More and more of us understand that forests are not places where individual trees are locked in competition with each other for survival, but instead are connected by a vast fungal network under the soil, through which they communicate and share resources. A Canadian forest ecology researcher, Suzanne Simard, who was the first to prove the existence of this network, the “wood-wide web,” uses the term “forest wisdom” to describe the connectedness and reciprocity of forests.
There’s currently much concern about the health of our forests and their vulnerability to wildfire.
Part of the deep intelligence of a forest is that it “knows” how to heal itself and to maintain an incredibly complex community and balance, even after major disturbances such as wildfire or bark beetle outbreaks. It may take time, but the forest will heal itself, if it’s left undisturbed enough. It’s resilient. It will find the appropriate balance and way of being for the conditions that are present.
The wisdom of the forest is that this level of complexity can be managed by its own self, the greater mind that is the sum total of all the sentient life of the forest together, along with the elements.
Humans sometimes think they understand enough about the subtle inter-relationships of all the aspects of a forest to redesign the ecosystem in order to make it more fire-safe, healthy and resilient. The U.S. Forest Service and other land management agencies are currently occupied with such forest redesigns through large-scale and aggressive tree cutting and overly-frequent prescribed burning projects. They remove the vast majority of trees over large tracts of forest and burn trees and understory periodically. They plan to greatly increase such fuel treatments, up to four times their current levels.
The results of these treatments are forests that are the opposite of healthy and resilient. They typically become barren, damaged and ecologically broken. We can see this degraded condition in many already completed tree cutting and burning projects, and it’s appalling and sad.
In the process of designing these treatments, agencies break elements and processes of a forest into its component parts and decide how each part should be accommodated in their new forest blueprint. They attempt to create areas of suitable habitat for each wildlife species. Forests don’t work in such a divided way, it’s a vastly intricate interplay between all the plant and animal species together, along with soil, riparian and weather conditions. And the belief is they are emulating historical forests, but forests are much too complex to be so easily understood.
The human race cannot function well without intact forests, we would spin out of control on many levels. The trees are our stability and our connection to the planet. Forests demonstrate a deep order and balance that is missing in many of our lives. That they can provide that, is wisdom. That they can speak deeply to us so silently, is wisdom.
Right now forests need us to protect them from aggressive cutting and burning projects that amount to invasive ecosystem re-designs. There are ways we can assist forests in restoring themselves that do not rely on large-scale fuel treatments, such as decommissioning unneeded forest roads, replanting riparian areas, and re-introducing beavers. We can protect forest homes by fire-proofing the immediate areas surrounding structures.