Two views

Two views

When driving through the Pacific Northwest, you can see two different kinds of forest: alive and thriving, or clear-cut and dead.  These two different types of forests represent two vastly different views not only of what forests are good for, but what benefits are derived from natural resources in general.  One school envisions the forest as a place that provides habitat to numerous animals, provides the nutrients needed to make for health fish spawning streams, filters and cleans surface water before it enters the ground table or provides drinking water, and provides numerous recreational opportunities for humans.  The other school sees the trees in terms of board feet, jobs, and short-term business returns.  The first school sees the logging industry as fouling a valuable resource that belongs to everyone.  The second school sees “environmentalists” as interfering with their right to log the trees. 

I am going to step out on a limb and say that there is no right answer on the subject.  I say there is no “right” answer because such a statement assumes that there is a choice.  There simply is not.  Our short history of industrial development has shown us time and time again that industry simply does not care about the greater good, and inflicts long term and often irreversible damage upon wildlife and ecosystems to provide benefit to individuals who have long since died.  While those now-dead people can no longer enjoy the short-term economic gain they achieved, those of us who remain today are stuck with the consequences. 

Take logging, for example.   The first thing to realize before discussing the difference in values between the two schools is to understand the subject.  The vast majority of pulp produced in the United States comes from private lands; as much as 96%.  Private land is also more suitable for logging than national forest lands, which provide a much lower yield of usable timber due to steeper, higher elevation terrain.  With few exceptions, there is nothing stopping a private landowner from logging on his or her own land and “environmentalists” are not involved in combatting such logging operations.  The focus of the fight is on public lands, mostly national forests and some state forests in the Pacific Northwest.  Yet, unlike those companies that log on public land, that private landowner is financially responsible for creating the infrastructure necessary to log the timber – he has to build his own roads to access the timber, build the bridges, and do whatever else is necessary to access and harvest that timber.  He also has to pay the market value of the land where the timber is located; most owners are not going to give away their land for free.  But, if you log on national forest land, you don’t have to incur those expenses and you don’t have to pay a fair market value for the lease of the land you will use for logging operations because the formula the Forest Service uses guarantees that the timber is sold below cost.  In the 1990s, the federal government subsidized logging on national forest lands to the tune of $8 billion, much of which went into infrastructure construction. 

Another important statistic is the impact of “anti-logging” activities on regional employment, logging jobs.  But the truth is, federal timber supplies are insignificant to the lumber and wood products industry. Between 1988 and 1996, the amount of timber logged from national forests dropped by 70 percent, from 12.6 billion board feet to 3.9 billion board feet. During this period, national employment in lumber and wood products jobs actually rose. In 1988, the lumber and wood products sector supported 771,000 jobs with a $15.2 billion payroll. In 1996, the sector supported 778,000 jobs with a $20 billion payroll.  The myth that halting logging on national lands hurts jobs is the equivalent of the “death panels” claims being bandied about today in the healthcare debate.   In reality, automoation is more to blame than “environmentalists.”  Between 1979 and 1988, while logging levels increased, more than 26,000 timber jobs disappeared. Due to automation, it takes only 3 workers to produce the same amount of timber today as it took 5 workers to produce in 1979. 

So, back to my two schools of thought, starting with the pro-logging lobby.  Essentially, this school is clamoring for logging on public lands for reasons that don’t stand up to scrutiny.  Logging in national forests is not crucial to the survival of the industry or for providing jobs.  And not only is logging not necessary, the logging industry is given special treatment in the form of subsidies and low lease rates that are not provided for logging on private lands.  There simply is no reason to log on public lands, period.  Yet, it survives in this country today, clinging on for dear life, kicking and screaming any time anyone attempts to take away its toy. 

For the other school of thought, those who oppose logging on public lands have to fight not only the industry, or the government that supports it, but public misperceptions and misinformation about why logging on public lands should continue.  And for all those temporary benefits derived for a select few from over a century of heavy logging, we and future generations have only dwindling forests and related resources to show for it.  The United States was originally blanketed with a billion acres of forest.  Now, only 40 million acres remain uncut, providing clean water, recreational opportunity, important wildlife and fish habitat, and clean air to a society in ever increasing need of all those things. 

Aside from talking about numbers or values, or short-term versus long-term gain, there is also the basic aspect of aesthetics.  The following photos were taken from state forest land in Oregon.  You tell me which one you would prefer to drive or hike through.

One Response to “Two views”

  1. Carl Johnson Photography - Blog Says:

    […] then it cannot always be pretty.  There are a variety of things, from toxic waste dumping to deforestation, that need to be captured in photos so that people can see the consequences of those actions.  The […]

Leave a Reply