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Spencer Beebe is founder and head of Ecotrust, the Portland-based organization that is setting in motion a permanently prosperous conservation economy for the entire Pacific Coast from San Francisco north to Alaska— the temperate rain forest also known as “Salmon Nation.”
Spencer Beebe began his Seminar About Long-term Thinking last night with some quotes. First was from Janine Benyus, with her evoking of Nature as model, as measure, and as mentor for proper human biomimicry. Then came quotes from Jane Jacobs insisting that humans are so embedded in nature we can’t imitate it, but only use its methods. (Spencer observed, “Nature not only bats last, it owns the stadium.”) Finally, Dave Foreman of Earth First! once was asked what’s the best thing an individual can do for the environment, and his advice was “Stay home.” (That was challenged later.)
Our home, said Spencer, is a coastal temperate rain forest, the largest in the world (they’re rare.) It is 2,000 miles long north to south, spanning far more latitudes than any other uniform environment. (That may help make it robust against climate change.) It has more standing biomass than any other natural system, three to four times that of tropical rain forests.
Temperate rain forests are shaped by rain through 80% of the year, with no summer drought, hence few fires, hence huge and old trees. A red cedar can live 1,500 years. Since the forest is relatively recent, just 5,000 years old, that’s just five generations of cedars.
It is all salmon country. Ecotrust has named the region “Salmon Nation.” Spencer noted that European impact on the region has been to drastically reduce the forests, the salmon, and the native tribes, with a gradient of damage from south to north, from here to Alaska.
The greatest damage comes from clear-cutting the forest. With vivid pictures and economic analysis he showed the much greater long-term yield that can be accomplished with biomimetic forest practices, expanding on the storm-damage patchiness that occurs naturally. Thus selective logging with patch cuts and thinning brings out plenty of marketable timber but leaves a fully intact and healthy forest producing an ever-growing harvest of jobs, clear water, carbon capture, and rich biodiversity.
Ecotrust has an astonishing array of projects— working with the Haisla tribe in Canada to permanently protect the only remaining unlogged watershed on the Pacific coast; working with the variety of groups in Clayaquot Sound in BC to convert the area to an “eco-economy;” spending $12-million on rebuilding a historic warehouse in Portland, Oregon, to generate an urban center for eco-activities; running vast geographic inventories of the whole region; publishing an array of inspirational and technical works (our book table sold out all the Ecotrust publications)…
“Societies do what societies think,” said Spencer. He quoted Jane Jacobs and Kevin Kelly to the effect that “Systems make themselves up as they go along. That means you don’t have to figure out everything in advance, you can just jump in.”
In the Q & A, Paul Hawken asked how Ecotrust was able to so quickly win the trust and active collaboration of tribal groups like the Haisla. Spencer said, “You just listen. I went fishing with them. They’ve been here for ten or twelve thousand years. You respect that knowledge and work with it.”
Later at dinner Kevin Kelly disputed Spencer’s assumption that humans are wholly immersed in Nature— “I think we’re just partly immersed, and that’s what makes us human and effective.” I linked Kevin’s question to mine wondering about the “Stay home” admonition. Spencer brought passionate perspective and array of skills to saving the “rainforests of home” by having LEFT his five-generation home in Oregon, to work first as a Peace Corps volunteer in Central America, then as a professional environmentalist saving tropical rain forests for decades. He didn’t just think globally, he acted globally, THEN returned and acted locally to great and satisfying effect.-- by Stewart Brand