by Suzanne Hauser and C Howard Diaz
The next few days were a little better and brought a series of adventures. The kids were broken into small groups by tent number. Heather’s tent was paired with Jason’s. These groups were set to a series of challenges. They explored various rocks and plants, learning their names and variety. They then had to close their eyes and tell what item they held by touch alone.
They played a game the counselor called, ‘tree hug’ where one child was blindfolded and led to a tree by another child. After a few minutes of smelling, touching, hearing and anything else they could think of, besides taste and sight, the child was led away, unblindfolded and asked to locate the same tree. Heather found this game the most fun. She found her tree right off. It took Jonny a couple of tries.
“Trees are all the same, pretty much,” Jonny said. “It doesn’t matter one or another. As long as you don’t pick a poison oak,” she laughed.
Counselor Megan was in charge of this game. “You know Jonny, that’s not really true. Trees are all very unique. Even within the same kind, each tree is a little different. Like people. Take you and Jason, you’re both 10, both have blond hair and freckles across your noses. But Jonny, you’re a girl and Jason’s a boy.”
Heather could tell Jonny was pleased to be compared to Jason.
“You mean there’s girl trees and boy trees?” Rey Lin asked.
“Not exactly, but there are other differences. For instance, you’re all 10 years old, but some were born January and others of you were born in August. And I am several years older than all of you. Some of us are tall and thin, others are shorter. Even so, we’re all humans,” Counselor Megan explained.
“It’s the same with trees. They are born as seeds then change as they grow older and mature. So when you’re “hugging” the tree, one thing you can feel for is the age of the tree. Is it just a seedling, or is the bark old and chipped? Are the leaves soft and tender, or rough and thick?” Counselor Megan asked.
“Do trees die like people?” Maria asked quietly.
“Yes they do.” Counselor Megan explained. “As trees get older, their growing slows down. Earlier we discussed how trees use photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. Think of carbon dioxide as a type of food. As trees grow older, they no longer use as much food and the photosynthesis process shrinks. Therefore, they create less oxygen than a young tree. Eventually, the leaves fall off and the bark deteriorates. If these trees are in a fierce storm, it is very likely that they could fall over.”
“So baby trees, use more food?” Heather asked.
“Exactly. Just like a growing child, seedlings and younger trees need more carbon dioxide, food, to grow strong. That also helps those of us who breath oxygen to live healthier,” Counselor Megan explained. “We call these trees, new growth, and the older trees, old growth. In some forests, you may find most of the trees are the old growth kind. This happens, because the trees have been living a long time, and have grown very large. Unfortunately, this keeps sunlight from reaching the ground and helping younger trees to grow. This is why selective cutting in old growth areas helps the younger trees to grow. You may find that some people are against cutting old growth trees. But we have found, through comparing our harvested forests with reserve type forests, where no cutting is allowed, that if old growth is not kept in check, it can stop the new growth in the area. Not only do the larger trees keep sunlight from reaching seedlings, but old trees can rot or be a home for a lot of insects, which can be unhealthy for the rest of the trees in the area. So cutting down old growth can be a good thing,” Counselor Megan explained.
“Where do seedlings come from? Do they grow just where people plant them?” Rey Lin asked.
“Loggers do plant a majority of the new growth, however, nature does it’s part too. Seeds fall off mature trees and land on the ground. With proper sunlight and moisture, these seeds sprout into seedlings and can grow to be healthy mature trees to repeat the process. In areas that are harvested, where the trees are cut down to make products for you and me to use, loggers plant seedlings directly into the cleared ground. You may think that cutting trees may cause the forests to disappear, but for every tree cut, a logger plants about 6 seedlings in its place. This way, we are sure to have trees and forests forever,” concluded Counselor Megan.
“Who takes care of the trees once their planted?” Heather asked.
“Nature, stupid.” Jonny answered.
Heather rolled her eyes. “O.K., then who makes sure the loggers do their job and plant the trees like they’re supposed to?” Heather asked.
“Loggers have rules made by the state, and in many cases there are federal laws as well.” Counselor Megan explained. “In fact the U.S. Forest Service was established in 1905 to help make sure the loggers do their job. I think sometimes loggers get a bad reputation just because cutting down trees is their job. But remember, the loggers know that if they don’t replant where they have cut, they’re going to be out of a job. Most loggers have been logging for years, like their fathers and grandfathers. Logging is a tradition and they take their work very seriously. They care for the forest and depend on it for their families. It is not likely they would do anything to destroy what they depend on.” Heather was impressed by Counselor Megan’s knowledge of the forest.
That afternoon, the children had free time. The counselors offered workshops for experimenting and learning, or the children could play sports or write letters or simply take a nap.
Heather called to Jason, “Maria and I are going to the workshop, do you want to come?”
“No thanks. Jonny and I are getting a baseball game going,” Jason answered. “She’s a really good pitcher. See you later.”
Heather watched as Jason and Jonny ran off toward the field. Feeling left out, she joined Maria for the workshop.
Maria was excited, “We’re going to learn how to make a rubbing, just like archaeologists.”
Heather tried to forget about Jason playing with Jonny as they gathered rocks and leaves for their rubbings. The counselor showed them how to place a piece of cloth over the item and lightly rub a crayon over the surface. Heather and Maria enjoyed all the different shapes that they created on their pieces of cloth and soon Heather forgot about not being invited to play baseball.
That night at dinner, the children talked about tree harvesting and where trees were most likely to live. The boy with bright red hair squeezed in next to Heather.
“I’m from Arkansas. We have the Quachita National Forest there, but I guess the whole state used to be forest, before it was cleared for farmland,” he said.
Barry joined them. “You’re right. In the early 20th century, much forest land was cleared to make room for agriculture, like raising cattle, and farm lands. But since then, with a focused effort, forest lands have remained about the same size as they were in 1920. In fact, in the late 1800’s the Quachita National Forest was ninety percent clear cut. After that, the Forest Service would not let any other wood be harvested, but in the 1950’s the Forest Service authorized cutting and selling the wood again. This was because the trees had grown back by then. I have to admit, we have not always had the concern for our forest lands as we do today. Throughout history, we have destroyed many acres of land and then left them as we moved west or found other interests. But I think we’ve learned from our mistakes and the Quachita National Forest is just one example of how well our Forest Service has helped to save our forests by better management.”
“My dad says that we are able to grow more crops on a smaller plot of land that we used to,” the same boy, Steven, added. “I think it has to do with fertilizers and pesticides.”
“Those two things, and the whole technology that has gotten better in agriculture. Farmers are growing better crops than ever before,” another counselor added. “And luckily for us, nature is amazing. Much of land that was cleared to make room for farms has grown new trees and the forest is doing better than ever.”
Heather asked, “Farmers take care of their crops, but who takes care of the trees?”
Counselor Barry answered. “After planting, the Forest Service or loggers constantly look after the harvested areas and make sure the trees are doing well. Many times, they thin the trees, leaving the most healthy ones and getting rid of dead or weak trees. Like farmers, the Forest Service and loggers use pesticides to keep the trees healthy and take care of the seedlings throughout their life.
Dr. Whitely said, “But of course, we all take part in caring for the forests. One of the leading causes of forest destruction today, is fire. Though some fires can’t be avoided like those caused by lightening, the things man does and doesn’t do can make a difference.”
“Like the logging roads,” added Jonny. “Last summer we had a terrible electrical storm. A bolt of lightening hit a tree on Old Man Martin’s Mountain. But the fire fighters were able to reach the area on the road the loggers use to work the area. They put the fire out before it destroyed too many trees or got near old man Martin’s house.”
“So I guess even though loggers cut down trees, they save trees as well,” Heather said. She was starting to see why loggers are so important.
“There’s still about four million acres of forest land destroyed each year,” Dr. Whitley said sadly, “but that’s better than when I was a boy. Back then an average of over fifty million acres were burned each year. Fire fighters being able to reach and fight fires sooner is a big help; but teaching the public has done a lot of good. Smokey the Bear has made a big difference in the fifty years he’s been around. People are more aware now than ever — don’t play with matches, put out camp fires, especially in wilderness areas, and just the fact that open fires are not allowed in many wilderness areas. For these reasons and maybe a few others, forests are not being killed by fire as much as they used to.”
Counselor Barry reached for a second helping of potatoes. “You know, fires aren’t the only thing that destroys large parts of the forest. Other leading killers are insects and disease. That’s why it’s so important that the loggers keep in constant contact with the trees they plant. If they find an outbreak of disease or insects, they can take action quickly,” he commented. “I think sometimes people think the forests just take care of themselves, but as we can see in areas where cutting and pesticides aren’t allowed, the trees are just not as healthy.”
“What does a pesticide do?” asked Heather.
“Pesticides are like medicine for plants,” Dr. Whitley explained. “If left unchecked, we could lose many more trees each year to disease. Throughout the forest land, samples are always being taken. If trees are dying from disease or an infestation of some insect, steps are taken to treat the area and save the trees. Unfortunately, as Barry mentioned, in wilderness areas and preserves, intervention is not allowed.”
“What about the animals in these areas, are they affected?” a child asked.
“That’s a good question. Many times we hear of animals losing their homes or being driven away or simply being destroyed. But animals are adaptable. They can change to fit into the new area. Since we have been taking care of the nation’s forests, many wildlife species have actually grown like the whitetail deer, elk, wild turkey and many others. Keeping the plant life healthy has its rewards in keeping the wildlife healthy too. Of course, effective hunting laws and just the fact that we’ve kept the large amount of forest lands that we have, both have helped wildlife grow,” Dr. Whitley explained. “Unfortunately, in areas that are not harvested, like in our National Parks, forests have shrunk ten percent in my lifetime. As we talked about before, harvesting a forest does not mean just cutting down trees. In harvested areas, the forests are taken care of or managed and this helps to take care of all life within those areas.”
The next afternoon, Jason and Jonny went off to again play baseball during free time. Heather, Maria and Rey Lin decided to try the workshop lead by one of the counselors. Today it was navigating with a compass. Heather ran back to her tent to grab the compass her Grandmother had given her.
Suddenly there was a scream from her tent. Counselor Megan ran in to find Heather frantically throwing her things about her.
“My compass, it’s gone. I left it right here, now it’s gone. Someone stole it,” Heather sobbed.
It was then that she noticed Jonny standing by her own bunk.
“You stole it, didn’t you?” Heather accused.
Jonny backed up defensively. “I didn’t steal anything. Leave me alone.”
Heather moved in closer, towering above Jonny’s tiny body. “You know you stole it. Ever since you saw it that first night you wanted it. Now give it back.” Heather grabbed Jonny’s arm and held it firmly. The difference in their size showed even more now, and Counselor Megan had to pull Heather back. “Heather, calm down. Jonny, did you take Heather’s compass?” Counselor Megan asked.
“Of course I didn’t take her stupid compass. Why would I? I just came in to get my glove. Search my stuff if you don’t believe me,” Jonny challenged.
Heather reached for Jonny’s back pack and started to empty the contents.
“Let her search, she won’t find anything, because I didn’t take anything.” Jonny turned and walked out of the tent.
Not finding the compass, Heather threw down the pack and sat on the bed crying. “My grandmother gave me that compass. It’s not fair.”
Counselor Megan bent down by Heather’s bunk. “Well, it’s not in Jonny’s bags. Maybe it fell on the floor, or maybe you left it in one of your pockets.”
“Or maybe Jonny hid it,” Heather suggested. “Never mind. I hate this camp. I can’t wait to go home.”