West Virginia is perhaps best known for its scenic mountain vistas, unrivalled outdoor activities, and some of the warmest and welcoming people in the country. However, little is known about the forests that cover almost 80% of the state.
In the past almost, the entire state was covered by lush forest. However, early citizens cleared the land for crops and settlements. Later years saw the exponential growth of large lumber mills, and by the 1920s, the forests were almost entirely cleared of timber, leaving only brush and debris behind.
This waste caught fire and wildfires burned swathes of Forrest eliminating thousands of acres of woodland across the state. Without the foliage's protection, the land became increasingly susceptible to flood and erosion further exacerbating the issue.
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In 1933, the state implemented the Conservation Commission, which cooperated with the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)to develop a plan. Together they managed the planting of new trees, elimination of wildfires, and developed wildlands.
However, today West Virginia has handed the Division of Forestry a new mandate. There is a new focus to guard, cultivate, sustain, and promote logical consumption of the state's forest resources.
Nowadays West Virginia has become the third most forested state in the nation which is drawing disturbing parallels to those dark days of old.
The Division of Forestry manages seven state forests and runs the Clements State Tree Nursery, the only forest tree nursery in the state. Clements State produces bare-root seedlings, the bulk of them are native to West Virginia. These seedlings are used in many projects such as reforestation, reclamation of mines, wildlife cover and even Christmas tree production.
Most people fail to realize the importance of trees, but they are the lifeblood of the planet and integral to our ecosystem.
It sounds quite dramatic, but they are literally responsible for our ability to breath. Did you know that the Amazon Rainforest produces 20% of the world's oxygen and that too is depleting by the day due to illegal forestry activities?
The Arbor Day Foundation is the largest non-profit organization dedicated to planting trees. It states that one large tree can supply four people with oxygen each day. If that was not impressive enough think about this. Every part of a tree is consumed. It provides a natural habitat for hundreds of insects, animals, and plant life. Even when the tree dies, it continues to provide shelter and food. If trees were to simply disappear, the entire ecosystem would collapse overnight.
The Division of Forestry is continually trying to think up alternative measures to help support the environment. For example, they have programmes that sink discarded Christmas trees to the bottom of the state's lakes to provide underwater habitat for fish.
Truthfully, I could talk about how human activity negatively affects our environment forever, but I cannot deny that natural resources such as timber are significantly crucial to the world economy. The state of West Virginia alone generates $3.2 billion every year. That supports a huge chunk of the local economy and many thousands of families in the area. If cultivating wood stocks were banned, hundreds of sawmills, fencing companies, furniture builders, and joiners would go out of business. It is a conundrum and a tricky balancing act that must be dealt with and continually monitored.
The state's trees are utilized in some unique ways such as maple syrup production and whole industries owe their profits to them. Each fall, there is a state-wide celebration in recognition of the tree's contribution to the prosperity of the state. It draws visitors from all over the world. People never forget the colour of famous West Virginia's fall foliage. A colour that Lowe has captured superbly in this image.
Artists such as Lowe whether they know it or not are responsible for making people think. Their pictures can highlight potential and current problems, or even call us to action. Without them, we would likely sit idly by. I do not say that to make us feel bad. The world is far too big and complex for one person to understand. Also, it takes an army of photographers to document the world and its long list of issues. Let Lowe's images inspire you to pick up a camera and join the cause. You will not regret it.