If you lived on Easter Island, would you really cut down the last mighty tree knowing that would be it? It seems either foolhardy or desperate to knowingly cut down the last of a kind and your last source of timber. So how could it happen?
Jared Diamond, in his book Collapse and article Easter’s End, explains how this situation could happen through a gradual, hardly noticeable decline over many years. Those who remembered the great trees which they used to make rafts, canoes and ships were old or had long since died. The trees seen today may be nothing like the forests and towering trunks of tens or hundreds of years ago.
As Jared puts it:
Gradually trees became fewer, smaller, and less important. By the time the last fruit-bearing adult palm tree was cut, palms had long since ceased to be of economic significance. That left only smaller and smaller palm saplings to clear each year, along with other bushes and treelets. No one would have noticed the felling of the last small palm.
For another perspective, Seth Godin asks who cut down the second-to-last-tree?