When a professor at the University of British Columbia asked Derrick Stacey Denholm to research one indigenous plant or animal species for a paper in 2009, he decided to research three.
He felt the species were too interconnected to cover individually, so he chose the mountain hemlock tree, the blue chanterelle fungus and the devil’s club shrub and researched them simultaneously.
“They all have complex interactions and I didn’t really see how you could possibly just write about one,” he said.
Seven years later, Denholm is touring northern B.C. with his new book, Ground Truthing, inspired by that research.
A poet and forestry field worker of 25 years, the author draws on his experiences living and researching in northern B.C. to explore the following question:
“How can we work productively and participate ethically in a life that maintains respect for the wild, not only in the rain-soaked forests of B.C.’s north coast, but everywhere?”
For Denholm, many of the answers come from the First Nations people, whose knowledge he believes should be used collaboratively with Western science.
“The First Nations people say that everything they know they learned from an animal or a plant or from some aspect of nature, whether it’s medicine, food, how to best utilize things,” he said.
“We need to learn from the science and the ecology lessons that we are able to gain through Western science in combination with the local science.
“Traditional ecological knowledge isn’t hocus pocus, it’s as good a science as you can get.”
In his book, the author cites the example of the Heiltsuk Nation, whose fight to prevent the Department of Fisheries and Oceans from allowing a commercial herring fishery near Bella Bella has been making headlines this year.
He said the Heiltsuk’s knowledge of herring harvesting was invaluable and should be used to inform the government’s science and decisions.
“Together with the way they have their ancestral knowledge of how things work, they are able to make a much better prediction about how the herring, the roe on the kelp should be harvested,” he said.
Denholm said Ground Truthing tackles its subject matter laterally.
The chapters are called transects, which is a geography term for a path in a straight line on which scientists collect information as they come across it.
The author said the format of the book mimics the way that fungal mycelia, the living tissues of fungi, infiltrate the forest floor.
“They branch out straight forward into the environment and they meet things,” he said.
“They meet the roots of plants, they meet the roots of trees, they meet rock, they meet rotting wood and they make these huge networks where information is just passed back and forth.”
Similarly, he said the book tackles subjects as it reaches them.
He hopes it will encourage people to think about the impacts of recreation on the natural environment, and to consider the importance of First Nations land rights in B.C.
Denholm will be at the Smithers Public Library on April 23 at 7 p.m. to discuss his new book in more detail.