“This sacrifice will bring retribution” – deforestation and its consequences

The following excerpts about deforestation  in New Zealand are from the Evening Post, 29 March 1910. They are just as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.

“This sacrifice will bring retribution,” was a recent comment of The Times in relation to the shortsighted Australasian practice of “improving” forest land by wholesale destruction of the native woods. The process is so gradual that it does not impress as it should the resident who sees it year after year going on before his eyes; but there are those who can look back forty or fifty years and recall the aspect of wooded hills, vocal with the song of native birds, now waste and barren, scarred with landslips, not even affording pasture — an eyesore instead of a beauty…

The people and Government of the country are not ignorant of the state of things, nor of the penalty that must one day be paid; but as year after year passes the evil is intensified and the remedy becomes more difficult… Naturalists and geographers have long raised their protest against indiscriminate forest destruction, and have pointed to terrible examples in other parts of the world. The facts are undeniable; but the future is still being sacrificed for the sake of immediate and temporary gain.

The natural provision by which the moisture is retained in the earth – the thousand checks upon too swift a discharge of the surface drainage — these are removed, and the rainfall sweeps in a turbid torrent to the ocean, carrying with it acres of fertile soil, silting up river-beds and forming bars in their mouths, while agriculture suffers by denudation of the rocky or clay base, as the alluvial Boil is swept away. Rivers cut destructively into ancient flat, sweeping sometimes round the ends of bridges and forming new channels. Local bodies, as well as private owners, on the banks of rivers like the Rangitikei and Manawatu, are already realising to their cost some of the results of deforestation in loss of considerable areas of land and in expensive protective works to avert still further destruction.

[Photo: Carting railway sleepers from Totara Reserve, Opawe Road, Pohangina Valley, about 1904. Photo by C. E. Wildbore. Palmerston North City Library.]

See also: The evils of deforestation,Why is understanding our environmental history so important? and The ultimate paradox?

One thought on ““This sacrifice will bring retribution” – deforestation and its consequences

  1. Alan January 9, 2010 / 2:15 pm

    Great post – when will we ever learn from history and from other histories… Many “civilisations” doom themselves due to environmental degradation of their own making… Wonder if we can manage not to follow past examples and actually learn? Unfortunately I think not – short-term gains can only be resisted for longer-term gains by intelligent beings!

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