Forest Expert Walks the Talk of Bioregionalism

By Heffern, Rich | National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 2004 | Go to article overview

Forest Expert Walks the Talk of Bioregionalism


Heffern, Rich, National Catholic Reporter


Leroy Hollow is a forested valley in southern Missouri near the Trappist Assumption Abbey. It winds several miles from Hilo Ridge down to Bryant Creek, a clear-flowing, rock-bottomed Ozark waterway.

A spring-fed stream shaded by spicebush and pawpaw trees runs down the hollow's center. Its banks are carpeted with bloodroot, trillium and other wildflowers. In autumn the tinted leaves in the forest canopy filter the sun overhead like stained glass.

The hush and silence of the place could be bottled and sold to noise-addled city dwellers.

Leroy Hollow's beautiful trees suffered two assaults in the last century. In the 1910s loggers cut down the oaks, then hewed them into railroad ties, hauling them out with horses. In the 1970s loggers returned with chainsaws and toppled many of the children of the first assault, sending them to hardwood flooring mills. Government forestry experts advised the loggers on how to maximize profits.

Now a different kind of forest expert, David Haenke, walks the hollow, marking trees for local loggers to harvest.

Haenke's forest project will eventually protect more than 3,500 acres and demonstrate ecological management and sustainable harvesting of native forests. He has given a presentation on forest management to the Trappist monks nearby, who live and pray in the midst of thousands of acres of prime forestland.

Haenke has a vision:

"The land where I work is in the watershed of a beautiful Ozark stream called Bryant Creek. Back in 1977 I had a vision to create 'The Bryant Creek Nation,' where caring people would get all the land in the 40-mile watershed into an ecological trust. A big dream, but one worth having."

Haenke believes that every single thing humans need to do in order to survive and thrive can and must be done according to the ecological laws and design principles given freely, directly and almost eternally by the Earth. "This is nothing new," he says. "It's how humans have seen and done things throughout the bulk of history, except during the industrial insanity of the last 500 years."

David is more than a forestry expert. He helped start the bioregional movement back in the 1970s.

Bioregionalism is an emerging field in the new ecological worldview. It's concerned with reshaping our understanding of human identity in relation ship to place, to ecosystem and to nature. We need to learn to understand ourselves in relationship to place and to the story of that place.

The bioregionalists advocate replacing the man-made, historically arbitrary political boundaries of nations, states and counties. They suggest instead using natural ecosystem features, such as watersheds, mountain ranges and entire biotic communities, human and nonhuman, as the defining features of a given region. …

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