Within days of fire ravaging the Notre-Dame de Paris, French president Emmanuel Macron was adamant that the cathedral would be restored in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, to be held in Paris.
Unfortunately for the president, sourcing materials for a 10th century cathedral is hard to come by. While some suggested carbon fibre and other alternatives to replace the spire that was destroyed in the blaze, the French opted towards using similar materials to that of the time it was built, namely oak trees.
While there are oak trees aplenty within the Massif Central, they must be between 150 to 200 years old to be used for the project. While there is still time to find the oaks, it is quickly running out.
The trees must dry after being cut down for anywhere between 12 and 18 months. If in fact they are going to be ready for a 2024 construction, some one thousand trees must be cut down by the end of March before the sap begins to form within the trees during springtime.
François Hauet, vice-president of the Normande Association of Forest Experts, says that there are many variables in choosing the correct trees, and finding a suitable amount of trees will be a test for this reason.
“For the moment, we are in a phase of selecting the trees according to the structural parts that will be necessary for the spire,” he says in an interview with France Inter.
“We will choose trees in the forest according to their dimensions: height, diameter, quality, so as to be able to extract the right structural pieces.”
Naturally, cutting down oak trees that have been in the ground for centuries has been met with opposition.
Sandra Plantier, an associate professor of secondary education in geography at the National Higher Institute of Teaching and Education, says that tree harvesting is archaic, and that replacing the former structure with oak trees as opposed to a modern, sustainable alternative could even end in the same result.
“Making the deliberate choice to cut down a thousand-hundred-year-old trees to reconstruct the spire of the cathedral and its framework can only appear as a blindness to reality, or, worse, as an inability to draw lessons from the current situation,” she says in a column for Reporterre.
"These thousand trees, one or several hundred years old, are as many cathedrals for the biodiversity of our forests that we are getting ready, for the first, to cut down at the very beginning of spring, even though they will nest there probably already birds and squirrels.”
While construction remains on schedule for the restoration process of Notre Dame, the next month is crucial if the spire is to be rebuilt by 2024, in line with president Macron’s comments.