You love wood.
Come on, tell the truth. You love wood. Admit it. Wood, and paper, and all of the 1,000 products that come from timber, and pass through the calloused hands of lumberjacks before those products find their way into your home where you enjoy them. Confess. You love fine wooden furniture, books, the soft paper you use to wipe your behind. That comfortable wood framed house you live in? That house was many times “greener” to build, left a much smaller carbon footprint, than any steel framed or concrete dwelling. Don’t take my word for that. Look it up.
A few years ago in the little California town of Arnold, there was a typical “dust-up” between local environmentalists and Sierra Pacific Industries, one of the largest timber companies in the United States. How large is large? SPI owns about 1% of California, or about 1.5 million acres.
The environmentalists were protesting SPI’s plan to clear cut about 9,000 acres of SPI-owned forest. One local protestor admitted that “Sierra Pacific may have science on its side, but we have aesthetics and recreation.” I love aesthetics as much as anybody (I got a PhD in theatre arts for pete’s sake), and, as an avid trail runner, I love to “recreate” in the forest primeval, but let’s get back to that science part.
It is scientifically proven that, on most lands, clear cutting is the superior method of harvesting timber and preparing the land for the regeneration of new forests. Superior to what? To so-called “selective” harvesting. Selective harvesting means taking some and leaving some. What’s wrong with that?
The selective harvesters take the best and leave the worst. Any thing else is economic nonsense. What? You would take the worst and leave the best? Get real. Who would do that when so much money is in the game.
After “selective” harvesting, the forest is left in a woeful condition that we could scientifically call . . . a mess. The great trees are gone, the best genetic stock. What remains are the diseased, the unhealthy, the inferior, the runts.
The remaining vegetation may superficially resemble a forest, but it’s damaged almost beyond repair. The shade kills off the new growth of shade-intolerant species, by which I mean the big pines, ponderosas and sugars and the douglas firs. These noble (and useful) trees need open space and sunlight to get started. They need to get their crowns way up above the undergrowth and competing species. Or they die.
Let me ask you this. Have you ever actually seen a clear cut in California? Probably not. Most people have not. The timber companies, one of the most regulated industries in the world, are careful to keep logging activities back away from the roads. This is not hard for the big guys to do. SPI owns 1.5 million acres, remember, and harvests less than 2% of their land per year.
What’s right about clear cutting? It allows foresters to direct the species composition of the forest, mitigate deleterious environmental impacts, and give the sun-loving great trees a head start.
Have you ever actually been on a clear cut? Walked around? Put your own boots on the ground? If it is a recent clear cut, it may look a bit like a moonscape, but look closer. For every tree taken, the timbermen replant 7 seedlings, and those 7 are a mixed-species batch, chosen by formula specifically calculated for that piece of ground. The composition of the 7 might be: 3 ponderosas, 2 sugar pines, 1 douglas fir, and 1 incense cedar. Or some other formula. Look closely at the moonscape. You will see genetically superior little seedlings every where.
How long will SPI let those seedlings grow until the next harvest? 100 years. That’s right, 100 years. What other enterprise, public or private, can you name that is planning a hundred years in the future. I have heard that SPI actually plans each acre “several hundred” years into the future, but when I ask the SPI guys about their really long range plans, they get coy and try to change the subject. I’d brag about it myself.
Here’s a delicious irony. The environmentalists and Sierra Pacific Industries both want the same thing: a healthy forest composed of a wide variety of big trees. Personally, if I had to bet on which group could actually accomplish that goal, I’d bet on the lumbermen.
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