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Coppice & Pollard with Alex Slakie

treehugger's podcast

Release Date: 07/21/2021

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Disrupted by enclosure of the commons and colonialism, people have had a relationship with trees via coppice and pollard for eons. This is the show where we discuss the role moditional “modern” + “traditional” methods play in ecological restoration. The methods we talk about on this episode are known as live staking, coppicing and pollarding.

My guest on this episode is Alex Slakie who is a restoration ecologist, botanist, and herbalist. He currently resides on the shared lands of the Cascades, Clackamas, Wasco, Multnomah, and Chinook peoples in Corbett, Oregon. Alex is the head of Flora Northwest LLC, a business that supplies willow live stakes and seeds for salmon habitat projects, sustainably harvested wild medicinal plants for herbal companies, and interesting nursery plants for home gardeners.  He grows and wild-tends willow coppices and stands of medicinal plants in the western Columbia River Gorge.

Find Flora NW online at www.floranw.com and on Instagram @floranorthwest

Alex studied ecology and sustainable agriculture at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.  He became deeply interested in botany and restoration ecology while doing a work-study program at the Sound Native Plants nursery and has been following that pathway ever since. 15 years later, Alex is still wild-tending willow coppices for live stake production and is passionate about this almost lost art of forest management. 

On a book recommendation from Alex, I picked up William Bryant Logan’s Sproutlands: Tending the Endless Gift of Trees. Logan explains it by saying “From ten millennia to about two hundred years ago, every person in every forested part of the world would have known exactly what we mean by “coppice and pollard.” The idea is simple: when you break, burn or cut low the trunks of almost any leafy tree or shrub, it will sprout again. New branches will emerge from behind the bases, either from buds that were dormant, waiting for their cue to grow, or from twigs newly formed by the cambium.”

Enclosure has a role to play in this story too. Over the course of several centuries, much of Europe’s land was privatized. That is to say taken out of some form of collective ownership and management known as the “commons” and handed over to individuals = turned into capital. Grippingly, William Bryant Logan holds space for this in his Sproutlands book. He depicts how much of the English commons was in coppice and pollard when the crown and wealthy landowners began to enclose lands as early as the 14th century. Of course, this system was exported around the world in a variety of forms of colonialism. With it, we have lost some of art, culture and political ecology of coppice and pollard as well as the relationship we had with the land.

A Short History of Enclosure in Britain in The Land: An Occasional Magazine about Land Rights. Summer 2009

The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons by Matto Mildenberger in Scientific American April 23, 2019

Editing for this episode provided by the wonderful Katie Dunn

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Music on the show was from DJ Freedem

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