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The Forester and Nature


THIS article can be only a brief introduction to the study of nature preservation.

The organization and functions of the services concerned with this subject vary from country to country. Consequently, the problems connected with preserving the beauty of the countryside and its wild life are solved in different ways. It may prove interesting to the reader to see how the general observations set down here apply to the particular conditions in his own country.

Various aspects of interest in nature

Love of nature is a very old sentiment. It has grown stronger as man has become more and more bound by the exigencies of urban life. The increasingly artificial character of such an existence, and the restraints and obligations of life in common, make man more and more desirous of finding freedom in the heart of nature, though this may be only an illusion of liberty.1

1 See F. Paulhan, L'Esthétique du Paysage, and J. de Gaultier, La Vie mystique de la Nature.

This desire to escape and return to nature is certainly not new. In modern man, however, it has taken aesthetic forms in which his ancestors surely had the feeblest interest. They were too close to nature to assume a contemplative attitude toward it and still less to consider it from the point of view of beauty.

Further, the development of tourism has given to the preservation of the countryside and its wild life a commercial interest it never had in the past. As a result, a number of countries have enacted special legislation.

What should be protected ?

From these very general observations, it becomes obvious that the problem of the preservation of nature can be approached in various ways: protection of certain stretches of countryside because of their picturesque, sentimental, historic, or artistic interest; complete protection of vestiges of primitive nature (sites, animals, plants) with a view to scientific study; protection limited to certain natural associations of trees or plants or of certain rare and precious plants; or protection of animal species threatened with extinction and of importance to biologists or hunters (the bison of America and Europe; Alpine ibex; African game; whales, seals; rare birds).

The possible viewpoints therefore vary according to the person, the place, and the period.

The hunting of beaver was forbidden in Poland in 1000 A.D. About the year 1423 royal Polish edicts prohibited the hunting of deer, boar, wild horse, and elk (moose), and the felling of yew trees. In the limited form of game protection in the royal hunting preserves, old French laws made a first contribution towards conservation. And it was the needs of the French Royal Navy that caused Colbert to promulgate a series of measures to preserve and improve the forests of France.

The first séries artistiques - parts of forests preserved for their artistic interest - were initiated in 1861 in the Forest of Fontainebleau, in response to the wishes of artists. This was, if not the first, at least one of the first institutions which were, a little later, developed on a more grandiose scale in the national parks of various countries, notably in the United States of America.

The first "strict natural reserves" appear to be those established by French authorities on Madagascar as early as 1927. These reserves were instituted for the complete protection and study of uninhabited parts of the territory, which possess unique species of plants and animals of great interest to science, but they are threatened by numerous dangers and misuses. Supervision and management were entrusted to the Forestry Service, while the Museum of Natural History in Paris carried out the organization of research work.

Similarly inspired was the institution of the Parc National Albert in the Belgian Congo in 1925, which is a model of its kind. There are numerous examples of such parks established in various countries since the beginning of the twentieth century.

It is now necessary to define carefully the expressions that should be used in order to avoid a confusion of language and ideas, and to describe the exact character of the various types of protection.2

2 On these questions, see in particular Société de biogéographie, Contribution à l'étude des réserves naturelles et des parcs nationaux, Paris, 1937. Reference to the following records will also prove useful: Société d'Acclimatation, Compte rendu du 1er Congres international pour la protection de la Nature Paris, 1923. Société d'éditions géographiques maritimes et coloniales, Compte rendu du 2ème Congrès international pour la protection de la Nature, Paris, 1932.

Precise definitions of the terms " national park " and "strict natural reserve" were adopted at the International Conference for the protection of the Fauna and Flora of Africa, held at London in 1933:3

Article 2.

The expression "national park" shall denote an area (a) placed under public control, the boundaries of which shall not be altered or any portion be capable of alienation except by the competent legislative authority, (b) set aside for the propagation, protection and preservation of wild animal life and wild vegetation and for the preservation of objects of aesthetic, geological, prehistoric, historic, historical, archaeological or other scientific interest for the benefit, advantage and enjoyment of the general public, (c) in which the hunting, killing, or capturing of fauna and the destruction or collection of flora is prohibited except by or under tile direction or control of the park authorities.

In accordance with the above provisions, facilities shall so far as possible be given to the general public for observing the fauna and flora in national parks.

3 Agreements concluded at the International Conference for the Protection of the Fauna and Flora of Africa, London, 1933.

The definition of "strict natural reserve" was inspired by Article 4 of the decree establishing the reserves in Madagascar:

... an area placed under public control, throughout which any form of hunting or fishing; any undertakings connected with forestry, agriculture or mining, any excavating or prospecting; drilling, levelling of the ground, or construction any work involving the alteration of the configuration of the soil or the character of the vegetation; any action likely to harm or disturb the fauna or flora and the introduction of any species of fauna and flora, indigenous or imported, wild or domesticated, shall be strictly forbidden; which it shall be forbidden to enter, traverse or camp in, without a special written permit from the competent authorities, and in which scientific investigations may only be undertaken by permission of those authorities.

It is important to distinguish clearly between these two main categories and to avoid using one term for the other.

Of course, the preservation of certain species or natural formations can also be envisaged in a more limited way in certain cases. This might be necessary, particularly in highly civilized countries, where the carrying out of major projects such as those outlined above would encounter tremendous difficulties.

The warden of a sanctuary on the Atlantic Coast of Prance, holding a puffin.

Thus, devastated forests of the Mediterranean area could be kept as reservations and protected from ordinary exploitation, with a view to their reconstitution by appropriate and progressive steps. This obviously entails more or less extensive action, but the constitution of a strict reserve is more often than not impossible and inadvisable. Those in the Mediterranean area would be reserves for reafforestation.

As we have seen, séries artistiques have been arranged in certain French forests - Fontainebleau and La Grande Chartreuse. The public is admitted and necessary steps are taken to preserve the aesthetic character of the forests. Moreover, they can have a dual purpose, artistic and biological.

Limited botanical reserves may also be instituted to protect an area having particularly interesting vegetation. In this category is the small preserve of Saint-Crépin in France in the Département des Hautes Alpes, established to protect an extremely interesting colony of Juniperus thurifera which is truly a relic; its equivalent is found only in North Africa. In the United States of America certain national parks are really botanical preserves to safeguard the famous Sequoias.

The purely zoological reserves are often thought of only as hunting preserves. The French Forestry Service purposely closes certain forests to hunting during one or several periods of nine years. The idea has been applied on a very large scale in certain parks and reservations in the United States of America, Canada, and the British possessions in Africa.

There is also the geologic or prehistoric reserve designed to prevent vandalism and exploitation in mineral deposits, interesting caves, fossil beds, and other prehistoric remains.

Legislative and administrative aspects

In Canada, the scanty population and the primordial state of nature over immense stretches of territory, together with the severity of the climate - which gives automatic protection during a great part of the year - were among the factors that facilitated the establishment of national or provincial parks and zoological preserves, bird sanctuaries for example.

Hardly anywhere else can such plans be realized without clashing with custom or vested interests. It has therefore been necessary to have recourse to legislation and regulation, based upon a detailed study of the needs of the population and its industries, including tourism - and upon precise aims.

In the United States of America, the act of 1872, which established the Yellowstone National Park, clearly sets forth a twofold purpose:

Such regulations shall provide for the preservation, from injury and spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition. ... [The park is] dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.

The law gives a large place to tourism, and experience has already shown that it is perhaps too generous in this respect For example, to profit from a source of warm water, an institute of hydrotherapy has been built in the middle of an upper geyser basin. This cannot help being a disadvantage from the aesthetic point of view on a site that is unique in the world.

In addition, the influx of visitors affects the animal population, either by frightening away certain animals in spite of the precautions taken to limit the human invasion, or, on the contrary, by modifying the character of the animals and making them excessively familiar. This is the case with the black bears, which, in the Yellowstone as in various other parks of the United States and Canada, come to beg for scraps brought by the visitors. They also scavenge food from the refuse of camps and hotels. Measures have already been taken to avoid the harm that might result from this, particularly the resultant degeneration of these animals, which by nature are rather misanthropic.

The flow of tourists is also regulated to avoid damage to the forests, but certain unforeseen injury can occur. The redwoods, Sequoia gigantea, of the Sequoia National Park and of the Yosemite National Park have been seriously threatened with destruction by the tramping of campers and tourists. This destroys the mycorrhiza by means which these giant trees, like many others of more modest proportions, draw their nourishment from the soil. These colossal trees, which reach a height of 200 feet (61 meters) and sometimes even 300 feet (100 meters), were about to be killed by people walking on the earth, although they had successfully resisted all other causes of destruction for thousands of years. Urgent measures have been taken to remedy the situation.

Rundle Mountain in Banff National Park, Canada.

Giant redwoods, Sequoia gigantea, in Yosemite National Park, U.S.A.

We find here, in unexpected form, the same harmful effects on the preservation and generation of trees as results from the crowds of pedestrians in the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes at the gates of Paris.

The bears are becoming excessively familiar in Yellowstone National Park, U.S.A.

Generally speaking, national legislation is necessary to create national parks and strict nature reserves. Such laws and regulations are necessary, but in this field they should be enacted only after extensive study of conditions and consultation with the best available experts. Only legislation, with the authority of government to back it, can oppose encroachments and abuses. And it can provide continuity, which is essential especially in strict reserves with largely scientific objectives.

After laws are passed, administration must settle the details: financial organization, mapping and exact delimitation of the territory, rules for the admission and supervision of scientists and the public, research programs, eventual thinning out of animals too numerous for the equilibrium of the whole group, and so on.

The aims pursued must first of all be clearly established. It is essential to refer to the international definitions quoted above so as to avoid any vagueness in the designation of major establishments (national parks, reserves, sanctuaries) and to determine the appropriate means of action.

The vast national parks of the United States and Canada and the Parc National Albert in the Belgian Congo have necessitated the creation of an entirely new kind of administration. Those of Canada, for example, have central administration in the Department of Internal Affairs at Ottawa, and each of them has an individual local administration.

The national parks and monuments of the United States of America are managed by the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior; the national forests, however, are under the supervision of the U. S. Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture. As to the Parc National Albert,4 which has a specific scientific objective, it has been managed since 1934 by the Institute of National Parks of the Belgian Congo, endowed with legal entity and administered by a Commission and a Board of Management. The Belgian scientific institutions and establishments are well represented on the Commission and - an innovation worthy of praise - one-third of the members are chosen from among the most eminent members of foreign learned societies. In this way, the universal character of this institution is very strongly marked. King Albert I had fully realized how important this would be. Lovers of nature will always remember him with gratitude.

4 This park extends over an area of nearly a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of equatorial plains and high mountains of which a great part is a strict reserve, exceptionally rich and varied from a botanical, zoological, and geological paint of view.

In addition to the Commissions and the Board, which are responsible for the over-all management and direct the scientific research in this enormous domain, there is a permanent resident staff. Its personnel includes white wardens, conservateurs, former officials or officers having wide experience in colonial affairs, and a corps of native guards under their orders to enforce the regulations and to co-operate in all kinds of research work.

It is not possible in this very general summary to go into further details on legislation and administration. That subject merits special study, showing what has been done and the possibilities for the future in various parts of the world. A few more words, however, must be said on one particular aspect of the question.

To preserve the remains of primordial or almost primordial nature, or certain of its features, is certainly worth while, and is still possible in some regions. However, in old countries such as France, where primordial nature has practically ceased to exist, the possibility of more or less complete protection of certain areas in the interest of science is obviously very limited. On the other hand, landscapes rich in history or legend, or having a real artistic or picturesque interest, are relatively plentiful. Legislation has been enacted, notably in 1906 and again in 1930, to protect these natural monuments and sites, though they are generally very far from being in a state of nature. They are protected against all causes of destruction, disfigurement, and particularly industrial interference (erection of factories and high-tension towers, quarries, etc.), against bill-posting, and even against an excess of tourists. Promoters and tourists, by ill-advised or excessive publicity, often risk destroying the object of their profit and admiration.

The public will have to be educated on these matters, in certain countries particularly, and the instruction should begin at school. But that is another story, which is mentioned only in passing.

The contribution of foresters

It is obvious that in the great work of conservation. first begun at the end of the last century, foresters must play an essential part. Wherever parks or reservations exist or are possible, foresters must take part in scientific research on forests and their evolution. That entity, the forest, is quite another thing than the sum of its trees. Scientific study of forests still in their primordial state holds interesting discoveries in store for us in the evolution of forest soils, natural regeneration of tree species, their alternation, the laws of growth of individual trees and stands, and so on. All of these things show a fascinating diversity according to the types of stands and climatic conditions suitable to the existence of forests.

Even apart from their particular field of study, foresters of all countries will always find it reciprocally profitable to collaborate with scientists in all branches of research.

It seems certain, for instance, that in those coniferous forests of Europe still in a virgin state (certain forests of the Carpathians, and the Swiss National Park). just as in the equatorial forests, leaf-eating (phyllophagous) and wood-boring (xylophagous) insects never develop to the degree of destructiveness that they unfortunately achieve in a more or less artificial forest. An equilibrium exists among the environment, the trees, their parasites, and the parasites' parasites: there is no serious menace to the trees so long as this balance is not destroyed by man.

It would he interesting for foresters to carry out research in this direction in collaboration with qualified entomologists. The example of A. Barbey of the Swiss National Parks has proved that certain foresters are perfectly qualified to do research on biological questions while at the same time carrying out their practical applications. It is to be hoped that this example will be followed by many others.

Foresters are usually well acquainted with wild life and can add-valuable observations to those of specialized zoologists. They can also point the way to research in some particular direction, such as work on freshwater fauna and fish-life.

Their administrative experience can be as valuable as their specialized technical training. In this sphere the aims pursued, whether scientific, aesthetic, or tourist, can be attained only by legislative and administrative measures that have been carefully studied and adapted to varied circumstances. In France, for example, forestry officials manage the forests of the state and of the communities, and consideration is being given to extending their duties still more. In the course of centuries, men of this profession were jurists who became sylviculturists or forest technicians. During the nineteenth century they took over management and reafforestation. Then they had to study wood technology, and - especially since 1939 - economic questions. In the mountains they carry out the important work of restoration and reafforestation linked with torrent control. Their administrative and technical experience therefore has been both important and diversified.

Even while they are striving to reconcile good forest management with the exceptional timber needs of the present day, foresters can perhaps still find time for the study of aesthetic and scientific questions. In many countries they will be able to do something personally, either in their administrative capacity or through their own research work. Others can give valuable help to scientists or stimulate their interest.

It has been possible in this rapid sketch to touch only the most interesting aspects of the problem. It will be worth while to round out the picture little by little in a series of more special studies. For example, each country could profitably study the question in relation with its own forests and foresters, as well as with hunting, fishing, and tourism.

The great idea of nature protection has, as King Albert I of Belgium sensed it, an international bearing. It should be, it must be, a means of public education in all countries. It must be used as an instrument for the preservation of the natural beauties and natural riches for which we are accountable to generations to come. It has, therefore, a definite place in the program of those organizations now paving the way to genuine international co-operation.

This article was prepared in the French language and translated by FAO.

Accompanying photographs are reproduced by courtesy of the author, the Canadian National Parks Bureau, and the National Park Service, U. S. Department of the Interior.

Ailefroide Massif, Peloux National Park, France.

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