In The Early 1600s, The British Began Harvesting American White Pines, And The British And Americans Continued To Do So For More Than Three Hundred Years, Until Almost All The White Pines Had Been Cut Down. The British Used These Trees To Make Masts For Their Ships Because They Were Tall And Straight, Strong And Light. They Played A Role In The American Revolution, Because The King Of England Declared That All White Pines More Than Twenty- Four Inches In Diameter Belonged To Him, And Property Owners Who Cut One Down Would Lose Their Land.
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This Angered The American Colonists And Was One Of The Disputes That Led Them To Revolt. A White Pine Decorated One Of The First Revolutionary War Flags, To Remind The Soldiers Of What They Were Fighting For. In Those Days, People Thought These Forests, Two Hundred Feet Tall And Stretching For Miles, Would Last Forever. They Didn’T.
The Logging That Ravaged The Atlantic States In The 1800s Swept Through This Region, Too. White Pine Logs Were Wonderful For Loggers, Because They Floated, Which Made Transportation Easy. The Felled Logs Could Be Rolled Or Dragged To The Water And Floated To The Mill. Here On The Shores Of The Great Lakes, Many Of The Ancient Pines Were Milled Into Boards Or Cut To Supply Fuel For Steamships.
Once The Pines Close To The Waterways Had All Been Cut, Railroad Tracks Were Laid So Trains Could Transport The More Remote Trees. But The Locomotives Didn’T Operate Well On Steep Terrain, So Forests In Hilly Areas Such As The
Porcupine Mountains Escaped The Saws For A Bit Longer. With The Development Of Logging Trucks And Roads That Dug Ever Deeper Into The Interior, Even Forests In The Mountains Were At Risk Of Being Logged.
Fortunately, The Porcupine Mountains Escaped This Fate Until The 1930s. People Slowly Came To Recognize That The Hills Contained Some Of The Last, Rare Remnants Of Original Forest. This Living “Forest Museum” Was Brought To The Attention Of The Federal Government, Which Designated It As A Potential Site For The Next National Park. But Then World War Ii Changed Everything. Federal Funds Were Diverted To The War Effort And Other Plans Were Put On Hold. The War Also Increased Demand For Wood Products, So Loggers Turned With Renewed Interest To The Giant Trees In The Porcupine Mountains. There Was Money To Be Made In Lucrative Wartime Contracts.
These Days We Don’T Think Much About The Relationship Between War And Logging, But During My Research I Came To Realize How Frequently Wars Have Influenced Our Actions In The Forest. In Some Places, War Was A Good Excuse For Cutting Down Trees, But In Michigan, Concerned Citizens Refused To Let That Happen. The State Stepped In Where The Federal Government Had Not, And In 1945 The Porcupine Mountains Were Declared A State Park. But Ordinary State Parks Are Only Protected As Long As The Elected Governor And Legislature Are Willing To Protect Them, And In Some Years Proposals For More Roads, Entertainment Facilities, And Even Logging In The Park Had To Be Vigorously Contested. After Years Of Political Battles, In 1972 An Environmentally Friendly State Government Passed The Wilderness And Natural Areas Act And Made The Porcupine Mountains A Wilderness State Park, Thereby Protecting It From Logging For All Time.
After Packing Up My Gear And Sweeping Out The Yurt, I Faced A Bittersweet Hike Down The Trail To My Car. I Had Developed Deep Feelings For This Beautiful, Intact Old-Growth-Forest Ecosystem. As I Walked, A Rilke Poem Bubbled Up From Somewhere Deep Inside My Brain:
One Space Spreads Through All Creatures Equally Inner-World-Space. Birds Quietly Flying Go Flying Through Us. Oh, I That Want To Grow, The Tree I Look Outside At Grows In Me!
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