On logging..

In a moment when there seems to be more urgency than ever to the issue of planting trees and reforestation, i recently found myself reflecting on the antithesis..deforestation and logging.

During the Spring ski season of last year i gaily disregarded on several occasions temporary signs and barriers warning of the dangers of heavy machinery at work logging trees in the Upper Lozoya/Rascafría Valley, an area with several popular hiking trails and a frequently used option to access some of the best mountain skiing available in the Sierra de Guadarrama, namely the North facing slopes of Cabezas de Hierro.

Heading for the 'Ironheads'..Cabezas de Hierro, Lozoya valley.

Heading for the ‘Ironheads’..Cabezas de Hierro, Lozoya valley.

Loggers don’t usually work on weekends and in any case i was just skimming across the Upper Valley barely below the treeline on my way to the higher terrain above the forest..unlikely to bump into any mechanical monsters. In the event even on the odd weekday i saw neither machines nor men at work, but the signs were always there. A tad annoying, i felt..on the one hand this is the so-called Parque Nacional de la Sierra de Guadarrama, why are hikers and skiers being warned not to proceed? And on the other hand the shabbiness, the sheer laziness of it – no work underway in the area of the upper valley, yet the signs were not removed, or moved further down the valley – for me, heading upwards it was no big deal, but others who might have wished to hike down the valley were being needlessly denied access.

Logging evidently underway, though no machinery around..

Logging evidently underway, though no machinery around..

What i did see however on the wooded slopes below Cabezas de Hierro was the evidence of logging operations carried out with the said heavy machinery..while the logging is selective and relatively few trees are removed, the tracks cut thru the forest by skidders or harvesters leave wide swathes of mangled vegetation and traumatized topsoil.

But the harvesters leave their mark, undeniably..

But the harvesters leave their mark, undeniably..

The least you could say about it is that it’s not beautiful. And what about erosion?..you can understand mountain bikers’ indignation when they are accused of causing hillside deterioration.

Skid-marks left by downhill bikers?

Skid-marks left by downhill bikers?


Earlier this Summer out walking in the Upper Valsaín Valley we came across extensive logging operations..this time heavy machinery included. There were warning signs too, in this case less rudely worded and more specific to the area where work was underway.

A felled trunk by the roadside makes for a convenient seat..

A felled trunk by the roadside makes for a convenient seat..

Logging has been so important historically to the Valsaín area that the upper valley has been deliberately omitted from the Parque Nacional territorial designation, despite being right in the heart of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Over the last decade the local economy has suffered considerably in the context of recession and a sharp drop in construction industry demand for wood, several forestry businesses have closed and there has been little or no logging carried out. In the last two years however a mild economic recovery in Spain has seen the resumption of logging operations with significant quantities of wood being harvested.

Voilà!..the heavy machinery.

Voilà..the heavy machinery!

Here the pro-logging argument is very clear: the people of small towns in mountain areas have to live off something, and tourism alone will not be enough to maintain local populations. Particularly in Spain where the demographic swing towards the big cities continues unabated, the abandonment of mountain villages and small towns is an inevitable consequence of the lack of employment opportunities for young people. This argument can be extended to defend ski resorts and suchlike. And it’s a strong argument..if you put yourself in the place of those defending their local economy.

Dude, sick forestry machine!

Dude, sick forestry machine!

Specifically the approach to the forestry business in the Valsaín area is often presented as an excellent model of forest husbandry. There is no clearcutting or blanket harvesting of trees across the hillside, trunks are felled selectively and removed. This has been the traditional practice and even though heavy machinery is now used – with the consequent damage to topsoil – contemporary Valsaín forestry is argued to be totally sustainable and respectful of habitats. Some would even call it ecoforestry.

Early morning on the Roman trail (Calzada Romana) above Valsaín.

Early morning on the Roman trail (Calzada Romana) above Valsaín.

Personally, from a non-professional and pro-conservation point of view, i can vouch that the Valsaín forests do seem to be very well managed..i have spent many of the most wonderful days of my life both in Summer and Winter in this area. Sure, it’s not always pretty when you run into tree harvesters on the job..logging operations – even if you dig the cool machines(!) – provoke a certain sense of conflicted fascination-repulsion. And then i like my wooden furniture too, and the wood has to come from somewhere. Surely better if it’s locally and sustainably sourced, right?

Selectively logged trunks - and branches - piled up for processing.

Selectively logged trunks – and branches – piled up for processing.


Then we flew to Ireland to spend a few weeks there this Summer..and we visited Glendalough, among other locations, where we got in a couple of days hiking. The main valley was its usual self..but as we climbed up towards An Spinc, the high ridge that forms the southern limit of the valley, what an unpleasant surprise awaited on the other side. The ancient oaks and sky-reaching larches that accompany you to where the boardwalk begins..gave way to a clearcut hillside sloping down abjectly into the adjacent valley.

The natural wonders of Ireland!

The natural wonders of Ireland!

The brutally felled, blanket-logged hillside provoked a sense of devastation and desolation akin to the aftermath of a major forest fire or multiple-day heavy artillery barrage. Nevertheless it was just normal logging operations, carried out by Coillte, the semi-state organization responsible for managing Ireland’s forests.

The desolate landscape resulting from clearcut logging.

The desolate landscape resulting from clearcut logging. Bloody ugly.

Now i knew that this type of harvesting occurred in Ireland, and i was vaguely aware that some quantity of forest in the Wicklow Mountains was commercial in nature..but i never imagined that this kind of logging would be carried out on the doorstep of one of the country’s most visited natural sites. Just from the purely mercenary point of view of marketing your big tourist attraction, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. Let alone if we consider the aspect of conservation of natural beauty just for the sake of it.

Piled up logs, below the stripped hillside, on the Wicklow Way.

Piled up logs, below the stripped hillside, on the Wicklow Way.

Marketing ugliness to tourists..some would say we do it all the time, maybe there’s nothing unusual about it. Hey, strip-logging is awesome! I am not the only one to have been surprised by it though.

As for conservation, the Coillte website is full of it..biodiversity, sustainability, ecotherapy, promotion of health and well-being, and so on. ”Many precious memories have been made walking magical forests trails with family and friends..” we are told. I fear that there will be few people who conserve precious memories of the boardwalk to An Spinc above Glendalough from the Summer of 2018.


About coldspringdays

Éireannach is ea mé, i mo chonaí insan Spáinn. Rugadh mé i lár na tuaithe, ar feadh blianta bhí mé ag teitheadh uaithi, i bhfad as an tuath, ach sa deireadh d'fhill mé, ar ais go dtí an tuath.. An Irishman am I, settled in Spain. Born was I in the middle of the country, for years I ran from it, far from the country, but in the end I returned, back to the country..
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