Friday, December 19, 2014

NANAIMO ARTS & CULTURE (5) by Dan Appell

Last week I  raised the possibility of using aesthetics as a fundamental economic principle. This week I would like to give you an example of someone local who did this.
Merv Wilkinson bought 36.4 Hectares of forest in 1938. He recognized the value of the forest and decided "he didn’t have to destroy the forest to harvest trees.” Over the course of 70 years Merv managed to make a good living, raise a family, increase his holdings and retain a small fortune while never harvesting more wood than the land produced and never destroying the valuable ecosystem he was in charge of.

I met Merv in the late nineties. He gave a small group of us a short introduction to his work, then he spent the rest of the afternoon railing against the ignorance of provincial forest policy, the ineptness of those managing forest resources and waste that results from both these efforts. He had hundreds of examples, and an equal number of statistics. It was very mind boggling, depressing and also inspiring in that we were led to believe that change for the better was possible.

Merv advocated for his type of forest management as provincial policy. These policies would closely resemble Scandinavian practise. Had his methods became policy we would likely have retained more forest, but, as well, we would have retained more wealth.  And that wealth would have been distributed evenly to holders of small forests. That wealth would still support an extensive secondary industry and a large amount of regional development. Perhaps even a large and significant cultural community. Instead we have had a system that strips the forest while moving all the wealth associated with it offshore.

The problem with Merv’s forest management system was that it required a particular kind of intelligence. While Merv was an encyclopedia of forest management practice, he also had the kind of intelligence that recognizes value, and the need to protect value while creating value for himself, his family and his community. These are the skills we are supposed to learn in art school, and from a generous study of nature as a significant part of an artist’s training. This makes me wonder about the possible benefits of putting artists in charge of economic policy.

(Photographs and quote taken from the website “Vancouver Island Big Tress” @


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