I talk to researchers who use the term predatory freely, they usually seem to be well aware that they are using it to include both bad journals and actual predatory ones. It doesn’t matter to them. Publishing in a bad journal is the same as publishing in a predatory one. Only one might actively be trying to scam you, but both result in sub-par research being published.

This has got me thinking about the ‘quality trap’ that new journals often have a hard time escaping from. You can’t be a quality journal without good authors submitting good papers and good peer reviewers volunteering to review them, but in order to get all these good things, you kinda need to already have them. To be a good journal you need good researchers who contribute, but in order to convince them to contribute you need to already be a good journal. Catch-22.
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