As has been highlighted previously in this blog (the series on state forestry, for example), trees have been used to fund the gluttonous cogs of the war machine, across both time and space. Usually, this timber consumption has manifested from the progressive land acclamation and legislatory enforcement by the state, until large tracts of forest are state-owned; or private forests can be utilised by the state in times of political emergency. This post therefore focusses not on repeating what has previously been discussed, and instead investigates how the forests themselves have been used for the arts of war – as in, the forest as a site of battle, or for the preparation of one; not that the forest as a site of battle is to be desired, for any attacking force must expect the unexpected, and typical formations and approaches to warfare cannot be applied in the enclosed forest setting (Clayton, 2012). Of course, the prior blog posts I did on state forestry highlight how armed guerrillas in Indonesia and Zimbabwe used the forests for cover and ambush, though this aspect of forest use extends far beyond just these two examples.
Beginning somewhat close to home (for the author), it can be recognised how the New Forest, in the county of Hampshire, UK, was used by the British and American armies, during the Second World War (Leete, 2014). Because of its strategic location relative to the coast of continental Europe, residing along the south coast of England, and complete with nearby ports in Southampton and Poole, the New Forest was used as the first line of defence against any invading Germans coming over from France. For this reason, the forest was used by both the Intelligence Service, and also by thousands of troops who would constitute the defending force if enemy ground invasion did occur. Furthermore, the extensive forest cover provided camouflage for over 30,000 troops in the moths before D-Day (Operation Neptune) in 1944, and the surrounding heathlands acted as airfields and storage areas of military vehicles. In total, 20,000 acres of the New Forest were utilised by the resident forces, during the war, though much like how the forest suddenly filled with troops it also quickly emptied, and almost immediately after the D-Day landing at Normandy the New Forest once again became very sparsely populated.
The Second World War, beyond its association with the New Forest, was the site of actual battle. One example is that of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, which took place between the US and German forces through September 1944 to February 1945. Situated on the border of Germany and Belgium, the Germans occupied the forest because of its strategic importance to future offensives on the Rhine. Fearing that these German troops would eventually therefore support the front line, the US Army sought to take control of the forest to stall this pursuit. However, because the terrain was very uneven, the access routes through the forest to constituent villages were narrow and almost non-existent, the trees were very dense in many locations, and forest clearings sudden and sporadically occurring, support from tanks was not feasible, and navigating the forest was often challenging and certainly very risky. Subsequently, the US forces suffered losses of over 30,000 men (at times, entire units were lost), eclipsing those incurred by the Germans; in spite of their much larger size. Granted, the Germans also suffered huge losses (Rush, 2001). The forest was thus named ‘The Death Factory’, by the US troops (Whiting, 2000), and became the grave of many individuals from both sides of the conflict.
Curiously, the close of the Second World War also saw forests treated almost as bounty or reparation; at least, in Germany. Following the defeat Germany suffered, the country was subsequently segmented into various zones: the south-west of Germany became the French Zone, whilst the southern and south-east segments were under control by the Americans, the northern and north-west overseen by the British, and the east and north-east by the Soviets. The purpose of this was to enable Germany to ‘repent’ its ‘sins’, and the occupiers – the Americans, British, French, and Soviets – could harvest the forests as they saw fit, as long as such harvests were not in excess of the reparation quotas detailed after the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945.
Unfortunately, as such quotas usually were far greater than the rate at which the remaining forests (many were in an alarming state of disrepair, commercially-speaking) of Germany could be replenished, the Soviet zone saw fourteen years’ worth of timber logged in just four years. Alongside the purging of these now Soviet-controlled forests, those foresters who were not drafted into the war effort by the German government at the time were forced to work as hard labourers in the forests, and the traditionally scientific method that was German forestry was quashed by the inexperienced Soviets. Similar unsustainable levels of forestry were undertaken in the other occupied areas of Germany, by the Allied governments (Nelson, 2005).
Beyond the Second World War, Clayton (2012) remarks that the forest has been the site of battle as early as 9 A.D. In this year, the forest of Teutoburg was to plague three Roman legions and their auxiliaries – who were ambushed by the allied local Germanic tribes after an uprising in the region – quite cataclysmically. In this case, the Roman legions were headed by the reportedly inexperienced commander Publius Quinctilius Varus, whilst the commander of the allied tribes was the Germanic nobleman known as Arminius, who had himself been trained by the Roman army and was in fact part of the Roman legions who were tasked to deal with the uprising of the local tribes, though quickly defected to lead the Germans into battle.
Under the order of Varus, who was persuaded by Arminius (who at this point in the saga was still in the Roman army and appointed as an officer), the Roman legions headed into the forest to attempt to quell the uprising; at which point Arminius defected, and gathered up to 50,000 Germans to fight against approximately 7,000 Roman troops and their horses (including the three legions of eighty men each). In this forest, the now-defected Arminius used the terrain (including steep slopes, fallen trees, and dense forest cover) to confuse and disorientate the armour-clad Roman legions and support troops, who at first became surrounded and then were torn apart by the nimble Germanic warriors equipped with lightweight weapons (such as darts) and, for close combat, broadswords and spears. Most Roman troops were killed within the forest, in the small units that fled in all directions after Varus (who committed suicide) declared a retreat, though some unfortunate individuals were enslaved and / or tortured by the Germans. Ultimately, this situation manifested because the Roman troops were geared for close combat in the open setting, and the clever use of the forest by Arminius and his warriors led to what can only be considered a Roman tragedy – a tragedy that would not have occurred, and in fact likely have been reversed, if the battle was undertaken in the open (Clayton, 2012; Murdoch, 2006).
The use of trees during conflict has also given rise to their use for hanging and other forms of execution (Stone, 2008). Certainly a macabre aspect of how warfare – and on a broader scale acts of genocide – ties man to the arboreal world, it is nonetheless an important point to consider, as it highlights how the tree, as a tool, has uses that extend beyond those aforementioned. In the genocide that plagued Cambodia from 1975-1979, for instance, the Khmer Rouge, who were followers of the community party led by Pol Pot, are said to have thrown children against trees until they died – because trees were cheaper than bullets. In these cases, Tyner (2009) remarks, the children were executed because their parents were considered enemies of the state. Lynching in the US, between 1889 to 1930, constitutes another form of warfare; albeit more a form of societal warfare, which can occur even during peacetime. During this period, an estimated 3,724 individuals were lynched, and before usually being hung from a tree and displayed for all to see the pursued individual was tortured, humiliated, dragged, and sometimes burned in front of potentially many thousands of onlookers (Dutton, 2007). In the UK, trees have also been the site of hangings; for example, for the execution of ‘rebels’ – whatever this loose term was deemed to define at the time by the ruling powers (Barnes & Williamson, 2011).
Running concurrently to the very human dynamics of wars and forests, exist more ecologically-based aspects worthy of consideration in this section. Principally, and notably over the past decades, one can identify the desire to safeguard forest biodiversity during times of war, by incorporating forest conservation into military projects (Machlis & Hanson, 2008). As ascertained prior to this point, the demands placed upon the forest in such a period unrest is possibly incredibly great, and particularly when the forest is being harvested for its timber, is being cleared to flush out a hiding enemy or to remove a hiding place, or the war is taking place largely within the forest (Reuveny et al., 2010). In recent years, tropical forests over South America and Africa have been the site of armed conflicts between the state and drug cartels, rebels, or otherwise, and McNeely (2003) astutely observes that such forests and their ecosystems can therefore be considered victims of war. Where these forests are considered hotspots for biodiversity, the impact is certainly markedly more severe and concerning for the scientific community (Hanson et al., 2009).
However, war is not always bad for forests. Where armed conflicts drive the general populace away, if the forests are not being actively utilised for resource to fuel the conflict, then they can undoubtedly benefit from the sudden drop in human pressures. Of course, the displaced populace is not purged from existence, and therefore where refugee camps associated with the conflict are constructed within – or adjacent to – forests, there can be a huge spike in deforestation. A pertinent example of such a phenomenon is when the Rwandan civil war displaced large numbers of people, who settled in the Democratic Republic of Congo in refugee camps and caused over 300km² of deforestation to nearby forests (Machlis & Hanson, 2008).
No, this title is not a click-baiting one – it’s wholly serious!
Courtesy of some recent research undertaken by scientists on Deception Island, which is an actively volcanic island in the archipelago that forms the South Shetland Islands, we now have a fascinating glimpse of the fungal activity that can be found upon the abanonded 19th and early to middle 20th century timber-framed buildings found upon the island’s shores. Indeed, with 57% of the island being covered by glaciers, these buildings were built along the coastline and were used for research and European whaling purposes (Whalers Bay), up until the Chileans departed from Pendulum Cove in 1967. Nowadays, it’s a tourist area for those that quite fancy spending large sums exploring such a desolate island, as well as a research base for Spanish and Argentinian scientists.
As regards to prior research on the historic timber buildings upon the island, research has uncovered fungal decomposition of the timber by Ascomycete fungi, thereby inferring some timber has begun to degrade via a soft rot. However, brown and whit rot fungi had not previously been identified on the island to any marked degree (one fruiting Pholiota sp. sample was found on the wood of a buried whaling vessel in 1967), and thus this research sought to ascertain whether fungal diversity was more appreciable than previously understood. At this point, it is also worth noting that some Asocmycetous fungi are indigenous to the island (such as Cadophora spp.), being found as saprotrophs on the plants growing freely on the island. Moreover, the research enabled for an insightful look into fungal ecology in a location where soil temperature range from below freezing to as high as 90°C.
Using two sites on the island where such timber-framed buildings could be found, which were Whalers Bay and Pendulum Cove (see the below image for rather precise locations), very small wood fragments from the timber-framed buildings (largerly made of Pinus spp. and Picea spp. timbers, though also Betula spp.) were sampled (188 from Whalers Bay and 30 from Pendulum Cove) and taken back to the laboratory under sterile conditions for assessment in a growth medium comprised principally of malt extract agar. Following the placement of the samples within the agar for a few weeks and the subsequent transfer of growing mycelium into pure cultures, genetic analysis was undertaken to ascertain what fungi were present within the wood samples.
In total, 326 isolates were found from the total 218 sampled wood fragments. Indeed, as was probably expected, the large majority (79%) of the isolated were of Ascomycete fungi from 53 different taxa that were causing a soft rot. However, quite interestingly, 15% of samples (equating to 11 different taxa) were from the Basidiomycetes division and a few (6%) also belonged to the Zygomycota.
From the Basidiomycetes, which are probably more well-known to those who read this blog, 18% of isolates were from the genus Pholiota. Indeed, this genus is a frequently identified one in the UK and further afield, and the genetic analysis revealed that one particular clade of the genus was of the species Pholiota multicingulata, which was found exclusively at the Pendulum Cove site where the Chilean undertook their scientific research up until the late 1960s. Found across the South Pacific and notably in New Zealand, its presence in the Antarctic Peninsula is considered to be as a consequence of infected timbers brought over by the Chileans.
Other common wood-decay Basidiomycetes known to arboriculturists included Coprinellus micaceus and Coniophora puteana, though only one sample of each was identified from genetic analysis – both considered to have been introduced by the Europeans during whaling escapades. Postia pelliculosa, a brown rot fungus of gymnospermous wood, was also identified – as was Jaapia argillacea, which is a rare fungus within Europe and thus its finding at Whalers Bay presented the authors with some surprise.
With reference to the other fungal genera and species found, species from the genus Cadophora wthe most abundant and amounted to 20% of all identified fungal samples. Furthermore, Hypochniciellium species accounted for 13% of the total sample count and Phialocephala 7%. Pholiota, as a genus, contributed only to 4% of the total number of records. Importantly, it was also found that many of the historic timbers were extensively decayed by the same fungi at both sites, inferring potentially a long-standing decay arising from a fungal metapopulation on the island. Decayed timbers were found most observably around the locations where the timber was in contact with the soil, perhaps due to a higher moiture content within the wood facilitating for more effective hyphal ingression into the timbers and the localised warming of soils because of volcanic activity. At the Chilean base, white rots of the sampled timbers were found only just beneath the soil surface, with brown and soft rots being identified on timber from both sites in wood exposed to ambient conditions.
As alluded to within the preceding text, it is highly probable that the fungal isolates from the two sites were introduced alongside human migration to Deception Island. Certainly, there have been plenty of opportunities for spores to be deposited on the island, given the whaling and research activities over the past two centuries. Importantly, the current phenomenon of tourism to the island will facilitate potentially in the emergence of new fungal species, which makes future research prospects exciting as the inherent isolation of the site would have rendered it almost impossible for exotic fungi to have otherwise arrived on site and – assuming they had – there would have been no timber for them to colonise. In this respect, the research undertaken on this island outlines a very critical biosecurity risk: human migration.
A further aspect of interest from the results is that native Ascomycetous fungi to the island, which were found to be acting saprotrophically on native plants, broadened their host range to that of the exotic timbers introduced. Thus, the notion of fungal adaptation alongside a change in the potential inoculum base is given credence, which can again be related to current issues with fungal pathogens of trees within Europe and further afield.
See part I of this series on state forestry in Burma here.
Focussing predominantly on the western region of Zimbabwe that is known as Matabeleland, where teak forests (otherwise known as gusu) – that were comprised of species such as African teak (Baikiaea plurijuga), African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon), African mahogany (Guibourtia coleosperma), wild teak (Pterocarpus angolensis), and mongongo (Schinziophyton rautanenii) – covered approximately 2,000,000 acres of land and were the home of 65,000 Africans before 1890, one can observe how the advent of colonial rule markedly altered the indigenous African’s relationship with the forest.
Prior to the era of British colonialism that began during the late 1880s to early 1890s (cemented by the coming-to-power of the British South Africa Company in 1890), indigenous Africans (including the Ndebele, Nyai, Shangwe, and Shora) had markedly close associations with their forests – notably the poor. Varying across different peoples, gusu was used for a variety of reasons, including for food (fruits and nuts, though also for sheltering game, grazing cattle, and enhancing soil fertility where shifting cultivation was routinely practiced), water, construction timber, firewood, medicine, and worship (through sacred groves, sanctuaries, and any shrines contained within). Such reliance upon the forest – which was communally-owned or privately-owned as a homestead, with vested interest from a king or chieftain – was not limited in any discernible manner, and communities were thus able to rely upon the forest to any potential degree.
With specific regards to shifting cultivation, this practice was a staple activity in many communities. Shifting cultivation would involve areas of gusu being cleared for agricultural purposes, for a period of only a few years, before the nutrient profile of the soil would deplete enough to demand land abandonment (alongside subsequent secondary woodland regeneration) and clearance elsewhere for the same reason. Oftentimes, forest areas adjacent to rivers were cleared on sporadic rotations, for such areas harboured enough soil nutrients to make such shifting cultivation feasible. In this sense, areas of gusu that were fertile supported indigenous Africans to a far greater extent that infertile areas of woodland away from sources of water.
Undoubtedly, this use – particularly as populations grew – though also the other demands upon the forest, led to some ‘core’ areas of fertile forest land becoming degraded, and thereby deforested. However, it must be noted that, on the whole, forest conservation was a mainstay of pre-colonial life for indigenous Africans. Ultimately, because they relied upon the forest – either partially or wholly – for their means of existence to be sustained, it was not in their interests to see the forest decline to a condition that would render its longevity infeasible. More broadly, a myriad of economic, ideological, and religious needs and views, dictated sustainable forest practices, and a pursuit of essential ‘harmony’ with nature was evident between man and the forest. Crucially, this highlighted that indigenous Africans had the ability to responsibly manage their forests, and with a logical rationale – a rationale that the colonial government would certainly come to completely ignore.
However, the rise of the BSAC in 1890, particularly after the victory of the British over the Ndebele in 1894 and then again in 1897, saw forest management practices change. Principally, the BSAC, who became the governing body of Zimbabwe, actively sought to segregate fertile land from indigenous Africans, for the economic benefit of white settlers who could then manage such fertile lands. In this sense, areas of gusu and fertile land were cut-off from the native communities, who were pushed into Reserves (including the Gwai Native Reserve and Shangani Native Reserve) of largely infertile land set-up by the BSAC to specifically house such communities. The state (or private organisation, including the BSAC, Rhodesia Railways, and Goldfields Company) would then assume ownership of forest land outside of such Reserves, as supported by the Private Land Ordinance of 1898. Such segregation also stood on the premise that the forests of Matabeleland were void of human activity prior to 1890, and that the native’s association with the forest was akin to Paganism – a religion much maligned by Christianity, which was the religion of Europe at the time. Unsurprisingly, some natives refused to leave their historical homes within the gusu, thereby rejecting the new imposition of Western state ideology on their manner ofexistence.
As natives were being excluded from their forests, the BSAC hurriedly began to assess the forests of Matabeleland for their commercial value. With the help of foresters from British-ruled South Africa, the BSAC initially identified four tree species that had the potential to be commercially profitable. However, the imperial wars of 1894 and 1897 hampered the ability of the foresters to determine the value of gusu, and therefore their reports fell foul to short-sightedness. However, from 1898, felling within these forests began, and up until 1908 the sole contractor responsible for legal felling operations was the Matabele Timber Trust. However, illegal felling was rife, and therefore, whilst legal felling was rather limited, when illegal felling was added into the equation the extent of deforestation became far more significant. During this period, much timber was used by the mining organisations within Matabeleland, who consumed timber at quite alarming rates to fuel their operations; much forest clearance was also undertaken for the purposes of agricultural expansion. At the beginning of 1909, the BSAC commissioned further reports into the economic state of the gusu. This time, reports came from the regional level, and were supplemented by a national report (The Sim Report) undertaken by Sim, a South African forester. This time, 24 species were recognised as possessing retail value, and this assessment subsequently became the crux of all future forestry developments in Matabeleland. The 1909 Private Location Ordinance also assisted with pushing natives into Reserves, such as the GNR, so that the state could harness the value of the gusu for its own ends.
This new perception of the gusu as being far more economically fruitful quickly led to the BSAC prohibiting shifting cultivation altogether, because of its observed destructive consequences with regards to forestry. Unfortunately, the state did not recognise the variety of ecological and cultural benefits of the practice, in making this decision, and it therefore was not surprising that the state also entertained prohibiting forest use by natives altogether. It was perhaps only a result of the protest, from the indigenous Africans and also some white settlers and state commissioners, that didn’t see such an extensive ban being enforced. Certain state commissioners and settlers even disagreed that shifting cultivation was a serious concern, remarking that mining operations were far more destructive, and some also attributed its prohibition to inciting unwanted unrest amongst the native communities. Additionally, this more preferable economic understanding of the gusu even led to native communities being driven out of areas of the Reserves they were pushed towards, which caused further tension between the state and indigenous Africans. In essence, natives were aghast at the glaring double-standards exercised by the state: the state had concerns over deforestation caused by shifting cultivation, to only then permit even greater deforestation for economic gain.
The year after, in 1910, when state-permitted forestry operations began to gain serious momentum (of which much still went to the mining organisations), the Forest Branch was created within the Ministry of Agriculture. This new Forest Branch was tasked with the responsibility of dealing with forestry-related issues, and ensuring the gusu was managed with conservation in mind. Unfortunately, because the Forest Branch lacked any forest officer or other dedicated member of staff prior to 1920, and the fact that the state was eagerly pursuing short-term and quick-win strategies to forest management that involved massive amounts of felling, forest conservation was barely even practiced – if at all. During this ten year period, in 1917, the BSAC government also signed a deal with the Hepker brothers (Rhodesia Native Timber Concessionaires) that essentially monopolised the gusu. Initially an eight year agreement that would end in 1925, it was extended to 1935 two years into the contract, albeit with two other companies also gaining access to state forests. These organisations, particularly the RNTC, swiftly began recklessly felling high quality trees en masse. For example, stumps were left at 3-4ft in height, and as much as 50% of felled timber was left where it was cut.
Subsequently, when Henkel became the first part-time forest officer of the Forest Branch in 1920, he likened the situation to that of mining, and was quoted as exclaiming that the “forests [were] simply being mined”. Notably, Baikiaea plurijuga and Guibourtia coleosperma were “doomed to extinction”. However, with the Forest Branch only possessing Henkel and five other members of part-time staff, it was still unable to fulfil what it was tasked with fulfilling, and thus it was perhaps not unexpected that the BSAC government declined to increase its staffing levels after appeals in 1921 – it simply was not ‘in favour’. However, it did start to mark up protected forest areas, and by 1923 some 774,422 acres of forest in Matabeleland were classed as forest reserve. Many species of tree also became scheduled, and thereby were protected wherever they stood. These areas did not permit native access or utilisation whatsoever, thereby prohibiting any and all acts that were once seen as entirely acceptable. Ironically, such areas could still be felled for mining organisations, where there was a pressing need for accessible timber.
When the BSAC government ceased to hold power following national elections during 1923, and the Responsible Government took over rule of Zimbabwe, it assumed control of the state’s forests. In 1925, the Lands Commission advised the government on forest matters, and 90% of all gusu was marked as a forest reserve by 1930. Even the Reserves set up for the indigenous Africans suffered further erosion by the state, with up to 70% of their total extent being lost during this period. A tax of 10 shillings on all natives within the Reserves was also established in 1931, and all adult males also had to pay a 50 shilling tax, per month. As a consequence, natives were further excluded from their surrounding and already limited forests, and this led to many communities suffering from outward migration, as the quality of life dropped for many. Some forest tenants, as they were now known, were also evicted from the shrinking Reserves, for not paying their tax – some refused to leave, in protest. These migrants and evicted tenants would then pursue work elsewhere, even if it was for the RNTC or other forestry-associated organisation. However, such organisations favoured workers from other areas of Africa, as they were less prone to leaving to see family either temporarily or permanently. Therefore, only 20% of the total workforce was native to Matabeleland. Also in 1925, the RNTC signed a revised agreement to harvest the gusu with a near monopoly once again, which was granted. Protest by indigenous Africans meant that, in 1926, the RNTC was mandated by the state to gain permission from the native communities within the Reserves if they were to log within gusu found within those areas. Soon after, in 1927, after the RNTC ignored this rule, and through lobbying pressure, the state overturned such a requirement.; even in spite of protest internally, by the Forest Branch. Throughout, natives also ignored the state’s laws, and continued to use the forest as they historically had done, though for entirely different reasons to the RNTC.
It was only in 1934 when the Forest Branch was granted its first full-time officer, in John Wilkins. Subsequent to this, it was far more able to effectively promote forest conservation, thereby challenging the RNTC’s monopoly over the gusu, as well as helping restrict African access to the gusu. Such an appointment could not have come any later, in fact, for much of the gusu was so damaged by unrestrained logging that the volume of timber had fallen by as much as 80% within stands, and mature Baikiaea plurijuga had nigh disappeared altogether – even within the Reserves created for the indigenous Africans. Therefore, after Wilkins submitted his report to the government, the RNTC’s push to gain even more control over the gusu was rejected, and more strict measures on the felling of trees were enforced, with no trees below 12in in DBH being allowed to be felled legally, in addition to no felling of trees above this size leaving stumps higher than 15in. Within the Reserves, any trees felled were also to be taxed as they stood prior to felling, and any such proceeds would go towards improving the quality of life for natives living within the Reserves (notably the GNR and SNR), under the scheme known as the Native Reserve Trust.
Around this time, the Forest Branch also relied upon the help of indigenous Africans to help police the forests as forest rangers (otherwise dubbed Special Native Constables), though as the staff of the Forest Branch were seen as the flagbearers of state control against traditional relations with the gusu, natives were wary of assisting at all, and at times even committed acts of arson on state forest land in protest against such intervention measures. The poor wages, if the natives were even paid, probably contributed to this stance, also. Despite this, natives were also on hand to fight these fires, and protect forest from harm more generally – when they were willing to do so, of course. When such forest rangers did find individuals breaching forest regulations that included acts of arson, and who were usually natives (but not at all exclusively – white settlers also breached forest rules), then these natives would be prosecuted in response. However, a successful prosecution was not a given, and in one year alone 600 of the 804 natives pursued for forest offences were found innocent, in retrospect. Without doubt, this barrage of arrests and pursuits of prosecution led to a rather tumultuous relationship between the indigenous communities and the state.
Inside the Reserves, the Forest Branch also began to create Native Forest Areas, during the 1930s and early 1940s. The GNR took centre stage in this regard, as the Forest Branch saw it as highly viable in the commercial sense, and its longevity to provide hardwood timber was critical for the state. Within the Reserves, land was segmented into fragments denoted as residential, farming, grazing, or forest land, and thus the use of the land within Reserves such as the GNR became markedly differentiated. However, as much of the forest land came at the expense of farming land, communities within the Reserves were left with progressively declining areas of land in which they could farm; all whilst supporting greater levels of population – which too was a problem, and this resulted in the Forest Branch evicting some people from the Reserves, in an attempt to keep population levels down.
Individuals were also barred from cutting native trees without a license granted by the Forest Branch, as were they mandated to aid in reforestation efforts of both native tree species and exotic ones. A quota system was also introduced, thereby limiting the amount of timber that could legally be extracted during a given period of time, and this affected natives, logging and milling companies, and any private land owner who wished to fell his or her trees. In many instances, native individuals thus resorted to illegally obtaining timber, at the risk of being imprisoned. For the large companies undertaking forestry operations, the Forest Branch also began attempting to rigorously monitor all operations, in addition to limiting the extent of forestry operations; as did the Forest Branch seek to limit cattle grazing by natives in Reserves, as such grazing endangered regeneration. In response to this measure, some natives chose not to comply, though in fact many were responsive to the demands, in spite of their increased precarious situation having lost potentially many heads of cattle.
Despite such progress towards the forest conservation ideal, on behalf of the Forest Branch, the Second World War acted as a significant dampener to these goals, and in many an aspect reversed all advancement towards this end. Simply put, output from forestry returned to the wildly unsustainable and un-regulatable levels that existed before the mid 1920s, in order to fund the war machine. The RNTC was a major player in this scenario – of course, there were many other organisations that also helped to create the revival of intense forestry (legally or illegally); as did indigenous Africans grasp at the opportunity, and partake in illegal felling. However, as the Second World War came to a close and logging levels remained high, the indigenous (and settler) outlook towards the forest changed somewhat. Instead of being averse to forest conservation, there was an increasing demand for its conservation – perhaps, because of the sobering situation the forests of Matabeleland were in, during this period. This led, therefore, to the first piece of governmental legislation relating exclusively to holistic forest management, and was entitled the Forest Act (1949). Within the Act, sections included forest demarcation, controls to timber rights, the practice of forest conservation, protection of forests from fires, and penalties for committing forestry offences. Evidently, the forests of Matabeleland, and those who used the forests, were now subject to a much more formalised level of scrutiny, and potentially subject to the greater wrath of the state.
Consequently, during the last few years of the 1940s and into the 1950s, the Forest Branch became more militant in its pursuance of protecting the gusu from fires by making them void of forest dwellers, who were considered a major risk against forest conservation. Even those who lived in the forests legally were becoming marginalised by the state, as the Forest Branch proceeded with its end game of total fire protection – much to the distaste of those living within the forest, who saw their value as being lesser than that of a tree. The situation was compounded by the strong lack of desire, on behalf of the Forest Branch, to allow for schools, trading stores, and other buildings to be built within the forests, because such community hubs might increase the risk of fire – even though there was a very evident native demand for such services, and notably schools. Similarly, road networks were few and far between, and the use of such roads was limited to those that were given permission to use them, by the Forest Branch; where buses could transport natives through the forest, rarely were bus stops found within the forest itself, for similar safeguarding reasons. However, because such residents of the forests of Matabeleland were generally the source of cheap forest labour, their presence was considered both positive and negative for the longevity of the gusu. This was a particularly pertinent point of consideration, given foreign labourers were distinctly lacking after the war, for reasons including that their native countries were retaining them for their own purposes.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Forest Branch, which became the Forestry Commission in 1954, after the Forest Amendment Act of 1953 came into force, further continued in its quest for absolute forest conservation and protection. Not only did the RNTC lose its essentially absolute control over the gusu of Matabeleland, with a further six logging contractors being introduced in a bid to help conserve forests and promote more responsible logging complete with reduced wastage, but it continued to evict native Africans from the gusu. The reason behind such eviction was, in part, due to growing population levels placing strain upon the gusu, as natives frequently obtained timber and other forest products illegally, though also to protect the forests from fire. Consequently, illegal settlements continued to remain rife, and ‘freedom farming’ (known locally as ‘madiro’), which involved clearing gusu along fertile river banks for cultivation, was practiced as an act of defiance against the state.
Other forest crimes that occurred during the 1950s were the ever-population acts of arson, trespass, illegal felling, the construction of trading stores, and the over-grazing of land with cattle. Such defiant acts were perhaps more abundant and – in the eyes of the state – ideologically venomous, due to the rising nationalistic outlook of Africans in Matabeleland. The Forestry Commission’s iron rule over the gusu, to the detriment of the natives, was a perfect embodiment of the natives’ struggle against colonial power, and therefore they ensured that they did their best to undermine its authority as an organisation.
Unsurprisingly, come 1960, the progressive alienation of natives from the gusu became a principal factor in why guerillas battled the state within the forests of Matabeleland. As political instability became ever more tumultuous, tensions further ignited and civil war broke out in 1966. The onset of the civil war meant that the Forestry Commission could not effectively enact its forest policy, which led to the gusu being utilised more liberally by natives. In essence, there was a temporary return to the times prior to forest regulations; albeit amongst a fiery climate where different organisations were wrestling for political power. However, after fourteen years, in 1980, when the British decided to grant Zimbabwe independence, the now native government did little to change forest policy. In fact, it very much continued in the footsteps of the British, and arguably even more eagerly pursued economic gain, in order to fund governmental projects. Therefore, in spite of achieving macrocosmic independence, at the more minute level indigenous Africans were still no more free than they were before independence – forests were still heavily regulated, and natives were excluded from the gusu.
The politically-fuelled backlash against commercial forestry efforts by governments (often initiated in the past by Western colonial governments) is an interesting aspect of how trees can wander into the realm of politics. Traditionally, forests have been at the centre of many human civilisations over the millennia, enabling forward progression through the sustainable utilisation of forest resources (for construction, fire, husbandry, and so on) under the jurisdiction of the local community (or communities). In this sense, there is a marked link between traditional man and the forest. Subsequently, the intervention of governments in order to commercialise forest management practices so to increase state revenue – originating in Germany, when the University of Freiburg was the first university to offer a formalised education on forestry practice in 1787 – has routinely been met with backlash in many regions of the world, as this usurpatious shift in forest management directly challenges cultural identity. Over the next few blog posts, a few rather lengthy case studies (written over the past six months) will outline how state forestry has brilliantly collided with historic custom and agrarian lifestyles. I truly hope you enjoy them, and if you want a list of all state forestry books I know of (I have a good dozen, from memory) please just ask!
State forestry in Burma (Myanmar)
Prior to Burma becoming a British colony in 1824, the Burmese monarchy had – in spite of the portrayal by the British – a sound forest management regime in place. Principally, because of Burma’s desirable forests of teak (Tectona grandis), which is a timber that is well-suited for the construction of naval vessels, and also buildings, there had been both internal and external demand for such timber for centuries. As a consequence, there was much potential profit involved for the monarchy, and therefore the harvesting and transportation of felled teak was carefully regulated – particularly when such harvesting was for-profit purposes; for the rural forest peasant, regulations were not necessarily as applicable, because of the subsistence use of the timber and the isolation of rural settlements from the (literally) centralised governance of the monarchy. Additionally, in the uncommon instances where the monarchy did seek to enforce forest regulations upon the peasants, such enforcement was met with backlash. Therefore, before the entrance of the British, rural Burmese peasants suffered little intervention from any form of large governing body, and the teak forests were managed with – at least to a degree – their long-term conservation in mind.
Upon the arrival of British rule however, such state-peasant dynamics altered – albeit, not too drastically to begin with. When the British gained control of the region of Tenasserim in 1824, because of the large scale deforestation of Great Britain, the fact that teak was a better timber for naval uses than oak (Quercus robur), the waning importation of oak timber from the Balkans, and the concept of deforestation being synonymous with industrial progression, the British undertook – and also permitted – large-scale deforestation of Tenasserim’s teak forests. Dubbed laissez-faire forestry, felling operations were not at all rational and were in fact quite frenetic, and therefore by 1856 Tenasserim’s teak forests had been irreparably damaged; notably by private organisations who regularly escaped the ineffective enforcement of the basic forest regulations put in place by the British. Such a laissez-faire approach had little impact upon the native peasantry, as they were free to undertake their practices as they did under the rule of the monarchy. In fact, many peasants benefited from this approach economically, as locals were employed to harvest timber, transport it, and also enforce basic forest rules.
However, in 1852, having learned from the grave mistake that now plagued the teak forests of Tenasserim, when the British secured the southern province of Pegu, they swiftly moved to enforce much stricter rules upon the management of forests. Spearheaded by Lord Dalhouise, in 1853 all teak forests were declared the property of the state, and extraction of teak was forbidden without explicit permission. Soon after, in 1855, Dalhouise wrote the document entitled Minute of Forest Policy of 1855, and appointed Dietrich Brandis as Forest Superintendent, who formed The Burma Forest Department one year later in 1856. At its core, this new organisation would oversee man’s interaction with Burma’s forests (a panoptic pursuit), and employ the more rational and scientific approach to forestry that had been developed in Germany and France some decades before, with the purpose of significant economic gain from harvesting teak and other tree species. Also at the core of this alteration in direction was the observed wastefulness of the peasantry, in the eyes of the British. Evidently, according to the British, Burmese peasants could not be responsible for managing their forests, as they openly used it inefficiently, or destroyed it unnecessarily.
Whilst the new Forest Department lacked much authority in the years immediately following its inception, by the mid 1860s it grew in potency and by 1885 had tripled in size from its size of 1861. During this development period, the department began to significantly erode the traditional rights of the Burmese peasantry, and from multiple angles. With regards to the practice of shifting cultivation, which saw a peasant farmer routinely clearing new patches of teak forest for cultivation and using the burned remains of the teak as fertiliser, because of its direct impact upon the efficacy of teak harvesting by the state, and its alleged antithetical positioning compared to scientific forestry, the practice was essentially outlawed from 1856 – it was seen as not being an intrinsic right, with only settled agricultural practices being a right as defined by the state.
Subsequently, peasants undertaking such a form of cultivation protested in two ways: through avoidance and resistance. For example, peasants would flee Pegu permanently, or only temporarily after clearing an area for cultivation and crossing the border to Siam when forest officials were in the area, as would they clear teak and entirely destroy evidence of teak ever being there. More boldly, they may simply plead ignorance to forest regulations, if questioned. Such a state of affairs led to, in 1869, the state adopting what was known as taungya forestry, which allowed peasants to clear land for cultivation and, upon such clearance, cultivate their crops within an area of teak that had been planted at the same time. Then, after a period of some years, as the teak regenerated, the cultivators would move on to another forest patch and undertake the same operations.
The peasants who did not practice shifting cultivation were also impacted by such state regulations in Pegu. Whilst such regulations did not initially impact the general populace, both because only teak extraction was regulated and the Forest Department lacked man power and expertise, by 1875 the state’s classification of other tree species (a total of 14 other species, including Dipterocarpus tuberculatus, Lagerstroemia speciosa, Pterocarpus macrocarpus, Senegalia catechu, and Xylia xylocarpa) as protected from unlicensed felling led to unrest amongst the peasantry.
In essence, not only did this now marked limitation on timber harvesting conflict with the traditional Buddhist way of life, which saw timber used for construction felled only under specific auspicious circumstances, but it also limited their ability to use the forest both as a source of income and for subsistence purposes. Granted, the state did permit peasants to use the forest for reasons to do with subsistence, but such an exclusion from the forests of Pegu at large resulted, unsurprisingly, in backlash. Forms of such backlash from the peasants included illicitly felling trees for their timber, harvesting trees and selling them on the black market to native timber traders, resorting to felling only those trees not protected by the state (which took place to quite significant levels, in some instances), and destroying the property of the Forest Department.
As the Forest Department grew, it also adopted an ever-increasing scientific approach to forestry; this translated over into those employed by the department. Originally, the aim had been for the department to employ local people, though the lack of expertise and associated shortcomings in forest enforcement led quickly to attention being diverted to Europe – notably Germany and France, where forestry was being taught quite rigorously. Therefore, as the department grew in size from 1861 to 1885, whilst local foresters were still locals employed by the state, the higher paid forest conservators and other officials were not native Burmese individuals, which led to unrest even within the Forest Department. In essence, the Burmese foresters were unhappy at the evident glass ceiling within the organisation, and this resulted in the foresters defrauding the Forest Department and falsifying reports.
Come 1881, the state had passed the Burma Forest Act. This new piece of legislation enabled the colonial government to more readily establish ownership of forest lands, and to denote forest reserves where it was deemed pertinent to do so – in essence, the Act allowed for a more extensive and effective state consolidation of Burma’s forests. In Pegu, this led to most of teak forest being classified as a reserve, by 1990. Further north in Upper Burma, which came under British rule following the 1884-86 Anglo-Burmese War, reserves were similarly established (in a bid to standardise forestry practice in Burma), and come 1900 a total of 51% of teak forest area was classed as reserve. Other species of tree, such as Senegalia catechu, which was harvested for its water exudes used for tanning and dyeing, were also protected through the designation of forest reserves.
Unquestionably, because these reserves prohibited traditional practice, such as grazing, shifting cultivation, burning, and the harvesting of timber and collection of firewood, this pursuit of forest brought with it civil unrest amongst the peasantry reliant upon the forest. By-and-large, both the intentional burning of reserves, and then subsequent refusal to co-operate with the extinguishing efforts, were the methods of protest adopted. Furthermore, because Upper Burma had already experienced forest management prior to British rule, the contractors and rulers undertaking forestry operations at the time of a change in the ruling elite – namely the powerful Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Limited (BBTLC) – were uneasy at the desire for the British to remove their rights to harvest timber (notably teak), and therefore after much pressure it was decided that, at least for the BBTLC, private operations could continue under state supervision. Rulers, including the Sawbwas of the Shah region, were marginalised, and thus lost access to their extensive forests.
As the 19th century approached its close, the Forest Department had gained power over much of Burma’s forests – almost all forests had been inventoried. Therefore, when the Burma Forest Act of 1902 was passed, it came as little surprise that the state had begun to further pursue control over forests. Based heavily on the principles of scientific forestry being applied only in exiting forest reserves, allowing those non-reserved area to be maintain by the peasantry at their own discretion, the Forest Department opted to principally use five different European contractors – including BBTLC, though no longer with a monopoly – for forestry operations, on fifteen-year leases. In this sense, the Forest Department would oversee a return to privatisation of forestry, much how it had been prior to 1856.
Unfortunately, by 1909, native contractors accounted for only 23% of the total output from state forestry operations, because of the more favourable stance the European contractors were seen in when it came to issuing leases for forestry operations (mainly because they were larger companies, meaning the Forest Department didn’t need to oversee so many contractors), which led to much animosity between Burmese contractors and the state – this was further exacerbated by 1924, when native contractors were responsible for only 5% of output. Compiled with the almost entire outlawing on shifting cultivation by the 1920s, because of its perceived associations with soil erosion, flooding, and a poor teak crop, and the designation of lowland forests as reserves because of their declining extent within the plains of Burma (agricultural production had increased so markedly – from 800,000 acres in 1982 to 6,000,000 acres in 1906), the situation during the this period led to much protest – namely the illegal extraction of timber, and illegal grazing of cattle. In some cases, 90% of all recorded crime came from the lowlands, where the demands on what little forest remained conflicted with the state’s classification of these forests as protected reserves.
The plight of those in the plains was also picked up by nationalist political movement, such as the General Council of Sangha Sammeggi, who supported local nationalist organisations known as wunthanu athin. These local movements aired the grievances of the plains peasantry, with regards to their inaccessible forest reserves, and their affiliations with national movements gave local voices a national audience. In turn, by the 1920s, nationalist politicians and the middle class were in support of the peasantry in the plains.
In response to this demand for forests to provide the peasantry with what they require, the state came to recognise that commercial forestry operations in reserves could not constitute the exclusive use of the reserved forests of Burma – notably in the lowlands. Therefore, in 1923, after the British colonial government provided the Burmese with partial rule of their country during 1921 and the Whyte Committee subsequently assessed the situation with Burmese forests at length, the Forest Department was handed over to the Burmese, and by 1930 the post of Forest Secretary was filled by a native individual. Thus began the process of ‘Burmanisation’ within the Forestry Department.
However, the actual amount of influence the Burmese had on the Department was slim, at this time – decisions relating to leases to forestry contractors were made in London, and only British officials had the power of appointing new people to the Department. As a consequence, unrest persisted, and forest crimes peaked during the mid 1930s. Come 1937, at the enacting of the Government of Burma Act of 1935, the power of the Burmese to regulate the use of their own forests was accentuated however, though this did not curb protest completely and in 1940 the Forest Department even began a propaganda campaign detailing the benefits of forest conservation through reserves.
A few years later in 1942, such power granted in the 1935 Act was further augmented after the Japanese acquired Burma during World War II and aided with integrating Burmese individuals into the Forest Department under the absence of the British. Having granted them ‘independence’ soon after, upon the return of the British after the end of the war 1945, the state was unable to implement scientific forestry again because of the huge amount of ‘lawlessness’ (relating to what was deemed a forest crime under British rule) in the forests. Notably, many forest reserves in the planes were cleared to make way for agriculture, during this three year period, though more broadly enforcing forest law effectively was simply not feasible; in part, because the Japanese simply ‘looted’ the forests of their timber to fund the war effort – an act which the peasantry mirrored all too zealously, in some scenarios. Curiously, even the Burmese who worked in the Forest Department during this time tried to enforce forest laws, and even sought to ensure that forests were managed as they were prior to the war’s impact on Burma.
After 1948 independence, which marked the conclusion of the period of Burmanisation, forest protests continued; albeit under a different political catalyst. Initially, until 1953, because of significant civil unrest across Burma, the Forestry Department had no forests to maintain – all were in the hands of insurgent groups, and only under armed guard could forest officials practice even the most basic of forestry tasks. Therefore, during this period the Department sought to instead simply plan its approach of once again employing scientific forestry as the core means of forest management following the calming of unrest, after the now entirely Burmese Forestry Department determined the scientific approach introduced by the British was in fact highly beneficial for the state. Soon after in 1954, having witnessed the persistent deforestation of Burma’s forests during this period of unrest (and before), the government sought to – with help from the Forestry Department – reforest 200,000 acres of forest in the more politically stable plains of Pegu.
During the following years, plantations were therefore created with help from willing locals; of which 4,000 were full-time employees and 20,000 part-time employees. In this sense, state forestry provided many local peasants with employment, during a time of political tumult, though such employment was often both mandatory and unpaid. Furthermore, shifting cultivation was once again outlawed in Pegu, with fixed agricultural practices being promoted in its place. In remote hilly areas this enforcement was not successful however, as insurgents resisted the will of the Forestry Department. It wasn’t until 1975, when the Burmese army cleared these hills of insurgents, that the hill forests were regained by the Forest Department, and scientific forestry could once again be practiced and shifting cultivation more effectively prohibited.
Evidently, the hills of Burma were of a different political climate entirely. Owned by insurgent groups, these areas were largely off-limits to the Forest Department, and only at the hands of the army cold they be regained. Because forests were highly valuable assets, notably in terms of their consistent provision of revenue, they were fiercely protected by insurgent groups, and in some respects these groups acted akin to the Forest Department – peasants were taxed for using the forest, and timber was sold to sustain the existence of these groups. For instance, the Karen National Union of Kawthoolei used the forests within the region as their main source of income from the 1960s, and the Kawthoolei Forestry Department created by the Union rivalled the state’s Forest Department, who themselves expanded within the region from a mere handful of staff in the 1950s to 463 during the early 1990s. The battle in this case was for territory, and the territory was the forest.
Following the violent military coup of 1988, spearheaded by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which overthrew the socialist government of the time, the forestry agenda again altered. The desire for short-term profit, because of Burma’s dire financial situation (which had largely persisted from 1948), meant that large-scale forestry operations were politically necessary for SLORC, who swiftly agreed a deal with neighbouring Thailand to log the Thai-Burmese border forests. For Thailand, this deal was also of marked benefit, because in 1988 the state banned all logging within the country after its forests had suffered massive losses at the hands of loggers over the preceding decades. The contractors for such logging activities were all Thai in origin, and therefore Burmese contractors lost out on any potential income from this venture. However, come the close of 1993, because of the sheer extent of illegal activities committed by the Thai loggers, the agreement was suspended and logging halted. Curiously, where Burmese loggers had been given contracts by SLORC and the Forest Department elsewhere in Burma around the same time, illegal logging was also an issue and this led to such agreements also being terminated by 1994. Compiled with the continued encroachment upon Burma’s forests by the peasantry who still sought to ignore forest law, Burma’s forests were still under threat.
At this time, the SLORC government also passed the Forest Law of 1992, which supported the incorporation of social issues into forest management, in addition to broader conversation aims – this new Law was supplemented with the National Forest Policy written by the Forest Department in 1994, which echoed the sentiments of the 1992 Law. However, forest conservation was still the prevailing issue, as was the need for the forest to provide revenue for the state, the Law thus allowed the state to begin doubling the number of forest reserves in the more remote regions of Burma, which had recently been relinquished of insurgent groups and their rule. This aim was supported through the state at the time signing Burma up to various organisations promoting forest conservation, including the International Tropical Timber Organisation. Subsequently, taungya forestry, and shifting cultivation in general, was once again to be outlawed, because it directly conflicted with the aims of rational and scientific forestry, thereby igniting peasant-state tensions for another time. Similarly, the use of forests beyond cultivation was to also be controlled, signalling to any outsider that state forestry and peasant use of the forest are at two ends of a political spectrum associated with resource access and control.
More recent years have in fact seen further bans of forestry within Burma, and to this date the state has banned logging in some areas for the benefit of the forests. In addition, the Burmese Army has set fire to plantations owned by small communities after the communities failed to provide forced labour. This details how the forest is still critical, to this day, and that an attack on the forest is an attack on the community.
Source: Bryant, R. (1997) The Political Ecology of Forestry in Burma. UK: Hurst & Company.