Towards Y2K9 (5): Another Green World

The American northwest, especially the Olympic Peninsula with its National Park area west of Seattle, contains old boreal rainforests with lots of ecological diversity. Here are some shots from our visits to 1) the Marymere Falls near Crescent Lake, and 2) the Hoh rainforest.

Big trees here. I was already looking forward to meeting even larger redwoods further to the south of here, but these trees, mostly Sitka spruces and hemlock trees, were quite stunning already.

The rainforests in the national parks are almost completely left to themselves. Old trees fall and rot and on the rotting stumps, new trees find enough food to grow. There is lots of rain here, with the winds from the Pacific being stopped by the high mountain ranges.

Because of the high humidity, there are lots of lichen and moss growing everywhere on the trees – I have never seen trees so completely covered with long strands of moss. For some reason, it makes the place look like an enchanted fairy tale forest. I was wondering, what’s the connection between moss and fairy tales but I didn’t really know. The fairy tale look was very distinct though.

There is a lot of wildlife here of course – racoons, bears, cougars, otters, deer, elk. If you walk a trail through the forest, it is quite likely that you meet a deer, like we did. These deer are used to walking people, it seems, and they don’t really seem to be afraid.

At first we thought that elk were moose because „Elch“ in German stands for „moose“ in English. Some language confusion here. The elk that roam these forests are more similar to what we would call „Hirsch“ in German, with the males carrying large antlers sometimes.

A sign at the visitor center had warned us that elk were in the mating season, and that being full of testosterones, they would sometimes attack visitors. We didn’t really take this too seriously but when we had almost completed a round trip trail and were near the parking lot again, a group of people that had passed us minutes ago came back the other way, more running than walking. They said a large elk was on the way, and that he was not happy seeing people walking around in his stomping ground.

We decided to wait for a few minutes, and then slowly proceeded, looking out for the elk. We eventually saw it not far from us, but it was slowly walking away from the path into the deep forest. He hadn’t seen us and we could eventually get back to our car safely. We definitely wouldn’t have felt like dealing with an attack of this impressive animal – he was quite large and strong and he had a full set of antlers. Too bad I couldn’t take a picture!

After spending several hours in this beautiful forest, we were all the more sad about the fact that most of the forests are cut down – on our way south from the Olympic Peninsula, we met lots of huge log trucks, and we saw miles and miles of destruction where wild forest used to grow.

Usually, trees are replanted to be harvested again after several years, but of course the resulting tree areas are lacking the ecological diversity, and bear little similarity to natural rainforests. Large old trees disappear completely because replanted trees are harvested when they are still young.

Very often, the logging companies leave a narrow belt of forest along the highways, maybe to prevent people from seeing all of the destruction, but the truly sad and desolate looking clearcut areas can often be seen behind them.

The northwest forest area is one of the US’s main sources for timber, and it is even exported – all sorts of wooden products are made of these rainforests. And of course, there is the paper industry that turns the trees into pulp and paper.

For nature loving people like us who come from Europe where the rate of recycled paper is much higher than in the US, it is painful to see how precious rainforests are cut down for stupid things like paper cups that are thrown away without thinking. The amount of waste, especially of paper waste, in the US is staggering for us (it is bad enough in Europe). If you go somewhere in the US for a coffee or a little food, you will very likely get them in paper cups and on paper plates, instead of real porcelain cups that have to be cleaned and reused which would be more expensive. There is much talk about ecological thinking but fact is that nature is still brutally exploited.