As a labor historian and scholar of the timber industry, I’m fascinated with the self-documentation of work and especially logging. This is an edited version of The Incredible Forest, a documentary produced by the Canadian timber firm MacMillan Bloedel sometime around 1970.
This is a fairly typical version of the mythology the timber industry told about itself in these years when environmentalism was becoming a forceful movement for the first time. The loggers are referred to as the people taking care of the forest of tomorrow. But there’s surely no evidence of that in this film. It’s nothing but watching them cutting down ancient trees in 10 minutes, seen as a sign of progress. That teleological vision of progress is infused throughout this. Now instead of waste, there’s full utilization of the forest. Now instead of loggers living in isolated bunkhouses, there’s loggers on the PTA and in the Elks Club. Instead of a backwards society, now, thanks to the timber industry, we live in a fully modern society with plastics and veneer and mass-produced housing. Of course, some of the challenge of environmentalism has always been figuring out how to maintain consumerism with preserving our resources. To an extent, the answer is indeed greater efficiency and investment in new technologies, but it’s industries such as timber and oil and coal that are the most determined to stop those advancements because their immediate profits require the production of the current, unsustainable, resource. And while from one point, the harvesting and replanting of timber is “sustainable,” that disappears entirely if you think of the forest as anything but a timber farm, as the industry discovered when it had no answer for protecting the northern spotted owl in the 1980s.