Posted by: Dave Neads | July 12, 2008

Cottonwood Connections


My last post talked about the beauty of a July snowstorm provided by our magnificent cottonwood grove, so I was interested when I recently read that people in the mid-western states used to cut down cottonwoods along river banks and riparian zones, leaving them to rot. They weren’t good for lumber and they didn’t make good firewood, so why cut them down?

These wetland protectors were cut down simply because the cotton released in the spring or early summer clogged up screen doors and collected in little piles on porches and corners here and there.

With no thought other than “My screen door is clogged!”, people would cut down whole groves of these trees.

Of course, that has all changed. Cottonwoods are actually being restored to wetlands. Their fundamental importance for nesting habitat, stream bank holding capabilities and wetland function are now widely recognized. Cottonwoods are a keystone tree species in many wetland ecosystems and their removal destroys the balances required to maintain these places as functional plant communities.

So, it’s all in what you do or don’t see; it’s all in the way your understanding of the world manifests itself on your mental stage.

The cottonwood connections were always there, we just weren’t aware of them. Now it’s the same with burning forests for electricity. Most people still don’t see the importance of beetle altered forests as functioning ecosystems, as carbon sinks greater than clearcuts, as part of the global warming scenario.

Now we are talking of burning these trees, the worst thing you can do for CO2 emissions, the worst thing you can do for habitat.

In a very few short years people will be wondering what we were thinking as a society. Just like the idea of cutting down a cottonwood because the cotton fluff clogged up your screen door, the idea of burning forests in these times of rapid, massive climate change will be seen as an idea so outrageous as to be barely understandable.


  1. Those are beautiful pictures. I like the contrast.

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