Land of Ashes

In June 2020, a massive inferno raged north of Lac Saint-Jean (Québec), decimating 72,000 hectares of the boreal forest. I took off with my camera along the rough gravel roads leading to the region, an unorganized territory within the Des Passes ZEC. This controlled zone is riddled with timber harvesting areas and access roads; tracked harvesters have left scars everywhere. The fire reduced what was left of the altered landscapes to ashes, and this land is now completely devastated. I picked my way through some of these blackened desert moonscapes.

While fire is a normal part of forest life, climate change is expected to increase the burnt-out expanses around the globe in the coming decades. This phenomenon will hit especially hard in forests that have not yet achieved the maturity required to regenerate, where it will take hundreds of years to re-establish the original plant cover. New forest plantings are comprised of young trees that do not produce many seeds and that represent only a few species destined for the lumber industry. These areas suffer from severe ecological poverty: plantings can never replace what nature took centuries to create. Forests cover one third of the earth’s land surface, but this proportion continues to shrink. Since the advent of agriculture, about 11,000 years ago, we have chopped down more than half our forests. Every year, worldwide, between 13 and 15 million hectares of forest disappears. Intact primary forests have proven themselves essential to maintaining biological processes and ecological balance. They provide carbon sinks that stabilize the climate and offer habitat for countless lifeforms.

Today, deforestation has become a problem that far exceeds the loss of biodiversity, because it can also lead to the propagation of infectious agents. The over-exploitation of ecosystems generates interactions between humans and the wild, and over half of emerging pathologies are transmitted by animals (zoonotic infections). Human activities infringe on the space required by wildlife, and this anthropic pressure results in crowding that is capable of provoking mutual cross-species infection. Like mass urbanization and industrial animal farming, deforestation increases the risk of new diseases and their epidemic circulation. Our development models and lifestyle seem to be responsible for a cascading series of crises: it is becoming increasingly urgent to rethink them.

Large format photographs. This body of work is ongoing since 2020.